Dear Lily June,
Many moons ago, back when your father and I were still just engaged but not yet married, we were broke (even broker than we are now, believe it or not) graduate students heading into our second Christmas together. We couldn’t afford to go home that year, so we were going to have to stay put and celebrate where we were. Our paycheck wasn’t scheduled to post until exactly December 23, so we sat in front of our tabletop artificial Christmas tree, adorned with less than a dozen tiny ornaments we’d picked up at a local Wal-Mart, and made a deal to only purchase one another’s (small) gifts on the day before the day before Christmas.
December 23 came, as did our promised pay. We headed out to the mall in our Alabama college town, only to find, much to our surprise, the mall wasn’t open. We went to Wal-mart and were far more shocked to find that even Wal-mart wasn’t open. On December 23! Store after store we drove past was closed, either for the season or because their seasonal workers–all college students–had escaped in the mass exodus that happened every year around this time. Finally, we pulled into the only place we found with an open sign: A CVS pharmacy down the road from where we lived.
I picked out your father an electric razor he asked for. He got me a thick, special edition bridal magazine that I could use for dreaming about our upcoming nuptials, the date set for October of the following year. And that, as far as I recall, was the extent of our gift giving.
As we drove home from our shopping extravaganza, the roads were black with rain, not snow or ice (it was too warm, a balmy seventy, to imagine frozen precipitation), but they were largely empty. We felt as if we had the whole town to ourselves. The night was preternaturally quiet and peaceful, the spell of blackness broken here or there by a candle in a window, a small string of Christmas lights around an apartment door.
It was, with perhaps the exception of your first, humble Christmas, the best Christmas I’ve ever before–or since–been honored to experience, and your dad and I still look back and laugh about it. Lily June, though I wish you holidays with trees the size of Rockefeller Center’s and presents the likes of which could make the Sultan of Brunei jealous, I also wish you, in your future, one of these: a wholeheartedly memorable, literally merry little Christmas.
And someone to love–be it lover, partner, spouse or friend–with whom to remember it fondly.
- By Jorge Barrios – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3169426