As much as we’ve taken on the business of finding our own traditions in these last years, we never know what will stick.
On Christmas morning, we take a walk. I can say, now with some certainty after this many years, we always take a walk. At first, we decided each year where we would go, but the last few years, the particular spot has become a tradition, too.
When I was growing up, my grandparents ran a bed and breakfast in a slightly haunted house that was half wood and half stone. In the eighteenth century, the house was a stagecoach stop, and as a child I used to trace the line on the floor where we could tell the bar had stood. There was a sealed trap door withing the lines of the bar, and I loved to imagine the innkeeper pulling that trap door up in a panic, sliding into the safe space below when the brawls would get too perilous. The house was big, with an innkeeper’s apartment, a huge and beautiful second kitchen, and seven guest rooms. It had its own geography, and we’d refer to the various areas of the house by their relationship to the others. The inn portion of the downstairs was always “the other side” (even if that, in fact, was the side we were on at the time). The room with the memory of the bar linked the two sections of the house, and it was always (and in my mind will always be) “the middle room.” When the inn was filled for the Christmas with skiers up from New York, my Jewish grandmother would embrace Christmas in her own way, and she would put a white soup tureen in the middle of the table in the middle of the middle room. Around the white soup tureen, she’d lay tiny wrapped presents for each of the guests, ball-point pens and sticky notes that we’d picked out together from that section of the grocery store where they have neon construction paper and batteries and paper clips. I don’t know why she felt the soup tureen was a proper stand-in for a Christmas tree, but because she did, so did I. And, I imagine, so did the guests.
My mother and I later moved into the inn and ran it for my grandparents. I lived in “the back room” through my teens–but actually living there just cemented the fact that the inn had always felt like my real home.
I think, if I had known who I would turn into, I would have done something to keep that house. I don’t really come from the kind of family that really thinks that way–we never owned a house when I was a kid (or even thought of a place as intertwined with who we were), but now, when I drive by the inn, I’m pulled right back towards it. I hear it’s a country house now, just inhabited for a few weekends out of the year, and I can’t help but feel that after so much time of being filled up with people, the house must get lonely. At least, the ghosts must get lonely.
So every Christmas, we take the walk up the hill across from the inn. I don’t think we’re even supposed to walk there, but we do. And today, walking up the snowy hill, all I could think of was that soup tureen with all the little presents around it. I was happy to see that someone seemed to be in the house–at least, there was a graceful little curl of smoke coming from the chimney. It was all I could do not to knock on the door. Funny how places really do get so intertwined with ourselves, even if we don’t see it at the time.
Today, the girls raced ahead as we slid our way down the hill. (We wait to open presents until after our walk, so they always pick up their speed towards the end.) Joey and I held back and walked slower, and the girls disappeared around the bend, laughing and charging ahead as if they owned the road. And I realized that somehow, through this funny made-up ritual, we’ve brought the inn into the girls’ experience and memory. They’ve never been inside, but for them, it’s the house that marks the entrance to our yearly Christmas walk. I can only hope that it makes the ghosts feel a little less lonely.
Here I am, and I just meant to come and share pictures of our walk and wish you a happy holiday! But that soup tureen has been with me all day, and somehow I thought you might understand. I guess the story just had to be told.
Happy holidays to you, from all of us. I hope the day has been filled with all the things you wanted it to be. Believe it or not, Joey and I are off to Montreal for a few days to celebrate our tenth (!) anniversary. Restaurant suggestions are very welcome (although I’ll admit to you that I could happily live on poutine and Montreal smoked meat). More on that in the coming days, I’m sure!
Happy, happy. Sending love, a