It was the craziest thought. Ludicrous, really. So nuts, in fact, that I dismissed it even before it disappeared from my mind.
Christmas 2013. At the beginning of December I booked off work until the new year. I was a freelance writer and it was not uncommon for me to cut back on assignments in the weeks leading up to the holiday. But I couldn’t remember the last time my schedule was free for the whole month. While it felt good not to be at my desk, there was an underlying current, a tension almost, pushing me to create some sort of fairy tale Christmas. I baked, decorated, wrapped gifts, oiled furniture. Norman Rockwell would have been proud.
Heck, I was proud and a little mystified, because, to be honest, I am not that person. I’ve always been lukewarm about Christmas. I find the prep leading up to the day exhausting. One more gift to buy, another trip to the grocery store for a forgotten item. The looming holiday was a marathon, where I sprinted for the finish line but never actually got there.
My son, David, and I were kindred spirits when it came to the season. Like me, he didn’t quite get the extravagance of it all. He lived a minimalist lifestyle, buying his clothes at thrift stores, walking and cycling, rather than driving, eating plant-based foods to protest factory farming. As a musician, who delved into punk and experimental music, and a university English Major, his weaknesses were records and books. But he found ways to get around that too. He bought most of his records used and his books second-hand.
As a matter of fact, that Christmas he asked for a copy of Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel, The Castle, first published in 1926. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it. David came across a copy at his local used book store and put it away for me to pick up. That year, I also chose a special book for him from our own family bookcase. It was a first-edition copy of D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow. The leather-bound volume, with its filmy, onion-skin pages, had belonged to David’s grandfather and was passed on to us when he died. It was time, I felt, for David to have it in his own library. On Christmas morning, he sat lost in a sort of reverie, carefully turning the delicate pages, stopping now and then to read a passage.
David was adamant that he receive gifts that were useful. Underwear and socks, books, a gift certificate to his favourite used record store. In return, he donated to a local homeless shelter in my name. We were both happy with the arrangement.
But this year was different. I wanted to make it David’s best Christmas ever. I was aiming for over-the-top. Perfect tree, new recipes, a magical dining table with silver-star confetti sprinkled on the red and white place settings. Old friends to join in the celebration. In the months that followed, I wondered if subconsciously my frenzied efforts were spurred by that one brief thought that flitted through my head and disappeared as quickly as it came.
“It’s gonna be fun, David,” I said to my skeptical son.
And it was. While the guests sat in the living room, David and I prepared the meal. I basted the turkey and boiled potatoes while he checked on his vegan dinner simmering in the oven. And we talked. I told him things about my childhood that we’d never discussed before. Private things that I won’t get into because they were between me and my son. He told me things about his life that I didn’t know and I will honour those confidentialities too.
At the end of the evening when the guests had gone and we were cleaning up, David said, “That was a pretty good Christmas, Mom.” I hugged him like I would never let go. The two of us, surrounded by the gaiety and celebration of the day, had carved out time just for us, where we met on common ground and reaffirmed how much we loved each other and liked each other, too.
And the crazy thought I had early in December?
I wonder what music David would like played at his funeral.
One month and two days after Christmas, David was killed in a crosswalk by a distracted driver. His memorial service was filled with jazz and punk, post-punk and experimental. All the music he loved so much.