Our first Christmas as a teenage couple was in 1987, 27 years ago. I know this because that is the date on Kringle Bear’s scarf, and Kringle was one of the gifts I gave to Steve on our first Christmas together. Kringle came with a name already stitched onto the front of its stocking cap.
Thistlehair was named by me. I know this because Thistlehair is just a big, brown bear with no hat, scarf, or date and that is what I have always called him.
I saw him in the window of a store while shopping at Ballston Common Mall in Arlington with Steve on one of our teenage dates and expressed my longing for a big stuffed bear.
Steve got me that big, brown bear.
Somehow both have survived the 27 years that have passed since they were purchased by two teenagers in love, full of hopes and dreams of future Christmases together.
When the idea of unpacking memories and making space for my heart to feel struck me, it seemed like a good one. Two days later, I’m not so sure. My heart is feeling big feelings, and making space for that means creating a lot of tears.
I got home from work, this first day after Thanksgiving break, sailing through the pain in my back on an ibuprofen breeze, and retired to my room for some down time before the choir run began. Waiting in my messages was a song from a friend.
About halfway through listening, my phone rang. I debated answering it, the sobs in my throat impossible to disguise, but I knew that my baby sister would understand.
She was quiet while I cried, while I tried to put words to the feelings behind the tears. We both found words that we needed for some hard places in our lives right now. Together.
One observation that she made was, The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been really hard for you. And that’s not BAD. It’s just hard.
I have been pondering her words and how much truer they ring than probably she even knows. She was still in utero when I celebrated that first Christmas with my true love. When my true love gave to me, a bear that has grown mange-y.
Mange-y is a term of endearment that Coco and I have for her well-loved collie and any other stuffed animal that has taken on a real appearance as a result of being loved. She was thrilled to find that I, too, have a mange-y animal with matted fur and a peeling nose.
Back to Thistlehair.
I know that his name came naturally that year, so I decided to do some research and discovered this song on youtube. It makes complete sense, since Alabama was a much-listened to group in our home. My mom must have had the Christmas album.
I haven’t heard the song since, but when I found it on Saturday, I listened and did that laugh-cry. My kids listened and just laughed.