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  • Patty Ihm

Christmas Past


For thirty years, we stuffed envelopes with photographs of children of various shapes and sizes, bedecked in some sort of holiday cheer or another, mostly smiling but some laying out their true in-the-moment selves, captured on 4x6 glossy cards and mailed around the country. Though they were not always even posted in time to ring in a given new year, our cards were intended for their beloved recipients as a snapshot of what we had been up to since our previous greeting. The new girlfriend, current foster baby, the collection of dogs, the moods, and an occasional photo-shopped graduate student...appeared as they were, in that moment, to slow down the time.


This year was different. Circumstances, decisions, and a hollow, aching sadness stood in the way of the path that I had walked so many times before. The words are not yet written; the story is not yet known. The hands of a clock cannot keep time, but no one is going to wait. And there is no way to summarize that in a photograph.


We didn't take a picture of the kids.


One of the boys mixed old-fashioneds for the over twenty-one crowd. They sat with their canning jar glasses full with whiskey and singed orange peel at the same table where they had made room for high chairs, where they had eaten chocolate layer cake while adorned in birthday hats, where one had helped another through algebra equations, and where we had gathered for Christmas morning egg casserole so many times before.

They have played cards and ping pong, laughing as fiercely as when they cracked each other up with nonsense words as preschoolers. They stand, now, as nearly grown men and women, armed with passion, fury, and life's experiences, putting hands on my shoulder when they know. It's not easy when the darkness calls, but it's softer knowing those Christmas card faces of long ago understand, and that they know, truly, that we are all standing as upright as we are able, every minute of every day.


One of the boys, a childhood friend of my sons, sat for hours today at that kitchen table, the one carved with so much life, and helped the little guy put together Lego sets that Santa had delivered. At some point, I noticed a Lego baby; I had not seen a Lego baby before. It would certainly be easy prey if the vacuum ever came near. As I pledged to myself to try to keep track of this tiny figure, I knew that it would probably be swatted into oblivion by our new kitten, and I would likely never see the Lego baby again. I did, though, take a picture.


We sent a photo of chickens this year. It's festive, and it did the job. Change is hard. Letting go is hard. The unknown is hard. The hand of my grown son on my shoulder, the small words that ask if I am okay, and the way that they breathe healing into my hours just by taking a place at the table, though...those things remind me of the snowball fights, the way-too-early morning voices on Christmas morning, and the thirty years of various holiday elves forever remembered on glossy photo paper.


Here's to a new year, with hope for peace, healing, and much more love.



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