Hopes Hung Like Ornaments

By Catherine Houlahan

A light snow fell throughout the day on Christmas Eve – unusual, for Virginia. Though the office had been busy, she was happily aware of the snow, glancing out the window at her wintry woodsy view as often as possible. She was distracted by its loveliness, by the excitement of Christmas Eve, and by thoughts of the errand stops that lay ahead of her before going home.

The sun was already low by 3:00 pm, giving her an early sense of urgency to leave. She felt grateful for her part-time schedule, as she bustled out the glass doors, sending holiday wishes over her shoulder to the front desk people. Her cheeks immediately felt the sting of cold air, and she wished she’d fished her gloves from her pockets before exiting the warm building. Fastening her seat belt, she made a mental note of the stops she needed to make.

Heavy stop-and-go traffic gave her time to notice the little snow bits that pelted the windshield. Half-frozen, they drizzled down in slow motion, making crazy wavy reflections of the red and green vehicle and traffic lights. She smiled with memories of childhood Christmases in Mississippi. Santa always brought the tree – making it a big surprise in the morning for the children! After only a stolen glance (Oh! LOOK!), they were diverted to stockings (which were their biggest real socks) filled with nuts and tangerines, and sometimes soap or interesting breath mints or dental floss. Smells of sautéed kippered herring filled the house as breakfast was served. THEN, came the tree presents, followed by preparations for a large formal meal in the early afternoon, around a table set with crystal, silver, and fine china for sixteen or so family members all dressed up. Later, there were visits to exchange gifts with more elderly relatives. It was so different now, she noted.

Making several stops, she picked up a few more stocking stuffers, out of last minute worry that her gifts weren’t quite adequate, and the obligatory kippered herring that she’d forgotten. Everything else was ready. The tree was trimmed. Garlands draped the banister up the stairs, a nativity scene was carefully placed on the mantel, flying angels hung from various light fixtures, and everywhere you looked was red and green: tablecloths, candles, wreaths, stacks of Christmas books, and gifts under the tree.

Eyeing the digital oven clock, she set the table with Christmas ware and candles, checked the crock pot for whatever it was that made the house smell like roast, potatoes, and carrots. With practiced perseverance, she built a fire in the fireplace. Checking out the driveway again, for headlights or the snow, not sure which, she fidgeted a bit. If it got too late to eat, she would unplug the pot, put the food away, and just go on to church if they made it on time. She poured herself a glass of wine and sat down to wait for her children to come home from their dad’s girlfriend’s family party.

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