Although this time of the year has always been difficult for me ever since my Mother first got sick and eventually died followed by my Father two years later, this year has been particularly difficult. However, I try to direct my thoughts to how much different I feel now that I am living authentically each and every day as the woman that I now know that God always intended me to be. At the same time, I am looking back more and more at my childhood in West Virginia, and my teen years in Eastern Ohio. I am at the age now where one begins to seriously think about her own mortality. The thoughts and images just keep snapping into my mind like kernels of popping corn. Images of the excited and joyful look on my Mother's face on Christmas morning and really all through the holiday season, the restrained excitement of my Father, and images of my brother and later my sister-in-law, who I have not seen for over three years. These images certainly bring with them a sense of nostalgia, but there is depression, too.
I am doing all that I can to make the Advent and Christmas season much more meaningful this year now that Marilyn and I seem to have found a church after wondering in the wilderness for over twenty-five years and a false start last year. We were always very spiritual and experimental and understood and celebrated the true reason for the season in our hearts, but a sense of community was most definitely missing.
There have been many moments of melancholy this year For some reason, my emotions are running amuck like a whirling dervish, and I start to cry at almost anything remotely sentimental, including TV commercials. I still think about the wonderful Christmases that my parents always made sure that my brother and I had growing up in our little house in Vienna, West Virginia, and later in Cadiz and Wintersville, Ohio. I know that it is not unusual to feel nostalgic this time of year, and I do sometimes look at pictures from past Christmases and even watch the old eight-millimeter movies that my Father was fond of taking, but even that has become problematic, because in all of them, I am that little boy that is now a woman.
Christmas was always such a big event when I was growing up and even when I became an adult. My Mother loved Christmas and would shop year-round, beginning with the day after Christmas sales. We would get up at the crack of dawn to be there when the stores opened. My parents also showed their love by buying us presents, because they were not particularly good at showing their emotions otherwise, but Christmas was the one time of the year, that the emotions did seem to come to the surface. My goal ever year was to get a gift that would bring my Mother to tears. My Father was a lost cause, so we did not even try. When Marilyn and I were first married, we did not have much money, so we made a lot of homemade gifts. I particularly remember one year, we painted a plate blue and decoupaged a scene from a Christmas card on it. My Mother mentioned that plate many time in the ensuing years, and she prominently displayed the plate among the expensive German Christmas plates that my Father got her every year.
My Mother always wanted a chocolate set, and one incredibly special Christmas, my wife and I were able to deliver on that dream. We found a beautiful chocolate set at an antique mall, and although we did not have much money then, we purchased it for my Mother. It was most definitely worth the price, and we still have it displayed in the old bookcase that belonged to my grandfather.
In West Virginia, when we were kids, there were two trees-a real one in the basement where Santa Claus left the gifts, and an aluminum tree with a color wheel in the living room that also had gifts underneath. Santa even set things up for us, like the play sets, the slot racing cars, the electric football game, and a model train for my brother. Every year that we put up the aluminum tree, I would draw a picture of Santa on the instructions with the date. I sometimes think about trying to find a vintage aluminum tree to try to recapture some of that magic, but as Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
My bedroom was upstairs in the attic room, and I had to come downstairs to go to the bathroom, which led me past the living room. Sometimes on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning, I could not resist peeking on my way to the bathroom. One year, I saw that I was getting a cherished reel-to-reel tape recorder. I wish that I still had that recorder along with the many tapes that I recorded, which included my little band modeled after Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass called “The Cadiz Brass,” my college jazz band, and Guy Lombardo’s New Year’s Eve Shows from the Waldorf Astoria. The drummer for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Nick Ceroli, was a former student of my junior high band director, and his picture was prominently displayed in the band room. One of the eight-millimeter films shows Herb Alpert’s Album “Going Places” under the Christmas tree, and I still have that record in my collection.
My Mother loved to cook big family dinners, having learned from her mother. The whole house would be filled with the intoxicating smell of Christmas beginning early in the morning. There would be scented candles of cinnamon and peppermint and the aroma of pine and holly. My Mother did not do anything small. I always wondered if it was because my parents were products of the Great Depression and World War Two and always wanted to make sure that there was plenty for my brother and me.
There would be the milky white and aromatic oyster stew on Christmas Eve, which was a family tradition that my wife and I try to continue to this day. There was always the Candlelight Service at the Methodist Church. On Christmas day, there would be the presents, and the turkey, and maybe ham, too, along with the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, scalloped carrots (which my Mother always made for me), her famous stuffing and gravy, and rolls.
However, when my Mother got sick, the holidays became extremely difficult. I grew up in a family of perfectionists, and we were always striving for that perfect Christmas, and there would always be a little bit of a letdown when we did not quite achieve it. Nonetheless, memories are something that cannot be taken away from me no matter how sad they may make me feel, or who I now am. They are something to hold on to and cherish, especially at this time of the year.
At about this time every year, I do find myself grabbing onto the holidays and digging in my heels to prevent them from going by so fast. I know that Christmas will never be the same as it was when I was a boy or even when my parents were still alive and healthy. In fact, I am not even a boy anymore, or a man for that matter. Maybe that is it. I am looking at the approaching holidays through the eyes of the woman that I have become. In some ways, I have returned to being a child since my transition. I know that I am much happier, and I do feel more spiritual and closer to Jesus, which is what the season is all about right?
And, there has only been one perfect Christmas. That was the first one.
Barbara Marie Minney is a transgender woman, poet, writer, and speaker. She is a retired attorney and originally from West Virginia. Now based in Tallmadge, Ohio, her first collection of poetry entitled “If There’s No Heaven” was the winner of the 2020 Poetry Is Life Book Award and is available at www.poetryislifepublishing.com. Follow her at www.barbaramarieminneypoetry.com.