For the first time, we are empty nesters. There will be no Christmas basketball tournament featuring a Kelly kid coming off the bench, or a casual, error-prone annual holiday show wrapped around cider and seasonal sugar cookies.
More importantly, future visits “home” will be awkward and curious. I have referred to the Southern California house I grew up in as “my parents’ house” and its surrounding community as “the old neighborhood” for more than 30 years. Although the memories of that place are dear and precious, home is where we now live and where our four kids were born and raised.
When my dad died a little more than eight years ago, mom sold the large family home of 46 years and moved into a nearby condominium, keeping the dreams of the area yet leaving the emptiness and upkeep of an old structure. Only one of seven children remains in that area, and visiting siblings shuffled between his home and mom’s “step-saver” condo.
Now, mom has left the old neighborhood and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to be closer to my two sisters, brother and their families. How will I respond to not even driving by that house that first delivered Santa to me? How will our kids remember the huge backyard, driveway basketball hoop and cozy sidewalks surrounding my parents’ home? And, when will I next visit my childhood home?
The old neighborhood is packed with holiday memories. My first experience of a Christmas play (the nuns of the Blessed Virgin Mary loved to labeled it “the children’s holiday pageant”) occurred just five blocks from that house. The extravaganza was — and still is — viewed from an oh-so-comfortable Samson steel folding chair in the rear of a packed hall and around parents darting toward the stage with powerful cameras anticipating the perfect Kodak moment when their Freddy — only a blur from four rows deep in the student band — clangs the symbols to mark the surprise conclusion of “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
I thought about those Christmas plays this week when I considered the number of such events my parents — with seven married children and 17 grandchildren — had witnessed. I can remember standing on those steel chairs as a small child, looking toward the entry/exit for my father to come flying in the door late from work, his necktie flopping about his chest as he lunged in the darkness to find the seat my mother carefully guarded with her folded overcoat.
“Did you remember the camera?” she would whisper so all around her could hear. “And what about the film?”
The crowd — and everyone knew everyone — would begin shushing my mom, index fingers on lips, with the not-so-subtle: “Jane, we can’t hear!”
My dad would respond with an answer-all: “Relax!” He then miraculously would expose a tiny camera with the huge flash, which looked like a pie tin with a 40-watt bulb in the middle of it, that simultaneously lit and blinded the hall and all of its spectators.
When the last carol was sung and the final nativity scene photographed, the venue would shift to the parish hall for conversation and cookies.
“Didn’t Michael look just like Joseph?” Sister Mary Arcadia asked me nearly 45 years ago.
“I guess so.”
The scene had changed little, except for the quality of camera and the nuns. Substitute Jodi for Jane, me for my dad, and you had virtually the same Christmas pageant environment of 1961. I often came flying in late from work and even used “relax” (I am somehow allergic to “chill”) as a semiconscious response.
I failed to ask my dad if he missed the Christmas play — or the thought of sitting in those folding chairs? What became of the rolls of film he shot from that archaic camera?
I will ask my mom — on the telephone — next week. I will also ask my wife where she stored all of the holiday photos she has taken. I’d like to know, before our kids ask us if they can have some for their own Christmas family albums.
Tom Kelly’s new book, “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border,” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Houston-based Stewart International. The book is available in retail stores, on Amazon.com and on tomkelly.com. Tom can be reached at email@example.com.