Born in England, my firstborn son didn’t meet his American grandparents until he was three-years-old. His father, tired of the rain and dismal British economy of the mid 1980s, decided we would have a better life in the land of his birth. And so once more (another story), I left my home, family and friends for America where we would live for seventeen years.
We settled on the central coast of California in the late summer of 1986. Though the grandparents lived some four hours away in Los Angeles, we would see them regularly and always at Christmas.
At the bottom of the holiday and shift rota at the start of his new career, my (ex) husband (EH) got what was left. For many years, he worked “graveyards” before graduating to “swing-shift”. By the time he made the day shift, our “little boy” was in high school. By then, I had Christmas in California all figured out.
But not that first Christmas, far from home.
I got up at the crack of dawn to put the turkey in the oven for what would be my first attempt at cooking Christmas lunch. Grandma and Grandpa had driven up from LA the night before, Christmas Eve. EH would have to eat and run to start his shift at 3pm. Not only him, but the grandparents too: Grandma had to work the next day.
No Boxing Day for us in America.
But, determined to make our Christmas as British as possible, I served Brussels Sprouts and a homemade Christmas pudding. The polite refusals by my in-laws assured me they were not the hit I had hoped for. Over the years, my mother-in-law and I would reminicse and laugh about it, but at the time I yearned for my family back in England, never missing them as much as I did that Christmas.
And so everyone left in the afternoon, leaving me and my little boy alone in our first American Christmas. An aching loneliness for us both swept over me. If there had been at least a chill in the air, it would have helped, but the sun shone down from a warm blue sky. Our short-but-sweet Christmas with our new American family had brought fun and joy, but how could it have ended so fast? In my mind, it was far from over.
The weather outside wasn’t frightful but quite delightful and perfect, I realised, for a walk.
With our dog, Bonnie, a cross Lab/Collie come with us from England, we strolled around our new neighbourhood. Windchimes hung on porches of two-story houses and tinkled cheerfully in the gentle breeze. Most houses, like the one we rented, had living rooms upstairs, some providing a sliver of ocean view and a glimpse of Morro Bay.
We wandered down a few roads keeping to the side with no pavement. My son ambled along at my side, stopping to exam rocks and leaves as small children do and Bonnie padded up ahead, tongue lolling and sniffing everything, as dogs do. A quietness had settled all around, save for the low, distant hum of a fog horn.
I imagined families gathered inside their homes enjoying their festivities as we walked by. My son and I were strangers in a distant land, not knowing any of them. He had yet to start school and make new friends; I had yet to meet their moms and my best friend, build our network. My two other children were not yet born. But we would go on to make lifelong friends and build a rich family life with our own traditions. And, smiling down down at my son, I resolved it would start that Christmas Day.
We returned from our walk, raided our chocolate stash, built my son’s new Lego set and watched Pinocchio, Grandma’s gift and first video on our rented VCR. We read stories from his new books and made hot chocolate with marshmallows. Later, I poured myself a glass of Christmas cheer and lit a fire, though it felt like spring outside.
Together, we found our Christmas in America.
Nothing worked out as I had planned, but everything happened as it should. Grandma and Grandpa are long gone now and we miss them. Today, I celebrate Christmas with my adult children in England.
One thing I have learned is that nothing stays the same. Life in its great ebb and flow with constant change. Sorrow and joy. Loss and hope. Separation and reunion. This year, so much is uncertain. We miss our loved ones, have too much worry and loneliness. But if we have love we have everything and for me this is the true message of Christmas.
Dear friends, wherever you are, may you find peace and love in your Christmas and hope for better days to come.
Love Sherri x