On the Joy of Creating Holiday Family Memories of My Own
By James Prenatt — OTHER FATHER
This past Thanksgiving was the first without my grandmother. I feel a sense of guilt over that fact more than I feel sorrow, which made the event bittersweet. She had been the matriarch, the one who prepared dinner, made sure we set the table and correctly, and more importantly she was the center of our hearth, making sure we had a warm fire and a good meal to enjoy, regardless of whether or not we were biologically family. Seeing my grandfather — a bleak image of the man he once was, lonely and sad, more emotional than I thought him capable of — I began to think about the day when I would be in the same position.
No matter how much I miss my grandmother I know that she lived a long life, one filled with a large, loving family. And this was also the first Thanksgiving with the new baby. A child brings so much happiness into a household. We were all upset that our grandmother wasn’t there to share the joy, but took comfort in the fact that she had a little time to meet her great-grandchild. Life is a circle. I am young now but I will grow older, my children will have children (maybe) and then it’ll be my wife and I hosting dinner. I’ve started a fourth generation, and so on. The holidays remind me of this the most and that brings the strongest sense of nostalgia. As the leaves fall I recall jumping in piles of them, raking them from my grandfather’s yard and taking walks through the woods as they crunched below my feet. I think of the smell of fire burning, cloves and oranges, pine needles and the exciting rustle of wrapping paper.
That time has ended. Another has begun. We will have our traditions that my children will recall once they are my age. They will beg for presents and at times be disappointed or filled with excitement. We will take them to see Christmas tree lights and to pick out pumpkins. We will welcome others into our home just as my grandmother was so willing to do. But as for our own youth, its flame has burnt out. Our childhood home was sold years ago and the farm that neighbored it, where Christmas parties and weddings were hosted, will soon decay and be sold as well.
Somehow, although death is the thing that I fear most, these thoughts don’t fill me with as much sadness as I thought they would. This is just the beginning, and the end. When I visited for the funeral, I looked through hundreds of old pictures. I looked at pictures of my parents when they were the same age as my wife and I. I mused on how much I looked like my daughter when I was her age, on how happy everyone looked and how fresh and prime their surroundings were. I don’t worry about the bad things. I don’t think about what was lost. I reflect on what we once had. That’s what we reflect upon when we come together to mourn someone’s loss. Funerals are a celebration of life, not death.
I spend so much of my time in a rush to catch up or to move forward. I worry about the past because I feel I didn’t accomplish enough. I worry about the future because I feel like I’m not working hard enough, that I need to race to the end or else everything good will fall from my hands before I even get a chance to think about it. I forget that I am still young. One day all this will fade. Years go by like months, months go by like weeks and so on. I will want to rewind, just as I wish I could rewind when I visit home for the holidays.
But I can’t rewind. The only guarantee in life is that time will move forward, but even that is not guaranteed. We never know when our lives will end. It’s not like me to be optimistic about living in the moment. I roll my eyes at the people who say “Every day above ground is a good day,” who act as though that life is only as bad as you make it out to be. But to a certain extent, it is true. I am alive now. I have two healthy kids and a doting wife. Life is hard and exhausting, but chances are life was hard and exhausting for my parents when they took pictures of their rosy-cheeked smiling children, photos of themselves holding each other and of course those dreaded holiday group pictures. The chances are, things got better and got worse again.
This isn’t meant to be some rant about counting your blessings or nostalgic reflection. The truth is, right now I don’t like my job and don’t make much money, I never got into grad school like I wanted, my writing isn’t going anywhere yet and my days are long, with very little time spent doing something I truly love. I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy. I always have been. When I go home to my family I think of a paradise lost. But when I come home it’s like paradise regained — a paradise of my own creation.
Originally published at thewildword.com.