This post has taken me so long to write that it’s practically the next holiday already! My words, as of late, bounce around in my head frantically and incessantly… but then figuring out how to get them out has become increasingly challenging. Please do still indulge me in a little belated best-wishing, as I send a very sincere Happy Holidays for whatever you may have been (somewhat recently) celebrating this time of year. :)
I’ve been strolling down memory lane a lot this Christmas/year-end season. Remembering the pleasant parts of the past helps to make the painful present just a bit more bearable.
Three’s (a) company (and I’m the boss)
So, I’m the oldest of us three sisters, and growing up I was, well… sort of bossy and controlling. :) It’s been reported that I’ve chilled out to a more enjoyable level of opinion and control in my adulthood, whew! However, since my personality type naturally applies itself to coming up with a million ideas and projects all the time, as a kid I was always trying to rope Christina and Vanessa into helping me execute all of my many plans. I’d like to think they enjoyed this for the most part, but you’d have to ask them! I guess you could say I’ve always been something of a “project manager”, even as a kid. Now it’s beyond awesome to utilize those passions in our sister business. We’ve been working together a long time. ;)
Most of my project ideas as a kid were random things that sounded great at the time, but were kind of silly in retrospect- from a “fashion” photo shoot, to a babysitting service… FOR OUR STUFFED ANIMALS, to creating a sister “mail schedule” for our bedrooms upstairs. (I’m not even kidding, I made us all have homemade mailboxes outside our bedroom doors all on the second floor, to then deliver into with our inter-sister mail to each other at scheduled times. I’m so embarrassed.)
However, the one project I roped the entire family into and I’m going to say they actually enjoyed too, has always been our Blust Family Christmas presents. My mom started this with us back in the early 80’s, helping us with crafting ornaments and cookies for a large number of people each year, from girl scout leaders to teachers to swim coaches to the mailman. I am so grateful that Mom always made sure we realized and recognized the huge number of people that supported us in each year.
Sister sweatshop (of good cheer)
When I got a little older, I wanted to plan and execute such a plan myself. I’d start months in advance, plotting out all the names of people we wanted to give presents too (often our cousins and friends) and ideas for each. Mom and Vanessa and Christina would all help brainstorm what to give that year. The early years we actually came up with different things for each person – doll for Ellen! ball for Michael! – but as the number of people grew, it became impossible to think of and make that many unique items, so we’d work with the limitation of items that could be produced in large quantities. (In some ways, so Blustery Day Design’s first not-for-sale product lines were born! ;) )
So then it became – Boxer shorts for all the cousins, angel statues for the aunts/uncles! Ornaments for all! Cookies for all! And we’d spend hours and hours and hours planning, and gathering what we needed to make them, and completing all 50-100 of whatever we were making, finally wrapping up anything and putting in a huge fabric bag to take around to all the family parties. I even had my sisters and I log our time working on the gifts in a notebook (because: nerd from birth, I am!). To this day I catch my breath at the sight of many things I or we made all in a row or a pile or a stack – I find it breathtakingly beautiful, this process of thinking of something to create, and then creating a lot of them, and then sending them out into the world to their separate new homes with all the people we love.
The family that creates together… (goes crazy together!)
I have SO MANY fond memories of these Decembers of my childhood, the massive numbers of hours spent with the fellow ladies of my family, as we were creative and laughed and worried we wouldn’t finish in time, but then stayed up all night Christmas Eve Eve to knock it out, slap-happy tired but having a blast. My sisters sometimes complained about my slave-shop policies, but did it with a smile (mostly) anyway. Our mom was a tireless supporter of our efforts, and often was further our project’s savior as some unexpected snag hit our plan – responding to our worried concern with “I have just the glue!” or “Let’s try wrapping it the other way!” or “Why yes, I will stay up all night with you, because you’re running out of time and I’m a much faster sewer than you guys.”
A particular memory that sticks is the year we made little fabric stuffed ornaments. We did this ink-jet toner transfer technique to apply words on them, and after cutting out all the squares, we had a good system going of sewing and stuffing them, before then finally fraying the ends.
In the movie of the moment in my mind, it’s near the end tasks of the overlying project, and it’s taken us a lot longer than we expected (as it does EVERY SINGLE YEAR, of course!). I can hear Mom in the laundry room Whhhhrrrrrr at the sewing machine, handing partially or fully finished squares to one of us, who is bringing Mom more to sew while bringing the rest of us the “ready to fray” one. And there the rest of us sit, for hours, fraying the threads of these ornaments. You just sort of pick at it, I can’t remember what we even used (fingers? toothpicks? forks? scissors?) to do the fraying, but do it we did, for what seemed like FOREVER and realistically was many many many hours.
And then Vanessa at one point, in a moment of silent fraying, just starts singing…. “So THIS is Christmas…..!” in the most sarcastic tone possible. And my memory movie ends with us all burst into hysterical laughter at that moment, because it was so perfect. We were so sick of the dang ornaments in that second, so regretting our choice to “just sew and then fray the ends to save time” (ha!), and so ready to be done.
That moment was the kind that etches into your brain, and becomes part of your unique family history story. To this day, we still pull out that same one line, sung in exactly the same tone, any time we’re doing something monotonous, Christmas related or not. Boring, tedious grunt work… sing it out, “So THIS is Christmas!” It’s one of my favorite memories and family quirks we now have.
