I originally wrote this back in 2010. This year we are back in Colorado and enjoying/bearing each other's company. Merry Christmas, everyone!
The Green Family is trying something new this year. Instead of hosting Christmas at home in Maryland, driving out west to Colorado to spend it with my mother’s family, or heading northeast to see my father’s family, we have decided to rent a house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The house is one of those stilted buildings, right on the water. It rises three stories high and looks out over the dunes like a fat little sandpiper on thin legs darting forward and back with the surf. This house, christened the Island Bliss by the family whose portrait hangs in the room with the pool table, sleeps fourteen and has six bathrooms. Yet our family of five plus three dogs hangs out in the same two rooms, leaving the rest of the house unoccupied most of the time.
Our decision to come here confuses me on several levels. First off, I think of the beach as existing only in the summer. The idea of sand and surf during winter makes my head turn even as I sit by the open sliding door and listen to the waves slam against the shore. I have been to the Outer Banks twice before, and both times were in the heat of summer. Both times I swam in the Atlantic, both times I sunburned my shoulders so badly that the skin peeled away in thin sheets a week later, both times I sat and ate crab on the beach in spite of the sand the wind blew into the open tin of crab meat. But today, when I walked along the beach with my sister, I wore chucks and a Northface pullover, my feet never given the chance to feel the sand or the salt water. The weather forecast calls for snow tonight or tomorrow, and while I am eager to see the sand covered by a blanket of snow, my brain isn’t sure it will be able to handle the paradox.
The second reason that being here confuses me is that it will be the first Christmas away from home where we haven’t gone to see family. Growing up in Denver, and even the seven years we lived in Kansas City, assured us that we would spend the Holiday with my grandparents in Colorado Springs. The Colorado Grandparents go all out for Christmas. There really is no way of overstating it. Every year, starting the day after Thanksgiving, they put up seven Christmas trees, the tallest of which is a live, seventeen foot-tall tree bedecked with thousands of electric lights and strands of aluminum tinsel. The tinsel likes to hitch rides on my ass, clinging statically to my leg as if it would rather be anywhere else but hanging on the tree, catching the light, and twinkling festively. Beyond the trees, at last count they have collected 37 different nativity scenes from around the world, including a long-necked painted Peruvian set, a Northwest Indian trio of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus carved in obsidian, and a Czech set that comes with over 130 pieces and a chart delineating exactly where each character is supposed to be staged. Add a few wreaths, Santas, two Dickensian Villages, to the luminaries lining the driveway, and the final effect would have Norman Rockwell eating his proverbial heart out.
But in North Carolina, we have no tree. The stockings have been hung from the latches on the windows, and the presents have been piled underneath the bookshelf by the fire. My mother did think to bring a few strings of Christmas lights which we wound around the deck railings the night we got here and we have slung some sleigh bells from the handle of the sliding glass door. And as I sit here writing this in someone else’s vacation home, listening to my parents bitch to each other about wrapping presents for a holiday we have elected to celebrate a day late, I find the trappings of Christmas don’t matter. Because no matter how much they bicker, and how much they piss me off, being with my family is all I ever wanted. And while we may be grateful to have the extra space to periodically retreat to our neutral corners, tomorrow we will again spend the day in the same two rooms laughing at each other and snapping at each other, because that is part of being with each other.
There may come a time when being together may not be possible, and our family tank will be left at less than 100%. Jobs, school, and significant others may draw us elsewhere. But for now (and for better or worse) we are together. And that is where we belong.
The fall show went up on Monday and enjoyed three glorious days before it was cannibalized by students who selfishly wanted to give their work as gifts for Christmas. I'd be mad if it weren't for the fact that I did the same thing for 8 years.
In all seriousness, it was a great show. One of the best we have ever done! I am so proud of my students and the work they accomplished this semester. Go Danes!
The following presentation and video profiles Cheye Pagel, photographer and art educator at Fountain Valley School of Colorado.