One of our family traditions is to hang our Christmas stockings on the fireplace the day after Thanksgiving. From that time on, anyone can sneak small gifts into the stockings. We may feel the outside of the stockings with inquisitive fingers and guess what’s inside till the cows come home, but we can’t peek.
This year I unboxed our traditional stockings and put Jim’s back in the box. I found the fishing line in his workshop (Jim always hung the stockings) and began stringing the stockings on it when I realized I needed to make a stocking for our sweet little Juliet Rae, who would be spending her first Christmas with us. I would put a green wreath on her stocking and spell her name in white cut-out felt letters and sparkle them with silver. My old bag of felt squares and glitter held enough leftover materials from previous years of adding stockings to the mantle, so I headed to not one, but eventually to three stores to find one plain stocking I could decorate to match Juliet’s parents’ stockings.
There were stockings already decorated with snowmen and Santa and reindeer and gingerbread men and snowflakes. Twelve were made of velvet, eleven featured beading, ten socks were knitted, nine were made of burlap, eight were needlepointed, seven sported faux fur…
I went to bed that night with felt pieces still covering the kitchen table, our traditional stockings helter-skelter on the rocking chair and the living room carpet, the fishing line twining everywhere, and Jimmie’s stocking noticeably missing from the jumble.
The next morning I looked at the clutter I’d left downstairs. What was happening to me? I’m not a messy person. I’m a pick-up-after-yourself-now type of person.
I looked at the big stone fireplace. We had always hung our two stockings on one side of the fireplace insert and the kids’ on the other side. Now my stocking would be alone. Could I bear looking at that empty spot for a month?
“Jimmie!” I cried aloud as if he were in the next room.
In my mind I heard his voice, “Ved, go get those %$^#%^ socks.”
With a determined air, I headed back to the store I’d dragged in and out of the night before that had the 50% off sign in the Christmas stockings aisle.
In short order, I grabbed eight stockings, all decorated differently. If in the future we added more members to the family, I could just get more different stockings. Nothing had to match.
Back home, I unkinked the fishing line, strung the stockings and painstakingly tied the line to the same nail that had held our stockings for thirtysome years. I texted pictures to the family, had each pick a stocking, and with straight pins attached paper nametags.
Sometimes, even if we don’t want to start over, even if we fight it with everything in us, we have to begin anew. We keep what we can and let go of things that bring us sorrow.
Now when I walk through the living room, I smile at the unfamiliar dissimilar stockings instead of clouding over with longing.
And when I look at the bookcase near this office computer, I can read my posted new motto, loaned from a friend, stolen from the movie Apollo 13. Jim Lovell’s character said, “All right, there’s a thousand things that have to happen in order. We are on number eight.”
In this grief process, solving the Christmas stocking conundrum has moved me to number nine.