Nostalgia and The Other Side of Christmas
We left our aging yellow labs alone in the house for two and a half days right after Christmas. Ramon checked on them several times each day, letting them out and feeding them. Why we didn’t think about what they would do, I do not know, considering how they wait, beaver tails wagging wildly, to get their (wrapped) bones each Christmas. We never leave their gifts under the tree.
But I guess we thought the package Aunt Norma left for Genevieve was safe, as it wasn’t food. Who would imagine that they would chew a beeswax candle? And that the Christmas sack with the hot chocolate swizzle sticks that Elizabeth forgot was out of reach on the table—wasn’t it? I couldn’t imagine that they would tear into a sack of stocking goodies, delicately chewing the bottom off a cellophane package of frankincense and myrrh and grinding the resins into a powder still in the tiny bag. What precision they demonstrated! Even piercing the metal top of the turmeric bottle so it became like a salt shaker! Leo even bored into a tube of Weleda Body Wash and then wallowed in it.
A little background on our returning: Some places are haunted for me, and one of these places is where Donald and I went right after Christmas: the coastal vacation community of Sea Ranch. I have gone to Sea Ranch at various times in my life. I first went there when I was five months pregnant with my first son and we stayed at the lodge which had a windowseat overlooking a meadow. When my sons were preschoolers, my parents, both now long gone, and my family spent a weekend there when my mother was recovering from open heart surgery. She walked the paved driveways between the weathered wood homes as part of her therapy.
Donald and I honeymooned in a condo on the cliff just south of the main lodge after our accommodations in Oregon fell through. When you sat in the living room, you stared into the horizon line of sea. We have spent many New Years there with our dear friends Dick and Karlyn, Dick now also gone.
Walking the trails along the coast brought back these memories, and I began to think about how, as heartwarming as these memories are, they are also memories often whitewashed of anything upsetting and have a way of keeping me out of the present. (Like how on the way back with my parents, we spent an extra frustrating 2 1/2 hours at the Sea Ranch chapel looking for my car keys only to discover that I had thrown them in the garbage can by the parking lot.)
So just when I was contemplating the function of nostalgia, including nostalgia of Christmases past when many of us were together who are not this year (this includes my youngest son and his family—I can really get on a roll with this!) my dogs helped me out! They brought me into the present with the immediacy of annoyance— and then awe— at the level of the intricacy of destruction.
The word nostalgia comes from Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain.’¹
Perhaps our dogs took take the etymology literally: “returning home pain”! But then, aren’t we home when we are present— even with pain?
These Holy Nights, Leo and Moka welcomed my return in their unique way!