While the pumpkin pie baked in the oven, I did a gentle flow on the mat. My music mix was eclectic, everything from James Taylor to Willie Nelson to the Beatles. The music kept me focused, and occasionally singing on the mat. The challenge of a self-led practice is not getting distracted. I set the timer for 45-minutes for the pie and mentally set my practice to be the same length.
“This house was my grandparent’s house. I bought it back from total strangers,” he said.
“Did you ever live here?”
“No, I just loved that it was once a part of my family and wanted to raise my kids here,” he said while staring at the mantle of his most beloved childhood Christmas decorations. He was almost weepy with sentiment.
After baking cookies, brownies and pumpkin pie we went to a Christmas dinner party. Throughout the course of the evening, everyone spoke about their childhood Christmas memories.
Once I began to notice this, it became my own personal human behavior experiment. I did not go to the party expecting to do anything but enjoy the delicious meal and company, but as everyone started to talk — out came the stories.
I’ve always known that everyone’s favorite topic is themselves. Not in a completely narcissistic way, but because we are our reference point for everything, so it makes sense we use lots of self-examples to express our worldview or relay our understanding of something. It was interesting how everyone became almost childlike in their storytelling around the season — even my husband chimed in with a story about about putting lights on the Christmas tree with his Dad.
“I didn’t appreciate it at the time,” she said, “going to my great-grandmother’s house seemed like a chore. I would give anything to go back there today and see it all through my eyes now. I can still see everything about the house, and the smells coming from the kitchen.”
My mind wandered back to Mamaw Wine’s upstairs. My great-grandmother lived Henrietta, Texas. Driving by as an adult, the house seems much smaller, but as a child I loved exploring the attic rooms — which I pretended were haunted. I would go into the cellar until she would bark at me to get out of there. I remember the table of pictures. Everyone was on it, even the crazy ones that didn’t come around anymore.
I have a picture table today because of Mamaw Wines. I don’t have any crazies on it that don’t come around anymore, though.
“I have ornaments that have to be on the tree every year. My wife and kids try to make these designer trees and tell me there is no place for my ornaments, but it is non-negotiable. They may be in the back, but they are on the tree,” he said.
I talk about my Dad’s music tree. He and Sandy had a tree that was themed with musical instruments and only those ornaments were on it. It was beautiful, but my favorite tree was the other one. It had all the ornaments that felt like familiar old friends. I would stare at it every year and make sure all of my ornament friends had made it out of the box and back on the tree.
I’m not Martha Stewart, so we’ll never have more than one tree or a themed tree — and since Jonathan and I are both pretty sentimental, we’ll always have the ornaments that feel like old friends.
“I was so cold in Minnesota. I remember my mother bundling us up to play in the snow and we could barely walk in the snowsuits. We were literally sweating inside. Every winter break, we played like that,” she said.
I thought about going to Mawmaw’s house and bundling up with all kinds of layers when we would go out and feed the cows in the snow. I didn’t go every day, but when I did, I remember the chill and the goofy hats she would bundle me up in. I remember feeding the baby cows in the barn who had lost their mother. I got so attached to one of the cows I named her Buffy and tried to go sleep with her in the middle of the night; I was sad that she did not have a Mama. Mawmaw nearly killed me. Apparently sleeping with cows is unsanitary.
Everyone had a moment where their story was heard, and you could almost see the childlike quality in the eyes of everyone as they went back, even if only for a moment, to those memories that built them.
We all have our specific stories that define us one way or another — some good, some not so good — but last night was the first time I really took it all in while it was happening. I know many of my parents childhood stories, and my step-mother’s — my husbands, my in-laws. I even know some from both of my grandmother’s and great-grandmothers.
These memories all make-up the stories of us. They may not all be written down, but they are part of our unabridged autobiographies.
I gave GranGran a book one year for Christmas called, To Our Children’s Children — it was a book of questions about your life to answer and pass on. He filled it out as best he could for me and it is one of my greatest treasures. Memom never did it, but she told me enough stories as she scratched my back — I could probably fill a lot of it out for her. I never gave it to Mawmaw because I knew she wouldn’t do it. My Mom has a copy, we’ll see how that goes. I think she is trying to fill it out.
I have always loved stories and the ways they define families. I can’t wait to make our ancestry wall with pictures from across time. If I am ever going to have a Martha Stewart project, I guess this would be it. I’ve been collecting pictures of everyone I can find pictures of — Ancestry.com has even provided me with some. I can’t wait to get back to working on it again in the new year.
Jonathan’s great-grandfather was named James Knox Polk Wilcox. He was named after James K. Polk the president, who was from Tennessee. I just love that.
I know I am thinking about all of these things because I’m focused on motherhood and wondering what kind of a Mom I will be, or want to be? What kind of parents we will be? When it takes so long for it to happen, you have a lot more time to over-think it, I suppose.
I know one thing, they will have a lot of stories to tell. Hopefully, we can make most of them good ones.