24 December 2020

Notes from Exile: Of Crooked Christmas Trees and other Leaning Towers

The Dunne Family Christmas Tree
Well, normally I would say it's almost that time, almost Christmas Day, etc. But not this year. This year, it feels like Thursday. I'm not planning how to get food two hours down the road to Atlanta for Christmas Lunch with my sister and her family. I'm not anticipating spending time with my American niece. We aren't waking up in Northumberland with Simon's parents. We just are.

I admire others that have been able to find ways around the general malaise that 2020 has spread. Especially those of you with children who have gone the extra mile to keep the magic in this holiday season when we have ditched the sugar plums in favor of vaccines and masks dancing through our visions.

Our Christmas tree has a permanent lean, as you can see in the photo. We don't have normal ceilings in this house, so we have to get a smaller tree than I'd like - but it is still too far from the outlet for me to feel comfortable plugging in the star at the top. It leans, as though it is trying to reach that outlet, and I'm reminded how we are all leaning this year. Leaning forward into the future with a vaccine and a return to in-person life. Leaning back into those moments we wish could have lasted, with family and friends that for whatever reason aren't here. Leaning into the "new normal," or leaning back into "the before time." 

We are all like leaning towers, and the key is not to lean so far that you fall. I remember a Christmas evening spent with one of my favorite people and his family, where the tree was crooked and we spent a great deal of time tying it into place with twine. There was a lot of clapping of hands and slapping of backs as the tree stood straight and tall...until something that I did to loosen the twine caused it to fall...on my friend's dad. He caught it, and while I don't remember what he said, I remember his booming laugh as he straightened it up and tied it again - and told me not to touch it.

That laugh is braided into the twine that holds me up this Christmas, along with my dad's decorations and my brother in law inexplicably under the Christmas tree at my parents' house in north Georgia. I'm remembering the ding that the MARTA train makes at every stop, and how my college friends and I raised our hands every time we heard it on the way to see the big tree in Atlanta - the start of the  Christmas season when I was younger. I think of my Daisy Mei Mei wearing the tree skirt like a 1950s salon cape and how every dog that is new to the Dunne family at Christmas has a picture in that same skirt.

I remember the Leeds German Market at Christmas and the sparkling lights in The Vue where we would grab a cheeky Nandos before seeing a movie. I remember Christmas Eve Mass at the church my inlaws attend in Seahouses. I can hear my mom saying, "Well, Merry Christmas!" on the phone when we lived 5,000 miles away. All of these memories and more hold me up this Pandemic Christmas as well as hold the promise of next year and our triumphant return to parades and late nights out, to massive meals with family and opening presents, to us. To normal. 

But for now, I will hang on to my crooked tree and my little family here in my house, safe and warm and healthy, and I will be thankful. Merry Christmas.

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