Christmas Eve Wonder


Photo by: Megan Oteri

Photo by: Megan Oteri

What I remember most about Christmas is spending time with my family and the magic of Christmas Eve. The joy of spotting Santa in the sky and the holiness of the night as it curved into dawn of Christmas Day. We would wait up for my father on Christmas Eve, which was so exciting. He worked nights as a security guard at the Northern Trust Bank in Chicago. He would leave for work around 1 in the afternoon. Even though his shift started at 3, he would leave the house at 1 to catch the train into the city from the suburb where we lived. Mom had the house filled with Christmas smells and spices. My favorite was a mixture of orange peels, cinnamon sticks, and cloves simmering on the stove. It made the house smell so wonderful.

We would bake Christmas cookies and roll out the white dough and sprinkle green and red sugary crystals on top of each cookie. Snowmen, Christmas trees, bells, Santas, and elves. I don’t know how the afternoon passed. Sometimes we would wrap last-minute presents Mom needed help with. We would help get “The Little Room” ready for Christmas Eve. The Little Room was the name of the room attached to the garage. It was behind the house, about ten feet from the back door. It had a fireplace and that is where we put up the Christmas tree. It was such a magical place around the holidays.

With a fire crackling and the lights shimmering, we would sing along to the Christmas music on the radio and shake our presents to “see” what was inside. Even though we were allowed to open any gift under the tree on Christmas Eve, my sister and I always opened each other’s gifts that we got each other. Then it turned into tradition. I remember one year she saved her allowance for months to get me a monkey puppet. It had super long legs and arms and had a squeaky toy inside the mouth. It was brown and furry.

The most vivid memory is when Dad finally got home from work around midnight and we would squeal with delight, scampering around the house. Then we would run barefoot over the snow (it was Chicago – you could pretty much always bank on a white Christmas) and pitter patter through it, jumping from stone to stone on the circular stone path that led to the Little Room. And once inside the door, we would warm up by the fire and drink hot cocoa. Then we would open each other’s gifts — my sister and me — and my parents would watch. That is what I remember about Christmas. Well, Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is such a special time. Everyone is getting everything ready and it just is magical, no way around it. I love Christmas Eve more than Christmas morning.

I am embracing this tradition with my son, who is experiencing the wonder of Christmas. I hope you all have a beautiful Christmas with your loved ones and I hope you experience the wonder of the season, just as you did in the pockets of your childhood memory and in the creation of new memories.

***

Please check out my essay, “Presence” which was published on Mamalode. Lisa Stone, CEO of BlogHer called Mamalode, “America’s best parenting magazine.”Mamalode was featured in Forbes recently as a niche parenting magazine.

Here is a teaser of my essay:

“With a fire crackling and the lights shimmering, we would sing along to Christmas carols on the radio and shake our presents to “see” what was inside. Mom was Christmas Eve.”

Here is the link: http://mamalode.com/story/detail/presence. I encourage you to like and comment on the website and share the link. Thank you. I appreciate your support and interest in my writing. Merry Christmas!

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I Miss Him: Holiday Grief


*** Note to readers: this started as a Facebook status update and I decided to post it here.
 Missing this Irish man today.
Dad's article
He died 11 years ago in the middle of the night, technically December 11 at 4 am holding my mother’s hand. But I always feel like this is the day he died since December 10, 2003 was the last time I saw him and had to say goodbye to the father I loved for 29 years. Death sucks, but it is a part of life. Trying not to get all existential, but perhaps I should take this status update to my blog or journal. But you see I miss him. I miss him, and as grief has numbed the loss – a hole that death leaves, gaping in concave fragments of the heart, a sense of longing has replaced this. This sense of missing him, knowing he is gone. I miss him.

I miss seeing the veins on his hands, crossed in a holding pattern on his lap, a cigarette always tucked puffing solo in his lips. I miss his morning silence and two cups of coffee minimum rule: “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.”

I miss him.

I miss watching his gait, heavy to the left, limping, shifting the weight in stride to his other leg — the leg I now know had significant damage from frostbite from Korea. I miss his odd sense of humor and his incredible intelligence. I miss how he could talk to anyone. I miss his pride. I miss his pats on the back and how awkward he became when I insisted on hugging him.

I miss him.

I miss the way he could pack a car, no matter how large with flea market finds. I miss his Cuban wedding shirts. I miss his scarves which he always called mufflers and reminded me to bundle up on cold Wyoming winter nights before I left the house. I miss his anger, sometimes dark and black. I miss his garden and the flower pots he filled them with — stacked in neat rows around the brick wall around our house on Maxwell. I miss seeing him peaceful with dirt in his hands.

I miss him.

I miss the way he wrapped his shoelaces around his ankles, tying them pragmatically in double knots as an old man. I miss his grey hair comb over. I miss his kindness and Irish pride. I miss smelling Corn Beef and Cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day. I miss the strong scent of coffee in the kitchen of our home. I miss having a hell of a hard time trying to buy him the perfect Christmas gift.

I miss him.

