Musical Advent 2017 – Day 20

Track 20: There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays – Olivia Newton-John & Vince Gill

A Home for the Holidays By K.C. Grant

I used to wonder why the Christmas just before I turned six was one that always stood out in my memory. Considering the circumstances, it seemed it would have been a time best forgotten. But my grown-up self turns to it from time to time as I consider the lessons it taught me.

My thoughts take me back to an early summer in 1975. Just as school finished up and my two brothers and I were anticipating long days of freedom, chasing the ice cream man, and playing in the park, my parents made a strange announcement. In a few weeks, we were going to be uprooted from our home in Bountiful, Utah, and move to the city of Blackfoot in south eastern Idaho.

Blackfoot was mostly an agricultural community back then. In fact, it still is. It is best known for its state fairgrounds and potato expo. Many members of both my parents’ extended families lived there and in the surrounding areas, so I’m sure it was with eager anticipation that we looked forward to being reunited with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. As children, we must have also looked upon it as a grand adventure, something to brag about to our friends as the moving truck came up to our house and, for just a little while, we were the centre of attention.

Though my parents were returning to their “roots,” I realize now what a struggle this decision must have been for them. Our home in Bountiful was the first real house they’d ever owned, bought with help from my father’s GI bill. Good-byes had to be said to close friends with whom they’d formed bonds. Even the peach trees they’d lovingly tended would now be enjoyed by another. But most of all, my parents were leaving the security of their former lives behind.

Regardless of our conflicting emotions regarding the move, the reason for moving could not be ignored. My parents had to be in Idaho so we could have the help we needed during the nine months it would take my mom to recuperate from the back surgery she was about to have.

During my mom’s younger years, it gradually became obvious that something wasn’t right. A tall, thin girl who was naturally active should have been turning into a taller woman, straight and sure. But those years of rapid growth caused my mom’s spine to twist like an accordion. As each year passed, she hunched a little more. A shoulder bent a little more inwardly. Her breathing became more shallow. My grandparents did what they could based on their resources and location. But because scoliosis is a silent intruder, it’s easy to let the years pass and accept the gradual decline in energy and ability.

By the time my second brother was born, time had taken its toll on my mom until she and my dad knew something had to be done. Living near a larger city finally gave her the access she needed to doctors who could help, and she consulted with specialists at the nearby university hospital. By that point, her condition had progressed to where there were few options. If she allowed the scoliosis to worsen, it would eventually affect not only her lungs but also her heart.

There was only one solution: she needed surgery. And not just any surgery. The surgeon would cut open her back and insert long metal rods against her spine, forcing it to straighten as much as possible. Then, if she survived that, she would be placed in a body cast from her neck to her hips, which she would have to wear for nine months and which would confine her to bed for the majority of that time while she healed. It was obvious that she would be unable to care for herself or three young children, and it was beyond our means to hire live-in help. Since it also seemed too much to ask any family member to come to us for that length of time, leaving their own homes and families in order to help, the decision was made.

Instead of them coming to us, we would move to them.

Hoping that my dad would be able to find a decent job, my parents arranged to build a house on a piece of property in the nearby farming community of Moreland. If all went as planned, the house would be finished that winter, just in time for us to move in before my mother had her surgery. Until then, we could only afford to make a small house in the centre of Blackfoot our temporary residence.

And what a temporary residence it was!

I don’t remember exactly what I thought when I first saw the dilapidated building on a street where most yards were untended and few people were concerned with keeping up with the Joneses. But I do remember the huge tree in the back yard that was perfect for climbing—and that had strangely decreased in size when I returned to the home many years later. I also remember the thrill I felt when my older brother and I discovered the bounty that lay in an unauthorized garbage dump a block away. We couldn’t believe people would throw away such treasures!

I’ve learned since then that my parents have different memories regarding that time—especially my mom. In various talks with her, I discovered that she remembered the mice that frequently infested the house, the yard that was full of weeds, and the fear that came from knowing we’d discovered that garbage dump, even though our tetanus boosters were up to date.

Those summer months passed quickly, followed by a few hiccups as we got used to our new school and new surroundings. But we’d been thriving under the attention of doting grandparents and cousins who’d become instant best friends. Amid open spaces and empty fields where we could run and fly kites, it was like a childhood dream in which we all seemed to have forgotten what brought us there.

And yet, as Christmas approached, with the date for my mom’s surgery right in its shadow, we must have all begun to feel the pangs of anxiety that come when life changes too much—too fast.

My parents’ remedy was to work furiously in those few precious months in order to have our new house ready to move into by Christmas, with the idea that fresh paint and new carpet could take our minds off of bigger things. So my mom and dad spent long hours making sure everything was perfect, though they left the final festive touches until the end so we could help.

When Christmas came, however, my parents received the shock of their lives! Not only were my brothers and I not excited by the idea of moving into yet another house, but we were adamant that the holiday should be spent in this place that had somehow become home. Since I don’t really remember anymore, I can only imagine the looks on their faces when we told them this. My parents applied for sainthood that day when they agreed that Christmas could be spent in our little “mouse house.”

There must have been plenty of moments of panic at that point, since everything had been packed away, ready for the move. We weren’t even ready for Christmas, now just a few days away.

So we hurried to the nearby shopping centre and found a tree that would have warmed Charlie Brown’s heart. It barely handled all the homemade decorations we’d collected over the years. Presents magically began to appear underneath it. Somehow the cardboard and felt Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus my mom had made in Relief Society was found and hung on the wall. Dad even unpacked the giant gingerbread house we’d made the year before—much to the delight of our furry little companions, I’m sure.

But popcorn strings, tinsel, paper snowflakes, and presents weren’t what made this Christmas memorable or perfect. Because somehow, amid the uncertainty of our future, we knew one thing for sure: that for now, we were together as a family in our little home for the holidays.