So this *is* Christmas
The thing was… while we all got a much needed laugh from the delivery of that line, and V perfectly voiced how very unChristmasy feeling our labor felt at that minute…. that actually WAS (IS!) perfectly the “Christmas” that I love. I love the years and years of gift ideas we have came up with and made. I love the time we have spent together working on all the different ideas, disasters in the creating-process included, because we always found a way through or around the crisis. I love our dumbest ideas right on up to our most brilliant ideas. I love the challenge of trying to think of NEW things, so many years into it.
And I love that now I have passed it on to my boys as well, this idea and action that my mom passed along to me. Now my kids and I work together (as best as each kid is able to contribute at their age) on “bulk presents” as I dorkily call them, each year. I love that then they see us not just showing up at all the parties waiting to be given presents, but also toting our big bag of stuff we made, together, that we can give to every single person there, all important people that we love and care about.
You know what else? Even the song Vanessa picked to sing…. looking beyond the one line sung with irony…. John Lennon’s words are perfectly how I really feel at Christmas time. The years have started to speed up and another Christmas comes unbelievably soon from the last. Each time it circles around again, I reflect on what I’ve used my time to do and be: “So this is Christmas, And what have you done? Another year over, And a new one just begun.”
This Christmas (2013)
I am so grateful for those memories, new and old… but they also stand in sharp relief to how this particular Christmas season has felt. If you’ve been reading along this long (or back this far), you might recall that last year Vanessa and Billy made a massive ornament purchase, that Mom and Christina and Vanessa then wrapped up by individual year, to give my kids an ornament every year for the next couple decades, from Vanessa, with little tags on each in her own handwriting. Brilliant, amazing, and touching, right? Even then a year ago, Vanessa was confused and changing, but she still participated in the project passionately and gleefully.
There was simply not a lot of passion or glee in Vanessa this Christmas. It just breaks my heart.
As my little family decorated our tree this year, I was reminded how things and places and people will always remind me of Vanessa, for as long as I live. We don’t have a coordinated magazine-feature tree at our house; it’s very colorful and ornaments hang in clumps on all the same branches, hung by little hands that chose where to put them. It’s dripping with tacky, with homemade, with names and years written, with special memories and meaning and love. It’s beautiful.
Vanessa is everywhere on my tree, and constantly in my memories, and sometimes in my tears, but I’m missing her soul in this year’s Christmas time. She’s here in presence, of course, and was at all our family parties, and sat in her usual spot on the couch as we did our usual little family things. But Vanessa 1.0, the real V, our V, was almost entirely absent. Billy was working solo this year in purchasing and wrapping all “their” presents to the rest of us. Vanessa wasn’t thinking much about decorations or parties, unlike years past of her preparing for and hosting parties and obsessing over all the beautiful tiny details that she loves. A few minutes past opening a particular present, she retained no memory of who gave her what, or that she had even opened said gift, and that it was hers. V still is making her Christmas list these days, because she forgets Christmas already happened.
Vaness picked out what may very well be her last personally selected present for us, giving Mom and Christina and me a big bag full of yarn. There is a huge variety of skeins she chose, and I imagine she picked those that caught her eye with color or texture, still seeing beauty everywhere even through her pain and confusion and exhaustion. Christina and I plan on making some special things with it, and even giving some away to V’s loved ones at future occasions, as a gift, sort of from her, once V can’t be there herself.
Oh how I wish she could just be there.
The real kick to the gut and ooomph to the heart was when we brought out the 2013 “Vanessa ornament” package to unwrap this Christmas:
Vanessa didn’t remember or understand her role in that, at all.
Love lives (in these rooms)
Several years ago, Christina wrote a song that, without fail, makes me tear up at minimum but usually makes me sob like a little baby, every time I hear it. It’s from her perspective of returning home in the winter to the house we grew up with, and remembering the mornings when we were little and all living there still and waking up to see it had snowed. It’s a beautiful song, and also a memory I know I need to sustain me through what’s yet ahead.
If you want to hear the love in our little, imperfect, always-struggling family, do press the triangle play button following to listen to the track – (ok so I’m obviously clearly biased, but also, legitimately, I promise) it’s just gorgeous.
Inside, a fire is burning. Outside, the sky is turning an unnamed shade of night.
Love lives in these rooms — my mother in the kitchen, my father at the fireplace.
Far away, the stars are waking.
Right here, the dawn is breaking in endless shades of white.
Upstairs in empty bedrooms, retained within the walls, our younger voices call,
“Wake up! Wake up, love! It’s snowing.”
~Christina Blust: piano, vocals
That right there, folks, is why we can do this, despite it hurting so bad and being so amazingly difficult. Why after each time I have a sob fest (in the shower, in the car, in bed, in my cereal) missing my sister and worrying about what she has to endure yet, I can then dry my eyes and keep on. Why we will push aside every fear and concern we have to just love on Vanessa as hard as we can. The memories like that, of pure joy shared with my oldest friends in such innocent and simpler times…. those kids in the song are still us. We still have that. We’ll always have that. That will always be the first several decades of my life. Vanessa always exists in that song, in that memory, in that experience. She will be part of any future “bulk gift” I make in the rest of my lifetime. Billy is now woven into our family in ways that Vanessa’s absence won’t change. Love lives.
This year for our family Christmas party, we picked sweats as our party theme/attire (a full 180 degrees from the fancy dress of last year!), and bravely took our customary family picture(s!), with no one saying aloud it’s likely our last one with Vanessa. When faced with death and unfairness and fear, this family right here stands strong with love, still.
A most sincere (belated) happy holidays from all of us to all of you, with gratitude and joy for your part in our story unfolding. Life is nothing more than the sum of our interactions with others and the world. Be good to eachother.