As the holiday season approaches, I find myself getting more and more homesick for my family. Since the UP is so far away from Atlanta, we decided to do Christmas much like we did Thanksgiving. Alone. But I’ve especially been missing my mom during this time. She’s always so bubbly and happy and is always in the kitchen making something new. We dance around to Christmas music and watch every Christmas VHS in the cupboard. This year, it looks more like Making cookies by myself, occasionally listening to Christmas music in the car because Chesh isn’t’ a huge fan of it, and watching maybe one or two Christmas movies on Netflix. Talk about a nostalgia ruiner. I did run into this little short story, though, and reading it again made me want to be home even more. I wrote this a long time ago when I was homesick in college, and today, I’m sharing it with you. This is for all of you who are far away from your families this season.
Homemade caramel never seems to turn out that way you plan. It looks a tad more like brown hard candy with lumpy air bubbles in it. The kitchen smells good. I made a note in my head to get a candy thermometer for mom next year. At least then her “softest caramels you’ve ever tasted” wouldn’t turn out looking like a thickened polyjuice potion. It still tastes amazing, though we labeled the tin “toffee” and the secret is staying between the two of us. Mom and I have always been kitchen buddies, with matching aprons and flour up to our elbows.
It is the day before Christmas, winter of my sophomore year, and I have flown home; back across the ocean to my hometown, Sarajevo, Bosnia. The song “White Christmas” has always had a special meaning to me because Sarajevo has been the epitome of a snowy beauty. Sarajevo is in a valley, surrounded by mountains, nestled in the middle of Europe, so about a foot or two of snow is a given. Unfortunately, this year it seems snow has decided to take its vacation and so far all we’ve seen is two inch thick frost covering the trees.
Christmas is always a big deal with us since most missionary families in Sarajevo don’t plan for the luxury of Christmas decorations. This makes our house THE place for Christmas parties, and one of our biggest traditions. We all gather around the grand piano in our tacky-not-so-tacky Christmas sweaters and sing Silver Bells, and drink mom’s famous mulled wine and dad’s famous hot chocolate, both made from scratch. Everyone will bring a contribution of cookies and pies, and mom will make a giant bowl of chili.
The Jones household is always an excellent place to find yourself in December. My sister, mom and I have always enjoyed baking and spending time in the kitchen, and so here, on Christmas Eve, while my siblings are practicing Christmas carols, and dad is finishing up some last minute wrapping upstairs, Mom and I decide to make another batch of spritz cookies, with the precious almond flavoring that is only possible because I brought it back in my suitcase.
Mom pulls out the mixer, and I grab the flour and we get to work, sipping peppermint tea as we mix.
“Have you had any thought of what you want to do for New Years?” Mom asks over the hum of the mixer.
The kitchen smells like sugar and butter now.
“Not really. More focused on Christmas, right now.” I say, grinning. This is my favorite time of the year. It always has been.
There is something astoundingly magical when it comes to Christmas: The way the snow falls so gracefully on the mountains, turning this into a magic land from a storybook; the way the fire crackles so low and deep, almost thrumming with happiness from within the fireplace. When I was maybe seven or eight, I remember waking up one night a few days before Christmas, and creeping downstairs to sit on the floor in the living room, and just watch the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle.
“Just think,” Mom says, turning off the mixer and wiping down the sides of the bowl, “Some day, you and your daughter will make cookies together on Christmas eve.” She looks over at me, eyes shining.
I put on my most serious face. “Oh, but Mom, didn’t you hear?”
She stops smiling. “What?”
“I’m never going to get married. I’m going to quit college and move back in here with you. After all, no one else makes fettucini alfredo like you do!”
I reach in the bowl to take a swipe from the dough, but mom swats my hand away laughing.
“Oh is that what you think, eh?”
Even though my mom is shorter than me, and I’m much faster than her, she still finds a way to tickle me, and we both fill the kitchen with our laughter.
I plop down at the kitchen table, breathing hard and still laughing. Mom sets down the sprinkle box in front of me and I pick green.
“I don’t want to go back,” I say after a moment, shaking the green sugar all over the pressed white dough trees.
“School?” The way she said it makes me sound like I’m still in elementary.
“Yeah. I don’t want to wait a whole year to come back.”
Mom puts the press down and sits next to me on the chair.
“To be honest, I don’t want you to go back either.”
I don’t like to think about it, but I won’t see them all again until next December, twelve months away. And then there’s the thought of graduation, and dare I say it: life.
“This is going to sound weird,” I say and lean my head on her shoulder.
“Go for it.”
“Sometimes I wish we could freeze time and then live in that time slot forever. Because everything right now is perfect and happy but then I’ll go back to school and it’ll be great because I love school, but then I won’t see you except on holidays. And then eventually I’ll have to graduate and move off to Colorado somewhere and then I’ll see you even less. And then if I get married, then I feel like I’ll never see you at all.”
Mom doesn’t say anything for a minute and just rests her head on mine, and I can feel her sigh.
“Hannah Babe, life is going to continue on whether you want it to or not. The key is: you either let it run you over trying to live in the past, or you go with it, and live in the present.”
She makes so much sense, and I wonder if I’ll get those kind of magical powers when I’m a mom.
“See? This is the reason I shouldn’t leave!” I wail, eyeing the cookie dough again. “I need a miniature you in my pocket to give me advice like that!”
We both laugh then and she stands up to put the tray in the oven as the song “Home For Christmas” drifts from my computer speakers. When her back is turned, I swipe some more dough.
“Hey I saw that.” I hear a whisper behind me and dad is peeking his head around the doorframe into the kitchen.
“I believe you saw nothing.” I whisper back, and wink down at the batters still on the counter nearest him. He understands my meaning and sneaks a swipe off of those. Now we’re both partners in crime.
I watch my mom close the oven and go back to her cookies, pretending she didn’t hear dad and my exchange. This is exactly how I want every Christmas to be. Just like this, frozen in time, never to be touched or meddled with or broken. I close my eyes and listen to the words as Amy Grant’s voice fills the kitchen:
I’ll be home for Christmas – I can smell caramel mixed with almond and sugar and butter settling into the kitchen.
You can count on me – The warmth of the radiator next to me seeps in through my sweater and through the long sleeved shirt under that.
Please have snow, and mistletoe – I open my eyes to see my parents are laughing and dancing around the kitchen. Dad has been growing out his beard for winter, and though mom says she hates it, she smiles every time he kisses her.
And presents under the tree – I feel my golden retriever rub up against my legs and the lay down on top of my feet
Christmas Eve will find me – I’m laughing and smiling, watching my family be together and enjoying the holidays, together again.
Where the love light gleams – My heart is filling up with love and gratitude. In this moment I am the happiest I have been all year.
I’ll be home for Christmas – I’ll be back here soon, and in the meantime my family will be here waiting and loving me.
If only in my dreams – Until then, I’ll just be counting down the days until I’m home again with my family for Christmas.