Our son, Mitch, works for an eye bank, which means that, when an organ donor dies, he removes the corneas for transplant. It's actually a great job for a college student with an interest in medicine and none of his mother's squeamishness, but it also means he is frequently "on call". Obviously, there is a limited window of time for removal and transport, so he has to remain in town and ready to travel. This year was Mitch's turn to be on call over Christmas weekend, so we took the celebration to him and four of his fraternity brothers who also couldn't go home for Christmas.
We loaded up food, presents, ornaments, lights, a tree stand, stockings, stocking stuffers and games - not to mention suitcases - and headed to the fraternity house on the morning of Christmas Eve. We were almost there when - of course - he got called out, but by the time we stopped for more groceries and unloaded everything, he had returned and Amanda had arrived.
Mitch's responsibility for the family gathering was to secure a Christmas tree. Rather than go the "traditional" route and purchase a tree, he and his friend, Kyle, decided to get all Grizzly Adams and chop one down themselves. Now, I can't prove it, but I suspicion that their choice of tree was intended to get a reaction from Mom. The top branches were bent over to fit beneath the 10-foot ceiling (AFTER they cut several feet off the bottom). What it made up for in height, it lacked in volume. The branches were thin and widely spaced. In a moment of resourceful brilliance, they balanced some of the previously removed lower branches in the holes. Rather than wait for us to arrive with the tree stand, they improvised with some 1"x4" lumber nailed directly to the trunk. To complete their creation, they decorated with beer cans and empty liquor bottles. They had no wire hangers so the tips of the branches were inserted directly into the opening of the can/bottle, giving the tree an Edward Scissorhands aura. This was the Charlie Brown tree on steroids.
But I'm the original Christmas Junkie. No measly, ugly tree can deter me from my appointed Christmas revelry. We replaced the alcohol adornments with "traditional" lights and Wal-Mart's finest plastic red/silver ornaments. The light strings helped anchor the non-attached branches, and when we were done it wasn't half bad.
Alumni of the fraternity recently donated new black, leather couches, end tables and a flat-screen tv hung above the fireplace, so we had a nice place to congregate. The kitchen is large with double ovens, microwaves and refrigerators, so cooking was a breeze. There were a few housekeeping issues created by twenty men celebrating the end of the semester and then leaving, plus the half-dozen who had been fending for themselves in the kitchen for a week (no cook during holiday break) - but "many hands make light work" as they say (whoever "they" are) and we whipped it into shape quickly. A fire in the fireplace and we were "home for Christmas".
Work schedules cooperated and left us a nice block of Christmas Eve with just the four of us to exchange gifts, play games and laugh. For the next two days, the other residents shuffled in an out according to their work schedules (several work nights) and we fed them all, included them in our games, passed out some gifts, and generally tried to give them at least a little piece of a traditional Christmas. Their genuine gratitude was our gift in return.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about what it means to be "Home For Christmas". Normally, it doesn't mean sleeping in a hotel, semi-strangers wandering through, or celebrating in a building with no ladies' room. But, we proved what I wrote before: "Home, I guess, is wherever the people you love are. Sometimes, home is not so much a physical place as a feeling - comfort, belonging, contentment."
Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays,
For no matter how far away you roam -
When you long for the sunshine of a friendly gaze,
For the holidays - you can’t beat home, sweet home!