85: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

85: I’ll Be Home for Christmas

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it.

~George Moore

In December of 2005, it seemed that everywhere I went, Bing Crosby was tormenting me with that old Christmas classic, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

If only our kids had been singing that tune. Only one of them planned to be home for Christmas that year.

Being together at Christmas has always been way more important to me than expensive gifts, a perfectly decorated house or gourmet treats. After all these years there is still a special feeling that comes with going to Christmas Eve mass together, and lighting our candles in the darkened church as we sing “Silent Night.” On Christmas morning we sit around in our pyjamas while we eat my husband Pat’s cinnamon coffee cake, along with the mandarin oranges and pistachios that we pull out of our stockings. Our son Brendan’s funny homemade cards cap off the morning. I cherish those precious moments together so that’s why I was walking around feeling sorry for myself that December.

That fall the boys were out of town. Brendan, our younger son, had returned to the University of Guelph. Aaron our eldest child, had taken time off for travel. His plan was to fly to the U.K., travel around Europe and return by Christmas.

Our daughter Norah also had travel plans. After spending four fun-filled years living in the Queen’s student ghetto, she had moved back home with us in Ottawa, to study at Carleton. Although she redecorated her old room, the whole experience of living back with Mom and Dad was pretty boring compared to her student life in Kingston. She missed walking around to her familiar haunts at Queen’s, the shops along Princess Street and most of all, living with her friends. So Norah had decided to take advantage of the Christmas break and travel with a friend. Perhaps if the trip was to Europe and she was going to meet up with Aaron, I might not have been as worried. However, her destination was Thailand. I recognized her need to have some time with friends but did she really have to go to the other side of the world?

While planning her holiday she threw us a bone. She was waiting to hear about Aaron’s return date. “It would be too boring for Brendan,” she declared, “if he came back from Guelph and had to endure Christmas with only you and Dad at home.” She vowed not to leave her younger brother to that sad fate. She would only travel if she knew for sure that Aaron was coming home for Christmas.

Meanwhile, Aaron was having a great time playing tennis while staying in Lagos, Portugal. From there he visited Munich, Slovenia, Budapest and the Czech Republic. In November we were caught off guard when he told us his plans had changed. He and his friend were having such a good time they had decided to stay an extra couple of months. They had been hired at a ski resort in Austria to take photos of tourists. “How was this possible?” we asked. “What about winter clothing and ski equipment?”

“No worries,” he assured us. They had picked up some secondhand ski clothes and the resort was supplying the equipment. It was too exciting an opportunity to pass up.

In spite of this change in Aaron’s plans, Norah proceeded with her own holiday scheme. Years earlier, I had flown to Greece to spend Christmas with my then boyfriend Pat, so how could I object? We tried as hard as we could to be enthusiastic as she looked forward to elephant and tuk tuk rides, as well as the islands and beaches of Thailand. She deserved a great holiday after all her hard work, both at school and in her summer jobs.

Still, it was with heavy hearts that we accompanied her to the Ottawa airport in the early morning gloom on December 12th. I wondered what happened to her vow not to leave Brendan alone at home at Christmas.

Later that evening, Pat left to play volleyball. I sat in the living room alone, feeling miserable. On TV, singers on a Christmas special were crooning, “There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays” and I was thinking, “That’s not what my family thinks.” It was not my finest hour.

About 9 p.m. there was a loud knock at the front door. Before I could reach the door the knock was repeated, but this time it was louder, more insistent. I looked through the lace curtain covering the window on the door and saw a tall man wearing a baseball cap. He was turned sideways so I couldn’t see who it was. It was dark. I was alone. I knew I shouldn’t open my door to a stranger, especially in the dark. Why would someone be wearing only a baseball cap on a cold December night? Was this someone looking for money?

In spite of these concerns, I opened the door and as I did, the man turned to face me. It took me a few seconds to register. This tall, tanned young man, sporting a lightweight jacket and ball cap was our first-born son! It was Aaron! Aaron, the guy who was supposedly taking tourist photos on a ski hill in Austria was actually standing in front of me.

“Hi Mom. Merry Christmas!” he said with a smile.

Our kids love to play practical jokes and surprise us. He got us hook, line and sinker that time! The photo job was just a story. He had always planned on coming home by Christmas but had wanted to make it a surprise.

Norah and Brendan were in on the scheme. She had stuck to her promise and Brendan was more than pleased to have Aaron around when he came home for the holidays, a few days later. We went to Christmas Eve mass and enjoyed dinner with Pat’s family and then had Christmas Day dinner with mine. Norah returned on New Year’s Day and we were grateful to have all three kids with us for a few days. The stories from Guelph, Thailand and Europe were shared enthusiastically as we admired our souvenirs. It didn’t really matter whether it was on Christmas Day or not.

Christmas is, of course, a celebration of the birth of the Christ child, of love and giving. I don’t remember what gifts we received that year. The gifts are never all that important. All I know was that Aaron was our gift that year. The surprise of having him appear was our special treat. It reminded me of his birth. In November of 1980 babies did not stay in the hospital room with their mothers, but spent most of their days in the nursery. At the hospital’s appointed feeding times, a nurse would appear in my room, carrying Aaron, tightly wrapped in a hospital blanket. It always seemed to me that she was delivering a very special present. Now, decades later, at over six feet tall, his arrival was my special present once again.

~Mary Ellen Kot

Ottawa, Ontario

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