I’ll Have an Air Force Blue Christmas Without You

As I write these words, there are exactly five days before my son Trevor will be heading off to Lackland Air Force Base in San  Antonio, Texas for basic training. This will mark the first time in his twenty years of life that he won’t be home for Christmas. Of course, I’ve been seeing the signs coming for years: when my daughter Jessamy went off to college, Thanksgiving weekend suddenly became the preferred weekend for decorating the Christmas tree, since that was the only way she could be in on it. And with our move to Colorado last year, it meant we met her at my parents’ house for Christmas rather than her coming to ours. 
“Through the years we all will be together,” promises the old song, then qualifies it with “if the Fates allow.” But the Fates don’t allow, do they? Children grow up, parents grow old, marriages don’t always last forever. Change is inevitable, and not all changes are bad. We’re
proud of Trevor, and support his decision to join the Air Force. We’re pleased with how well Jessamy is doing in her chosen career in the museum field. And it isn’t just my husband and I who are going through these changes. My sisters adore having grandchildren to share Christmas with, even though it means they must share their own children and grandchildren with other sets of doting grandparents—the in-laws, after all, deserve equal time.

And that, to me, is what gives family Christmas celebrations their poignance. For all their illusion of permanence and tradition, we don’t really know what the coming year will bring, or how many more family Christmases we’ll have. All we can do is celebrate the times we’ve had, and pass those memories down to the next generation. “Do you remember the Christmas we all had the stomach flu?” someone in my family will say at some point within the next week, to be greeted by a chorus of groans. “What about the time when the bird flew into the house and Daddy had to throw a blanket over it to get it back outside?” Jessamy is usually the one who brings this one up. “Trevor and I stood at the front door to watch, and it flew out of the blanket and right back into the house! Daddy had to capture it all over again! I’ve never seen him so mad at us!” They howl over this story as if it happened yesterday, instead of ten years ago. We rehash these stories as if by keeping them alive in our memories, we can somehow preserve them against the day the major players are no longer on the stage. My sisters and I grew up hearing the story of how Santa once took back our dad’s Christmas toys when he didn’t take care of them. We passed the story along to our own kids, who are now passing it along to theirs. I even adapted it as a children’s book, for which I am currently seeking a publisher. My only regret is that I didn’t write this book years ago, so that my paternal grandmother could have lived to see it in print. 
Who knows? Someday Trevor may regale his own children with the story of his Christmas at basic training. But in the meantime, I’ll spend the next few days making his favorite Christmas goodies (chocolate-covered orange slices, anyone? Turtle cookies? Pecan pie?) and cooking his favorite meals, doing everything I can to give him as normal a celebration as possible  in a year when there is nothing at all normal about this Christmas.

So hold your loved ones close this year, while you still
  can. And don’t sweat the small stuff. After all, this year’s dinner disaster or
  gift-giving goof-up may someday be the stuff of family legend. And have
  yourself a merry little Christmas, now.