[Wordpress deleted all trace of this piece and it was resuscitated via an e-mail. Unfortunately, it’s missing “Santa”‘s beautiful reply. Maybe the real Santa wanted something to take along to the North Pole.]
J and I would like to thank you for so faithfully visiting our home on Christmas Eve over the last 23 years. I know it would be easy for your Christmas team to overlook this town in the wheat fields. Idaho is a big state but dark from above, when compared to New York or Illinois. Our presents are always wrapped in topo maps and you copy mom’s handwriting perfectly, which is a nice extra touch. I’m glad the reindeer can navigate our slippery roof – the carrots we set out are for them. Your cookies and beer are on the side table where you usually find them.
I’m writing this year to inform you of a change of address for the upcoming Christmas.
I remember moving up the street from our first house into this old farm house. When it was built at the turn of the century, it was surrounded by asparagus fields. Does Rudolf remember that time, I wonder? When we moved in, much like our parents perhaps, it was a house recovering from the 1970s. I remember the thick, orange shag carpet (gone now) and the avocado-green cabinets (gone too). I had my own room, Santa, for the first time. The backyard had a hill that J and I could roll down in the summer and sled down in the winter.
If I think about my childhood in Idaho, I don’t think of this house much. I do think of playing in the cedar canopied creeks north of town. I think about the smell of wet border-collie on car upholstery. I think about the bigger sledding hill in the alleyway three houses west. I think about sand in my swimsuit and Salmon River water in my hair. I think about the pink and blue swing set in the yard, now donated to a family with kids ready to wax paper the slide and see how high a swing can really go.
But this house, it held me through all that, I suppose. I know exactly how many steps to the upstairs bedrooms, even if I still hate going up there in the dark. I know slipping down those stairs and storming up them. I know sitting on the gray carpet crafting elaborate Barbie outfits made only with fabric scraps, scissors and scotch tape. I know which door squeaks. I still know a few of the moves to my “Oops, I Did It Again” dance performed on the hardwood in the living room. I know the sound of prairie wind over the roof, rattling the windows, making me imagine I was resting not on a bed but on the gravel bottom of a big river. This house knows my childhood friends, my gymnastics leotards left on the floor, my first wine and cheese night with real merlot. The red table in the kitchen knows my geometry homework. That table knows my family laughter, feuds and fart jokes too. The bedroom let me paint it a deep blue when I needed a project to keep my mind off everything else. The kitchen floor knows how I sat with my dog’s forehead on my sternum and cried. This house has the pantry door where my height is marked in pencil, slowly moving upward until I packed up my car and moved out.
This house knows my nightmares and dreams, asleep and awake, age 3-18. It’s known beyond those years too, when it’s become the safe door I walk into when the big wide world – the one I drove so confidently into at 18 – is too much.
And of course, Santa, I understand the move. I know the elves have been processing lots of these requests, from families with kids my age. After decades of parents choosing for us, they get to choose for themselves. My mom doesn’t need a house that is close to the public schools or our sports practices anymore. I get it, I really do. I accidentally referred to this transition of our parents as “making a death nest” when talking to a (mortified) friend. Please don’t put me on the naughty list for that Santa. I didn’t mean it that way.
Just wait until you visit next Christmas and see the new place. You’ll be blown away, Santa. The new house is just right. Walking inside it’s still hollow stomach is like seeing my Mom and her partners’ hearts built with wood and metal. It’s tucked into a meadow that lifts into a ridge line of ponderosa and douglas fir. It may not be the place I was raised, but it’s the place I want J and I’s future families to meet their Grandma and Grandpa. On afternoon after afternoon last spring I watched this piece of land turn towards spring and I’ve started to love it like my mom does. I also cut out all the wild rose, so landing the reindeer shouldn’t be a problem, just so you know. If Donner and Blitzen would like to meet the horses, they’ll be in the pasture, their coats damp from the snow.
Santa, you visit so many houses, I just thought maybe you would know: how do you say goodbye to your childhood home? You can keep those memories in your heart, instead of within walls, right? I hope that when you land the reindeer on this old farmhouse next year, there’s two new children tucked into bed under the roof, dreaming of your arrival.