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Christmas is down to one stocking this year

Today I took down one of two stockings from the fireplace mantel. It was the one with “Emily” cross-stitched on it, which has hung next to the one marked “Peg” through nearly 30 Christmas seasons. It’s white with a fluffy kitten peeking through Christmas balls, and I stitched it for her all those years ago.

Emily and I still cherish our custom of filling stockings for one another. We take our time opening them, even wrapping some of the individual items. This year, for the first time, Em will not be here for Christmas, so I’m shipping her filled stocking to Portland. I’m trying not to make a big deal out of it.

I admit to a pang as I remove, fill and wrap it carefully in tissue paper, laying it in a box with her other gifts. It seems strange, like I’m packing away her childhood again, while I’m thankful for our many Christmases together. I suppose I am spoiled. But that lone sock, languishing limp and without its partner, appears pitiful and threatens to bring out the weepy in me.

This year’s many changes and losses have forced a closer and simpler look at the motive for celebration. I even scaled back the nativity scene. No wise men, no shepherds, no angels. Just Mary, Joseph and the baby king in a feeding trough with a few animals looking on. The calm before the storm.

I’m keenly aware of my brother’s absence. Alan left us in January and loved everything Christmas. Reminders of his inherent joy surprise me now as I open boxes of decorations and discover his handwritten notes that came with them. I hear his voice, his silly jokes, and the generous laughter that followed. I feel he’s with me in a way.

Alan took pleasure in sending Christmas books. One year it was a copy of “What the Heart Already Knows,” by Phyllis Tickle. We each had copies. Tickle was an author who lived on a farm in Tennessee with her husband and seven children. The book took us through Advent, which means “coming” in Latin. It represents the four Sundays leading to Christmas. It also covers Christmas and the Epiphany, the wise men’s visit to the infant Jesus. Each tradition is depicted through their family interaction with the creation around them, like an Advent wreath from their grapevines and holly. Reading it is like visiting the neighbors, enjoying the romp and circumstance of their children, then returning home to a fire and a good book.

Most traditions remain. I found a highly companionable tree at Carter’s Tree Lot in Butte Falls, with all donations going toward a young man with PKAN disease. Sugar Pine Café provided our takeout lunch. I’ve enjoyed helping to support local businesses through a leaner season. I’m able to get out and share the streets safely with others rather than crowding into major retailers. I visited Jason at The Crown Jewel in Jacksonville; and Judy at Chan’s Palace in Eagle Point knows my takeout order before I say it. I love Scheffel’s Toys, where I found the perfect children’s books for my nieces and nephews. Linda, the owner, knows her books, so she told me a story, cinching a sale.

I hope to make it over to Ashland soon to peruse its many wonderful shops, and The Blackbird is a holiday fave, if only to reassure myself that Santa Blackbird still stands and all will be right with the world.

Though my year has contained a lion’s share of loss, it’s hard to define or explain the undercurrent of joy happening. In the quiet contemplation of lessons to learn from the year that’s passing on and priorities for the fledgling on the horizon, peace wins. There’s time to hope in and ponder bigger things, see the blessings, and not panic my way through December.

Every year at this time I celebrate another anniversary of writing this column — lucky seven this time. Thank you for putting up with me. May 2021 be a kinder year for us all.

Joy to the world.

Reach freelance writer Peggy Dover at pcdover@hotmail.com.