Christmas in the Santa Lucia Mountains is not your typical childhood Christmas, unless you grew up here. When I look out the windows here, I see some of the most beautiful country anywhere in the world. Most days I see deer and wild turkeys and any number of wild birds. But I don’t see snow, I don’t see outdoor Christmas lights (we rely on solar power and cannot support Christmas lights), and I don’t see Christmas lights on anyone else’s house, mostly because I can’t see anyone else’s house from our windows.
Don’t get me wrong. I love living in Cambria’s backcountry. It’s just that at this time of year, I long for my childhood home in Springfield, Penn., and the sights, sounds, smells, and cold of a true winter Christmas.
It seems the older I get, the more nostalgic I get for the Christmas of my childhood. I want to go Christmas shopping with my mom in a snowsuit, boots, hat, and mittens, not jeans and a sweater. I want to drive to my mom’s favorite bakery, called the Cake Box, to buy a pink box full of frosted sugar cookies. My mom didn’t make Christmas cookies at home, but the cookies from the Cake Box were pretty darned terrific. I want to go again to the funny little lot on Saxer Avenue in Springfield, where we picked out our tree a week or so before Christmas, so we’d have the best selection, and then put it in a bucket of water in the garage until our traditional tree-trimming day — Christmas Eve.
I want to watch my dad decorate the house and bushes with Christmas lights, hang a live wreath on the front door, and tack eastern laurel around the door frame. I want to see our giant masonite Santa with the fiberglass beard on our front porch. I want to sing along with my parents’ favorite Christmas music, played on my dad’s “hi fi.” I want to help my mom decorate the tree and watch my dad carefully place hundreds of icicles on the tree, one by one. I want to look out the window and see snow on Christmas Eve. I want to hang my stocking next to my sister’s. Quite frankly, I want to be a child again. I want to lie in bed in the room I shared with my sister Julie and listen with all my might for any hint of Santa Claus and his reindeer on our roof.
As soon as my dad has turned on the tree lights on Christmas morning, I want to charge down the stairs to see what Santa brought. I want to squeal with delight at the treasures in the colorfully wrapped packages and in my Christmas stocking. I want to smell my mom’s Christmas dinner cooking. I want to sit around our formal dining room table and have Christmas dinner with my sister, my parents, and my grandparents. I really wish I could be a little child again — at least for one more Christmas.
Every time I hear Perry Como sing “Toyland,” I realize how long ago I passed its borders and can never return again.