Peaceable Man Files Issue #23: Ghosts of Christmas Past
Random musings on my gypsy existence at my cabin in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and wherever else life takes me.
It’s been an eventful year at the old homestead where I grew up.
In June, our 89-year-old mother, who had been living alone since Dad passed away in 2019, suffered a series of mini-strokes. As she couldn’t be by herself in the house any longer, we had to move her into a nearly senior care facility.
Happily, Mom has transitioned smoothly into her new home and is being well taken care of there. But this means that for the first time in 57 years, no one is living at the two-hundred-year-old farmhouse on Trewigtown Road. (Yes, that really is the name of the road.)
It’s also the first Christmas in all those years that my siblings and I won’t be able to visit our mother at the homestead to snack on her cookies while opening presents by the tree.
No tree, no cookies, no dinner party around the dining room table.
It’s all so very strange. I feel a bit orphaned. I mean, I have a home—two of them, actually, including my cabin up north—and I feel blessed to have them as we go through the holiday season.
But you never really leave that original home in your heart, the place where you grew up and which became the standard for all other homes. That’s the way it is for me, at least. I was fortunate to have had a blissfully happy childhood, so when I think of what a home should be—full of love and light and people who matter to you—I think of that white frame house with the red shutters on Trewigtown Road.
These days, though, I’m having a hard time even stepping inside that empty house. It’s too full of ghosts. I see them wherever I go. Every room has them: memories, waiting around the corner to jump out at me.
Ghosts of people long gone. Ghosts of past holidays, of parties and sit-down dinners and conversations in the family room. Ghosts of good times as well as bad times. Like the time my grandmother fell down the steps and broke her hip and lay wailing like a child at the bottom of the landing while I looked down in horror from the top of the stairs.
Everything in that empty house is silent, and yet it speaks to me. Every chair, every table, every picture on the wall is imbued with the residue of memory.
Memories are powerful things. We don’t realize we’re forming them at the time, but as the years go by, the memories put on clothes and become real. We live with them every day—or rather, they live with us, in the background, until some reminder brings them out of hiding.
That’s what houses do for us, especially houses where we’ve lived for decades. I know my siblings are also struggling going back into the old farmhouse, as is our mother. At first, when we moved her into the senior facility, she wanted only to go back home. But now when we ask her if she’d like to visit the old place, she shakes her head. No, she says, it would be too hard. Too hard to go back in there.
There’s no place like home for the holidays—unless the house is empty, in which case the house is no longer home. It’s a place in the mind and in the heart.
This year, for the first time since our family moved there in 1965, there will be no Christmas celebration at the Kerrstead on Trewigtown Road. We’ll be celebrating it elsewhere, creating new memories with our families.
But while I won’t be there physically, I know I’ll be spending at least part of my Christmas at that old farmhouse. It’s my home, and always will be.