There’s a single twin bed in the far left corner with soft sheets and a slightly lumpy comforter. I always have to check the sheets for ladybugs. For some reason, they love this old house.
Sharing this basement bedroom with me is my little sister. She sleeps on the pull out couch beneath the long, low window. Even though it’s our grandparents’ house, we still call it “Our Room” and “Our Beds.” It’s our second home. And what better place to be during Christmastime than at Grandma and Grandad’s?
The lumpy comforter tickles my chin. I open my eyes. Cold morning sunlight streams through the basement window, wreathing my sister’s angelic face as she sleeps. The air is cool. The house is quiet.
Normally, I would try to roll over and go back to sleep, but I can’t today. It’s Christmas Eve, and there’s an anxious excitement filling me this morning. I know I should go back to sleep because it will feel like the day is dragging on in anticipation of tomorrow, but I am also anticipating tonight.
My Grandma will spritz her perfume and clip on her earrings, while I sit on her bed and watch. My Grandad will pull on his best suit coat. Someone will wrangle my little brother into his clip-on tie, probably my dad. My mom will wrap herself in her long black coat with faux fur trim. And I will begrudgingly wear white, itchy tights beneath a dress. My sister will wear a matching dress, which will only infuriate me further. But she’ll love it.
Then all of us will drive to church for Christmas Eve service. Our family will sit in the balcony, and my mother will be on stage, dressed as an angel, signing the words to Gloria for our deaf congregants. With her flowing white robes and her blonde hair gleaming like gold beneath the stage lights, I will think my mom is so very beautiful, hoping someday to be just as beautiful and talented.
Wriggling out from beneath the warm confines of my bed, I stand on the old mattress and lunge onto the back of the couch, my small fingertips gripping the high windowsill. My sister doesn’t stir. Expectantly, I look outside.
Giddy with delight, I leap from my sister’s bed and wrap my fingers around the bronze doorknob. The texture of the knob always fascinated me—one of the many remnants of the 1970’s in my grandparents’ home. I loved it. To a child, it didn’t seem outdated. I knew it was different but I couldn’t have told you why. It was simply Grandma and Grandad’s house.
In the basement hall, just outside the door, is a metal bar. My cousin Michael could do pull ups on it. I’ve always thought he was really cool. My aunt and her family will all be arriving late tonight. Same with my uncle and his wife and their dog, Winnie. Assuming the roads are clear, my other uncle and his family will be joining us for Christmas Eve dinner after church. I absolutely love having all of us together. The house will be bursting at the seams tonight, but right now it is still quiet.
As I pass under the pull-up bar, the chilly tile stings my feet. I scamper past the closet and turn right, leaping onto the first step. Quietly, I tip toe up the blue carpeted steps. I liked to write my name or draw pictures in the thick carpeting. But there’s no time for that right now. It’s Christmas Eve!
On the landing, my feet are cold again. I hear birds twittering outside. I slide past the mirrored coat rack. It’s a massive wooden piece with metal knobs that are getting wobbly. Yet another example of an outdated item that one could only find at Grandma and Grandad’s house.
Carefully, I tip toe up the last flight of stairs. Despite my best efforts, the steps still creak. Through the tall wooden railing, I see the skinny Christmas tree in the corner. Presents have started to appear beneath the tree. Quickly, I dart up the steps, heedless of the squeaks. Hopefully it will inspire people to wake up! It’s Christmas Eve after all!
Once up the stairs, I am surprised to see the television is turned off and my Grandad is not asleep in his red cloth recliner. But the scent of coffee and its gurgling percolating sounds are emanating from the tiny kitchen. I take a deep breath, enjoying the rich smell. Maybe someday I will enjoy the taste.
I step around the empty recliner and into the living room. Another recliner sits beside the Christmas tree. My great-grandmother, Nana, will occupy the grey chair later. She won’t say much, but we’ll be happy she is here. I hope she is planning to make her chicken and dumplings tomorrow for Christmas dinner.
To my right is the dining area. The old, oak table with the insets already laid sits waiting for the family to gather around it. Tomorrow night, the adults will all play Chicken Foot while us kids are forced to go to bed and listen to all the fun they’re having.
Someday, though, I will be one of those adults.
I glance down the hall. My little brother is fast asleep in the bedroom that used to be my mom’s. Someday soon, my Nana will live in that bedroom until she passes.
Across from that bedroom is my grandparents’. They still had stringy, green shag carpeting. Being a child, I couldn’t understand how the vacuum didn’t suck it all up! Add that to the list of fun textures and pieces only found at Grandma and Grandad’s house.
The house is so still, heavy with the extra quiet brought on by the downy blanket of fresh snow. As much as I want to wake everyone, I don’t want to break the spell.
So I tread lightly across the floor, in hopes that the squeaks don’t wake my sister or my parents in the basement below. I grab a blanket and wrap it around my shoulders. Plopping in the center of the floor, I cocoon myself and look up at the tree.
Soft lights circle through the branches; old ornaments marking special events or memories past sprinkle the tree. Some are handmade by children who have grown up and had their own children. And I can’t help but wonder what my tree will look like someday.
So I sit, and I look, and I wonder. And as I do, the house grows quieter still. The birds stop chirping. The coffee maker stops percolating. The floorboards stop squeaking.
Nobody comes down the hall. Nobody walks up the stairs. Nobody turns on the television or takes a seat at the table.
I am sitting on the couch in my own house. Miles and miles away from that place. Years and years away from that place. But my heart remembers. On this chilly, wintery morning, my heart is heavy. Heavier than the old television set. Heavier than a box of dominos. Heavier than the scent of my Grandma’s perfume or the wool of my mom’s winter coat.
I also have a skinny Christmas tree. I sit with a cup of coffee in my hand, a blanket around my shoulders, soaking in the glow of the lights. It reminds me of simpler times. It reminds me of people that I love, some of whom will not come walking down the hall. Or take my hand. Or teach me things. Or wrap me in a hug.
And I miss them. As a child, running around that outdated house, playing games with my cousins and drawing pictures in the carpet, I had no idea how much it would all mean to me someday. All of the holidays spent there. Hunting for Easter eggs, Nana’s apple pies, and unwrapping Christmas gifts. All the Sunday lunches. Afternoons watching cartoons or TV Land. Playing BattleShip or Mousetrap, which never had all of its pieces.
It was the time. I miss the time spent with them. I wish for a lot of things but right now I am wishing to go back. Just one more time. To soak it in. To appreciate the precious treasure that is time spent with your loved ones. It’s better than any gift under the tree.
So this year, I want to appreciate the time. I want to soak it in. I am going to enjoy the hustle and bustle. The travel. The tiredness. The food. The laughs. The gifts. The games. The smells.
As an author, Alexandra Rexford enjoys writing stories with wit and romance, including a dash of danger. In a perfect world, she would spend all her time writing, reading, sipping hot cocoa, and snuggling with her dogs.
Featured image by S. B. Vonlanthen.