The House Without

Dearest Rachel –

I hope you don’t mind, but you know this was never something I thought was worth bothering with, since we never really celebrated the holidays at our own home. Maybe, if we intend to do more hosting in our renovated place, that might change, but for now, we aren’t really going to be bothering with decorations this year.

And yes, that includes the Christmas tree… which is why I’m talking about this particular Christmas song, and why it’s particularly painful this year.

And of course, I’m including the version by the Vince Guaraldi Trio; it has that special, smooth jazz melancholy air that yesterday’s topic had in spades.

Christmas and New Year’s always alternated between each of our parents – we would spend Christmas at one, and New Year’s at the other any given year, and reverse the order the next year – until, of course, your mom’s passing in 2019. And even then, I think we made a point to go down there some time in December in both years, partly because you were still working on winding up the estate, and partly to check in with Twofeathers, who we had decided to leave the house to.

A ·wise [insightful] servant will rule over the master’s disgraceful child
and will even ·inherit a share of what the master leaves his children [L divide an inheritance with the brothers/relatives].

Proverbs 17:2, Expanded Bible

To be sure, that verse never came up when we discussed what to do with the house, as ‘disgraceful’ hardly suited you as a description. The fact is, as your folks declined, Twofeathers not only took care of them (and managed the rotation of nurses who took their shifts monitoring them – this being why we referred to her as their ‘nurse-coordinator’), but also made sure that the house was shipshape to the best of her ability. We concluded that she took care of the place like it was her own, and since she and her husband (and their family) were living in a trailer park, they deserved a bigger and better place to live; and since she treated the house with such respect, why not leave it to them? Especially since your parents had outlived two other people that had wanted to purchase it from the estate when the time came.

As far as other alternative, we’d talked about how home prices were so much lower downstate at some point, but you admitted that you liked living up here in the suburbs, and wouldn’t want to give it up. Even when we had the opportunity to buy property on your beloved Middle Bass Island, you questioned whether the remoteness of the place would be too much of a surrender. Of course, that opportunity was lost to us, and while we were both upset about it, it turned out that it was just as well, since we only wound up renting the cottage from the new owners during 2020… although they did offer to help us keep an eye out in case the Bretz property because, as they put it, “we’d love to have you as neighbors” on the island.

But of course, life – and its conclusion – intervened. I’ve promised to take you back there one last time, but only once we can get the girls’ schedules organized; I know that Ellen’s been to the old Bretz cottages, but she’s never been to the Meier place where we’ve been since 2007, and of course, Erin has never been there. They need to truly see the place that you wanted for your final earthly rest. And if that takes a few years to arrange, I’m in no hurry to let you go; I hope that doesn’t bother you too much.

Anyway, I got waaay off track there, honey. Hope you don’t mind.

So, since we were always away from home during the actual Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I didn’t see much point in decorating the place for them. To use Ellen’s phrase, it was “too much like work,” especially since we’d just be taking it down a month later.

And while you were understanding of my perspective, you countered with the opinion that the place simply needed a little Christmas, regardless.

You even did most of the work, wrapping the light post in our front yard and the railing of our deck in strings of Christmas lights. Those latter are still there, although they seem to have burnt out – guess they’re not meant to be left out all year, even if they aren’t being used all the time.

You were the one who (presumably with Daniel’s help) always put up the Christmas tree, although even you drew the line at putting on ornaments; that box remained untouched in our bedroom for years, buried under all sorts of other stuff… until this year.

I’m tempted to think that you were partly inspired by the desire to not be ‘the house without a Christmas tree.’ And yes, I ran across that book – the novelization of the television show – as we were cleaning out the office. As with several other authors – Ruth Chew, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, among others – you collected as many of her books as you could during your childhood and even extending into the early years of our marriage; you would frequent Drummer and Thumbs, the local secondhand bookstore, and were upset when it was sold and turned into a shoe repair shop, of all things.

The irony is that now, our house has become that house. Oh, I’m not the bitter widower that takes everything out on his child for having lost his wife, nor is Daniel a know-it-all little kid who truly misses the lack of Christmas decor, but the tree (and indeed, all the Christmas decorations) were your thing, and with you gone, there doesn’t seem to be much point in bothering. Besides, there are more urgent holiday-related matters to attend to – I have my assignments at church, and while I think I’ve taken care of pretty much all the necessary shopping (barring groceries for the day’s meals – those need to be fresher than a week old), I still haven’t wrapped a single thing. So I’ll be taking care of those things today, and leaving the house bare for the season.

Maybe next year, when the place has been fixed up and we actually do some entertaining, I’ll have the place done up for the holiday. Maybe by then, it won’t just be the two of us doing it (God willing), and I’ll be that much more encouraged to do so. But for now, I’ll leave the celebration – and the decorations – to the other places we’ll being going to.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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