The can of eggnog was on the floor next to the refrigerator where we kept it, but I had been eying it for days, hoping my mother would relent, open it, and pour me out a mug’s worth of yummy goodness. That was doubtful, however, because she always made me wait until the week of Christmas, and that lofty time was still a week away. I would rather she had bough the eggnog at the beginning of that final week instead of teasing me with the tan and brown can with the telltale ridges.
I groaned and went back to the living room where Bing Crosby was serenading us with the one song we knew from him. The radio was on the pop music station that had been taken over that week by holiday melodies, which was the only reason we were allowed to listen to it. The room was toasty warm, and I was dressed in my fuzzy slipper socks I had gotten as an early present that year. They had little grippers on the bottom that made me feel like I was a wild animal… or Spiderman, and I liked to rub them along the floor like a cat stretching, just to feel the give and take of those rubber soles.
My sister was stretched out on the old couch with headphones firmly clamped onto her head, completely hiding her ears from view. I knew she was listening to New Kids on the Block, which wasn’t allowed, but she pretty much did what she wanted that year because she was a senior. And she never let me forget it, lording it up at every possible opportunity, except when she was absorbed in her own headspace, like right then. She also had on her fuzzy slipper socks, which were brown to my black, but hers weren’t lived in like mine, and she paid me absolutely no mind when I entered the room. Her eyes were instead trained on the open book in her hands, deeply entranced as she was in her reading.
We were on Christmas vacation as of that very afternoon, but it wasn’t all going to be as relaxing as that night. In fact, we were due to have a whirlwind of activity starting the next day with the church’s holiday party, and culminating on Christmas Eve itself with a special vespers service, also at the church. Of course all of the church activities would be bittersweet that season because it was only a little over a year since the original building burned down and all of the memories of those holiday times spent there were overwhelming. But that would all come later. That night we were all three soaking up the atmosphere of another Christmastime approaching, that time of year we loved best.
My mother was asleep in front of the TV, with its little screen, and perched atop it the rabbit ears encased in aluminum foil. But the set was off, and she must have collapsed in front of it exhausted from another long day at work. My sister had surely turned it off to save on energy and turned the radio station on for me at the same time. Sometimes she could do the sweetest things and shock me. Mom was snoring too, the sound masked in part by the music from the radio, but not entirely. Yet my mother’s snoring was another integral part of the night, like it was a rhythm below the melody that would be missed were it not there. It was times like those when I appreciated what she did for us day in and day out all the more as I glanced at her fast asleep early on a Friday evening.
I collapsed on the armchair I always assumed we had rescued from the curb, and closed my eyes while Holly Jolly Christmas played on the old stereo and I hummed softly along, settling in just like the creaking I could hear from the joints of the old house, just an old friend easing into a warm bath. With my robe cinched tightly around my waist, and a warm blanket covering my legs I breathed it all in, comfortable as sin.
The house smelled strongly of cinnamon, the scent of it sitting heavy on the warm air like a cat asleep on a mantel. It drew a haze over everything as surely as the piping hot apple cider on the stove. The place smelled like Christmas, like an end and a beginning all rolled up into one, like a contentment that only comes from being with your family around the holidays. It would be the last year we spent like that, just the three of us in that frame of mind, in that house, but we didn’t know it then. For us it was simply the way things were, and had always been, with that eggnog can claiming squatter’s rights over by the fridge, and the smell of cinnamon and apple cider in the air.