Traditions bind us to loved ones

Have you ever heard a holiday song that reminded you of a person, a place or a specific time? Bet you have. I have, too.

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Have you ever heard a holiday song that reminded you of a person, a place or a specific time? Bet you have. I have, too.

It happened on Friday. I was on my way into work when the radio station played Josh Groban’s rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I’d heard it hundreds of times before. But for some reason, it was tough to listen to on this particular morning; especially the words, “If only in my dreams.”

And I know why: I miss my dad.

Maybe, like me, you find the holiday season challenging when we’re surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells that remind us of loved ones who aren’t with us. Whether it’s a long-lost family member or a loved one overseas, we miss them so and long to have them back with us.

It’s been seven Christmases now since I last heard Dad’s deep bass voice singing “The Holly and the Ivy”; or begging, “how ‘bout making some chocolate fudge for your ol’ dad, Judy-Pie?” in hints that weren’t very subtle; or shaking and sniffing presents before guessing what was hidden inside. That used to drive our family crazy, but we loved it because it was “so Dad,” you could say. It’s been seven years since hearing him roar with laughter when Alistair Sim scared the daylights out of the maid at the end of “A Christmas Carol.”

I miss those times that now seem only like a dream.

Then there’s Mom, who helped create so many wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with the aroma of her delicious Annadama bread – made with cornmeal, molasses and wheat germ. Today, that tradition has been lost in the dark abyss of her Alzheimer’s. Yet she can still sing “Stille Nacht, Heil’ge Nacht” out of the clear blue. To hear her sing a song she sang as a young girl with her German grandparents just amazes me. I soak in every note of her sweet voice while I can, before it’s a dream.

Memories such as these can enrich our holidays. They are the fibers of tradition that, although often bitter, can also be woven into a tapestry of new traditions that strengthen the threads created by our loved ones before us….

Like the memories I have of arriving home from work Nov. 26 and seeing my house lit up with blue outdoor lights and trimmed with white icicles. Plus, a lit-up Christmas tree in our living room – all courtesy of our daughters and a large group of their friends. That gesture was a continuum of the traditions Mom and Dad helped create. You can be sure those teens got a good dinner that night.

There are other fibers of tradition.

Like when I see Dad each time I look at the beautiful quilt Enumclaw’s Marji Rossman made from his favorite shirts. It hangs above our piano in shades of gold, navy and maroon, right above our family’s photos. I don’t see squares of fabric; I see Dad’s silver white hair and warm smile.

I see Mom when I add molasses to a batch of Annadama bread and then wonder which neighbor will be the lucky recipient this time around.

And I see my parents in the ways that my adult son cares for his family. He takes time to play with his daughters after spending a long day at work. While watching him, I swear it’s like watching my dad all over again.

And I see loved ones in the way my husband carefully chooses Christmas gifts for his family and buys treats for the pets – even though he never really wanted them to begin with.

I’ve heard that Mark Twain once said we can’t go home again; maybe that’s true. But I think the writer of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” must have known the pain of what it felt like to lose someone. To miss them so much. Don’t you?

For while we’d do anything just to have this holiday with our loved one, I believe we still can each time we focus on helping others and discover new ways of strengthening the threads of tradition.

It binds us together and allows us to come home again. And these, I believe, are what the best dreams are made of.

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