This one’s going to be different.
The gifts will be different, many mailed directly from Amazon, Wayfair, Walmart and REI. We’ll try to match a different set of activities that we know or guess our friends and relatives are now doing — walking, hiking, bird watching, baking, RV travel and jigsaw puzzles. The gifts we buy locally and wrap ourselves will be fewer. We’ll hesitate to bake and send, settle for a good book we’ve recently read. Maybe make homemade masks and try to decorate them cheerfully.
There will be less travel and travelers will be wary — or mad. The wary ones — most of us — wondering whether we should be traveling at all; worried about eating on the road, about masks and washing hands. The mad ones will not wear their masks and curse the governors who’ve made the wearing mandatory and closed the restaurants. Wary and mad alike will be hurt that the loved ones they hoped would come to join us for the holiday will decide not to.
Millions of Americans are worried that their unemployment benefits will come to a harsh end, that they will not be able to pay next month’s rent or house payment; Christmas gifts are a luxury of the past, a hazy future dream. They’ll be grateful for the Food Bank, even when they have to stand in long lines. Millions of us who still have jobs or a secure retirement will curse and write our representatives and tell them to please cut a deal.
Homeschooling parents — mostly moms — will appreciate the school break but wonder how they’re going to make it till June. Many will grouse at dads about carrying more than their share of this load — and about having given up their jobs to work with Johnny on his social studies essay.
There’ll be talk of vaccines — who is where in the line; are we in the line; will we take the vaccine when offered — and maybe some politics if we’re not sated with it. In the homes of doctors and nurses, aides and morticians, there will be exhaustion. In the homes of garbage truck drivers and bus drivers, too.
At small gatherings and large, there will be over 300,000 empty chairs.
Some will still curse that it’s all overblown. They’ve been ill and got better — or know someone who has. The young will think it not a serious threat for them; the old will check the death ages on the daily reports from the Oregon Health Authority. Those of us over 70 will calculate our odds. Careful readers will see that big universities have been big breeding grounds, and that big church services and political events and prisons and Sturgis, South Dakota, have been the same.
We’ll remember past Christmases when the people in those chairs helped fill a house, Christmases of childhood when it snowed on Christmas Eve and Santa did come, Christmases with our own young families — and the presents. The staying up late to put together the dollhouse, sneak the sled in under the tree, fill the stockings with the names sewn carefully on them.
Most of us right here, right now in Wallowa County are the lucky ones. Lucky because we’ve been spared the worst of contagion and death, and lucky because our “systems” — medical and helping systems — are working. We walk and ski and visit outside, cut our own trees on Forest Service land. We donate to the Elks Baskets and the Giving Tree, and send pictures to people who used to live here or want to.
And it looks like another white Christmas here. Maybe it will snow and snow until we don’t even think about COVID travel; it will snow and snow like I always hoped it would when we had the bookstore and Shane and Jari Homan had Harold’s Women’s Apparel on the other end of Enterprise’s Main Street. Shane and I would gloat when the snow was deep and slowed travel to Lewiston malls and more locals stayed home to shop. And early on Christmas Eve late shoppers would trudge through the snow looking for last-minute gifts, stopping at Homan’s for a Tom and Jerry, and at the Bookloft for a brandy-doctored cup of coffee.
And old and young would — and will — walk outside to watch the white snow falling through the streetlights, and try to catch flakes of it on our tongues.