I miss his voice and his ability to speak only when necessary in a conversation. I miss his knowledge and the statistics he could whip out on any baseball team in this century or the last. I miss that he could give the biggest compliment to me through a third person like when he told my best friend Heidi that she had to make sure I write because it is in my blood — “Make sure Megan writes; she is a writer — a journalist a poet. She is related to Percy Bysshe Shelley, you know? Make sure she writes — it is in her blood.” I miss his smile, sometimes rare and sometimes wild.

I miss him.

I miss watching him read thick books and biographies. I miss startling him if I walked up on him unexpectedly, giving me a sense he knew fear in the strongest sense of the word and I miss the sense of relief he had when he knew it was me. I miss his car — a long maroon Lincoln Continental plastered with proud Semper Fi bumper stickers.

I miss him: John Shelley Miller, my dad — the first man I ever loved.

My father and I on my wedding day (November 23, 2003)

My father and I on my wedding day (November 23, 2003)

My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War,

My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War, He is bured at Arlington Cemetery.

My dad and his friend from Korea.  This man called me shortly after my father died.

My dad and his friend from Korea. This man called me shortly after my father died.

My dad around Christmas time 2002 -- his last Christmas

My dad around Christmas time 2002 — his last Christmas

My father had a poet's eye.  I believe he took these photos on leave during the Korean War.

My father had a poet’s eye. I believe he took these photos on leave during the Korean War.

My dad stopping to smell the roses. This photo gives me such joy.

My dad stopping to smell the roses. This photo gives me such joy.

Fence

Fences: I send messages to my father through the birds. Cardinals deliver same day mail. My father loved cardinals and I can’t help but think he sends me messages back when they whistle by me. My yard in North Carolina is filled with cardinals. I see one weekly — at least.

My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003

My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003

Photos from my wedding

Photos from my wedding

Betty and John were special people.  Anyone that ever met them knew this.  They were storytellers and magicians.  They made people feel good.  Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold.  My magic - my love.

Betty and John were special people. Anyone that ever met them knew this. They were storytellers and magicians. They made people feel good. Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold. My magic – my love.

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you all. It has been a long time since I posted. The last post I really composed was back in October  — about my alma mata, Providence College. I posted a short little something about the World Series back in October too. November was a busy month for me as I started a new job as a Special Education teacher at a middle school.

I have been adjusting to my new job. I sleep a lot more. I am in bed by 8:30 pm most nights. Staying up until 9:30 pm is like closing down a bar; it rarely happens. Getting used to the new schedule (I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last three years) has been difficult. I am surprisingly more efficient though in some ways. But housekeeping and keeping the house clean always seems to be a task that just does not happen. There are some plates that get dropped, I just can’t do it all.

My husband has helped out a lot. He is amazing.

Speaking of amazing, can we talk about Christmas? I love Christmas. I had some apprehension about the holidays that started back in November. I should have been writing, but I started the new job and just froze up with my writing. There just was not enough time. I slept, worked, played with my son and spent time with my family, and slept.  I just did not have time for anything else.  But I realized I have to write to keep the creative juices flowing. Plus, it just makes me feel better.

Back to the amazing husband — he spoiled me for Christmas. Just a couple of my favorite gifts were Caluwe Artisan chocolates and a Pac-man game that is old school. It comes with a joy stick and you plug it into the TV. Joy. I love Pac-man.

I wanted to post something and the battery to my laptop is running low. I will be trying to post more on my blog,

Merry Christmas. It is a magical time of year. I am a Christmas Eve person and my husband is from a Christmas family. So we get the best of both worlds. And this year, my son was three so we just had a blast with him. We did not have time to bake Christmas cookies. It just did not get done, but we did make peanut butter bird feeders which my mother made with me as a child.  I also continued our Christmas Eve tradition and made dinner.  I made a roast.  It was delicious. And as I cut celery, I felt my grandmother and realized that cooking for her was a form of expression.  Read more about my awesome cooking and creative kin from my mother’s side on this blog: The Community Kitchen.

I had many moments of melancholy as well as utter joy leading up to Christmas. I looked at the stars a lot and felt my mom and dad. I realized that Christmas memories are made in the fissures of our heart, in the deep muscle tissue in each of us. Christmas is Christ, who I believe is in each and every one of us.

Do any of you watch The Bold and the Beautiful? I caught a little bit of today’s Christmas episode at my in-laws. They love that show. In fact, they call it their story. Well, I totally “got it” when the blond older woman had that moment with the blue bird  (although I thought that was a pretty exotic bird to be local to LA) that was supposed to be Stephanie. I always think of my dad when I see a cardinal and I used to send him messages after he died through the birds. But I have been thinking about my mom more often now when I see cardinals. After all, she was a redhead. Well, when Ben and I went outside on Christmas Eve to hang the bird feeders, there was a bright red cardinal that swooped up into the tree near us. It was so red — so bright — so beautiful. I thought to myself, this bird was my mom. The energy was so intense, the startle from the bird was so intense.

Then I thought that is ridiculous, then I allowed myself to really think it — to know it. And I accepted it: my mother is with me — somehow, someway. I can’t explain it, but I can feel it. I can feel her love. I can feel the memories. I can feel the love. It is still alive, although she may not be.

Well, my battery to my laptop is telling me I have five minutes left on my laptop and I have Pac-man to play. I will get to the pretzel!

Happy New Year!
And Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from my family to yours