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.
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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.