Before leaving for a quick December trip to Alaska, my husband asked if it made any sense to go to Anchorage in December. And of course it makes no logical sense, but I said I wanted to see our older son and his wife and my friends in their holiday settings. For me the trip is part of what my old friend calls “learning gracefully to share families,” and part of adapting to change.
The trip reminds me of the way movies often have a Christmas scene or are set at Christmas. (And aren’t there some great ones? I’m eager for my niece to come home, so we can do our traditional viewing of “Love Actually.”) The holidays have great visuals – I even like the airports – the bustle and the greetings.
I will be thankful to be here making ready for the younger son and his sweet friend, but before that, it’s a privilege to see Christmas, and its trees, in favorite Alaska houses. A visit does what texts and videos and emails cannot (grandparents must really feel this way). I want to replace the last sighting with a current one and stir up all the memories – just briefly.
In 1993 I got to be part of a Limner Press series of Christmas books. They printed and hand bound a little letterpress book, setting the type by hand and making my illustrations into engravings for printing. In the book called “Seedling Spruce,” I told the story of a tiny spruce seedling that planted itself close to our front fence.
(Then only inches high it reminded me of the tiny Christmas trees my sister and I would bring indoors when we were little and living in the woods of British Columbia. We’d nail them precariously between two boards or stuff into a tin can – and they were ours.)
One year, thinking the spruce was too big for where it was, I proposed cutting it to be the indoor tree. My young friend was aghast. She wouldn’t come to see it cut, and I feared she wouldn’t decorate our tree – a task she accomplished with expertise for many years (from the time she was three and stood on a stool to hang the star). I left the spruce in place.
Now, in a changed tradition, I help her decorate her tree. She and her family put lights on – but wait till I am there to festoon the tree with ornaments. Her cat will sit with that cat-beneath-a-tree anticipation while we work. When I visit, my painter friend will have a tiny tree with lights in a window box outside her living room – and I’ll be glad to sit there and have tea.
When we left Alaska, the spruce had become a good-sized tree, but still easy to reach around and string with colored lights. I don’t know about those lights now or a Christmas tree in our old house – but there is a new kitchen – and a new dog named Cora.
I am grateful to go – it feels like a holiday tradition!