My Aunt Darlene used to send my brothers, sister and I, giant candy canes every year at Christmas. We would set our calendars by it--6 giant peppermint sticks, in our hands, by Christmas Eve, whether we went to Grandma's house or stayed home. It wasn't Christmas until we got them.
She continued this into our young adult-hoods, as one by one, we all left my parent's house and went out into the world.
When Darlene died of breast cancer some time ago, was a huge blow to the family--not only was she quite young at the time, but also, she was a hell of a woman...vibrant, boisterous, busy, smart, caring, classy. I liked her a lot. She was beautiful the way her mother, my mother, and all of her sisters are, or were--dark hair, high and defined cheekbones, strong faces framed by expressive eyebrows.
Darlene never knew my daughters, but, in her honor, my sister sends my children giant candy canes at Christmas, just like Darlene used to do for us. It is one of my favorite parts of the holiday, and I enjoy telling the story every year, of why it is so cool to get those candy canes from your Auntie, like I got them from mine.
The last time I saw my aunt was at my Grandfather's funeral, when she herself was quite ill. Her doctors had actually recommended that she not attend the service, as she was hospitalized at the time, and chemotherapy had devastated her immune system. She couldn't hug any of us or grip a hand, lest she might catch some virus and become sick. It was incredibly sad, and looking at her I knew that her life would soon be over. She died a short time later.
It was fitting, I think, that the very first piece of mail that I got at my new apartment was a tell-tale long and skinny box from New Jersey, which was waiting at for us at the door last night. While I have always found the fact that Donna picked up that tradition to be particularly touching, this year, the thought of it moves me to tears. It has been such an insane year--nothing is as it was, except, candy canes in the mail at Christmas--something I have lived with for some 40 years.
I'm not a "traditions" person. Its not that I don't like the holiday food or Christmas trees, its that I feel that any "must have", really isn't, and there is no such thing as "have to". The fact that I am in the middle of moving to a new apartment, and an entirely new life, has provided me with the option (excuse) of skipping all of that this year--no tree, no decoration, no large gathering of people for a meal, no specific foods to prepare or consume. Too busy. Can't really afford it, anyway.
In fact, those candy canes might be the only thing that looks like Christmas in my house.
It will be just us three. We'll be sitting around in our jammies, watching movies, unpacking--whatever we feel like doing. And we could very well be eating frozen pizza or something, I don't know.
Still, it may be the Best Christmas, Ever.
2008 has been particularly crazy for me. So much has happened. I started the year living in Duluth, MN, working, being married, and doing all the working/married stuff. I end it living and working in Minneapolis, having left virtually everything behind. "Everything," meaning, everything I was ever fooled into believing really mattered, that really didn't. The emotional upheaval that has occurred between the beginning and the end of this year has been, at times, gut-wrenchingly awful. It has been nine months of "Are you strong enough?" time, coupled with, "God is testing you!" time and joined by "Are you really the person you think you are?" time.
But, having a vision--just a little kernel of a dream of how things are supposed to be, and what life is supposed to feel like, has made it worth it--every minute. And after all that has happened, I know, for a fact, that there is nothing I can't handle. As gifts go, you couldn't ask for a better, more useful one.
And as feelings go, you couldn't ask for a better one than the one you get seeing a box of giant candy canes, when you know EXACTLY where they came from.
Last night, Punky told me that when she grows up, she would like to send her nieces and nephews giant candy canes at Christmas. We laughed when we both realized that her lone sibling, aged 15, had long since declared that she "hates" children and will NEVER have any. It was a good thought, though. Punky is definitely Candy Cane Aunt material...