Legacy

December 20,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

I left the house with L. yesterday at 7:00 a.m, and around the corner to our street we could see the rhythmic rotating smudge of red ambulance lights, breaking the gray morning. My heart fell to think why they might be there--some older neighbor, perhaps in that yellow house on the corner, stricken in the night?

"Maybe someone died," L. said, in that abrupt, realistic way 11-year old boys sometimes have of talking. 

"Oh no," I said emphatically. "Maybe someone fell and got hurt." I said it because I wanted it to be true--it's too close to Christmas for more sad things, I thought. But really, there is no "right" time for sad things. For some reason they hurt more keenly at the holidays; we rush to rewrite endings, hoping for a happy one.

The morning was icy-cold, and had brought a thick layer of frost that coated eveything, even my windshield. Only the night before our house had been filled with family and good, warm food, and a fire in the fireplace. Our Christmas tree, which I imagine must ache each year when we leave, like empty arms do to contain, stood tall over gifts wrapped in bright Christmas wrapping and ribbons. That was the night before; on Monday morning it was back-to-school again. Christmas parties are difficult to let go of, when you have to get up the next day and slip back into the real world again.

Because Scott's Nana wasn't here with us this year, I thought a lot about the hole the death of a loved one leaves in a family. And as I watched the kids play, I saw how pure and happy their excitement is over the things we grown-ups take for granted. I also thought about that special power children have to mend those holes; they are the thread that pulls closed the gaps, the promise of new memories and experiences, the bearers of past stories into the future.