I left Wisconsin to live in California on December 26, 1981. I had moved out of my own apartment to stay with my parents at the beginning of December as I made the transition from full time work to full time student, at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. At the time, I didn’t know that I would be moving “forever,” to not return to the place that had been my homeland, the land of my people, for several generations.
For a few years after I made the move to Northern California, I did not return to Wisconsin at holiday time. I stayed in Berkeley and later, in the parsonage at Pleasanton with my new husband, Jeff. I recall vividly the first winter I spent in Pleasanton, as I stood in the driveway in my blazer, preparing to drive to my first parish, in San Jose. I was surprised – here I was a blazer as my top layer in January – no boots, no wool cap and gloves!
My Dad died in April of 1986, and I was able to be with my parents for a few days over the holiday season after Christmas the year before. One day during my visit, Milwaukee had a wonderful snow-fall, a snow-fall without wind, when the large flakes fell straight from the sky to the sidewalks and streets below. I walked over to a coffee shop not far from my parents’ apartment on Appleton Avenue, taking in the white stuff as it landed on me, looking at the falling snow with wonder. That’s the best kind of snow – gentle,calm, falling silently to the streets of the city. And I didn’t have to shovel! I enjoyed the coziness of the coffee shop and set out to walk again to my parents’ place.
For a few years after I moved to Northern California, I tried – without any success – to bring on the feeling of “cozy,” during the holidays. As I write today, Oakland is getting a much needed, and never-enough rain, after many years of draught. This is as close to cozy as I’ll get, I’m sure, the sound of tires driving in the rain, the tree lights lit, heat from the furnace warming the house. One holiday season, a few days before Christmas, after my father had passed and my mother made the trip to spend the holiday season with Jeff and me in the Bay Area, she and I stopped on Christmas Eve to have a lunch together at a cafe. Inside the cafe, Christmas music played on the sound system, and we enjoyed our quiet time together. And that day, as I sat with Mom in a cafe, longing for cozy, I realized that I could never bring on Christmas the way it had been, in my memory. Those days were gone. My life had changed, and with the changes I had lost something I’d never have again, as happy as I was in my new home, in my new life.
I suppose that as I grow older, I will be longing for Christmas every year, longing for a bit of cold, for a snow – silent, lovely – and of course, for the people who lived those Christmases with me, gone now, for a long, long time.