Last month, we awaited the arrival of a late day snow storm, and my mind wandered back to the early 80’s in Pennsylvania. I was in 8th grade. I had science last period so we were in Mr Bauer’s room. I had my coat on, but not zipped. It was important to be ready to bolt as soon as my bus was called, but one had to balance that with comfort while waiting for what seemed to always be an interminable amount of time. The room hummed with adolescent energy. We were ready to be done with school long before they were ready to release us.
Unlike recent years, at that time, the mid-Atlantic states weren’t know for heavy snow fall. Precipitation in December was typically freezing rain or sleet. A white Christmas was a rarity. This day was no different. I can’t tell you whether what was falling was sleet or freezing rain, but it wasn’t accumulating, so we didn’t pay it much attention. Just. Let. Us. Go. Already! Five minutes past dismissal, no buses. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes and finally at twenty minutes past dismissal there was an announcement. The roads were awful and the buses were delayed.
Mr. Bauer told us to take our coats off and encouraged us to start on our homework. Yeah, right. We chatted, we read. Eventually some of us caved and begrudgingly pulled out our homework. An hour and a half past our normal dismissal time, the busses started to trickle in. Half an hour after that, my bus showed up. As I skated down the walkway to the bus, I looked out to the road in front of my school and saw nothing but taillights. Uh Oh.
It was 12 minutes from school to my house without traffic. With traffic, it typically took us closer to 20 minutes to make the trip. That day it would take almost two hours. By the time I stepped off the bus it was almost 7pm. I was toast, exhausted, fried, frustrated and hungry.
As I walked to the house, I almost burst into tears. In my absence, my mom had pulled out the Christmas candles and put them in windows. I had always lobbied, for brighter, more colorful decorations, but that day, I came to appreciate the simplicity of an electric candle with a white bulb on the windowsill.
I was home.
She met me at the door with a hug and helped me out of my stuff. She sent me to the living room where she’d lit a fire in the fireplace, a rare weekend treat that was unheard of on a week night. She brought me a mug of hot chocolate and left me alone by the fire to enjoy Andy Williams album Merry Christmas while she finished dinner. I was in heaven.
I haven’t spent Christmas with my mom in more than twenty years (not for lack of trying), but this year, as I made my way through the season, I am noticed her absence more than other years. I’ve carried on the tradition of candles in the windows and I smiled every time my house came into view. I still listen to Andy Williams Merry Christmas, albeit in digital form. I couldn’t change her and I can’t change the past, but I tried to focus on the good memories and let the bad ones melt away like the sleet and freezing rain. Some days I’m even succeeded.