HOME PLACE - It's soon to be Christmas again, after all

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You can't imagine how relieved I am.

I thought Christmas was dead. Stomped out. Tossed away like wilted tinsel.

You may recall last year's holiday season at the Hagars was a failure of epic proportion. Grief, thick and black, covered our hearts like toxic gravy. It smothered all hope that any holly jolly could bring our family joy.

We couldn't even do the annual watching of the Burl Ives version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer -- that's how sad we were.

My husband has always been Santa Claus here. No matter what budget we set, he could be counted on to break it during his own mini-shopping spree. He would head to the store without a word, within a few days of Christmas.

Once back home, a grand production was made of ferrying gifts from car to house. The children were ordered into their rooms and told to close their doors, no peeking.

The level of holiday excitement would ratchet up several notches -- everyone knew Dad broke Mom's rules at this time of year. It's how our children got the most fun and least practical gifts. I could only shake my head ... I learned early on I simply had no control over this need of his.

I imagine David's drive came from his own dreary childhood, when gifts were never taken for granted and Dec. 25 might only bring new socks and a shirt from the Salvation Army. One infamous family story rehashes the year Christmas dinner was a can of Dinty Moore stew heated on the car's manifold cover as the family returned West from the Florida orange-picking season.

I wish you could have been there to see David's face on one of our earliest Christmases together, when I presented him with a slot-car set -- a BIG one -- that frozen Alaska morning. Here was his bride, practical and terribly unsentimental, handing over a beautifully wrapped toy. Not until children started coming along were his eyes more full of wonder.

All that was gone, snuffed out on our bathroom floor, nearly two years ago. The man who loved Christmas is finally with the guy who invented Christmas.

As readers know, I was helpless against my own apathy. I wrote about leaving the totes full of d?©cor in the storage room. Not even the tree could be brought out from underneath the stairs.

In my mind's eye, we made our way through a swamp of school and church programs blindly, with not a speck of light to relieve the dark. Shopping was torture.

And Christmas Day? Was 90 percent awful. Thinking I was being proactive, I made reservations at a local restaurant. When we got there, however, we were informed business was too slow and the dining area had closed early. "You had reservations, you say? So sorry."

The bar section, it must be said, was noisy and full.

I drove aimlessly, sobbing, wondering which of my friends might still have food left from their own dinners.

We finally found a Chinese-style eatery open and practically dived through the door, desperate for food and human voices. It was like that scene from "A Christmas Story," minus the laughing, singing, and warm feelings.

It was awful and I worried it would always be so.

So happy to discover it's not. Instead, I seem to be making up for the lost season.

When a friend gave us a new Christmas countdown calendar -- in all its felt cuteness ¬?-- it was like the switching on the lights again.

The pump had already been primed, sure. Most of my adult children are coming home for the holiday, via Amtrak, and that's a game-changer for all of us. For the first time in a while, there will be many kids -- I am counting those old enough to have mortgages -- filling the living room on Christmas morning. The breakfast table will spill over with annual traditions, like German pancakes and hash-brown casserole. We might just sing.

Our neighbor will open her doors on Christmas Eve for board games and snacks. We'll attend one of the midnight church services and everyone will open one small gift, then go to bed happy with anticipation.

And now, weeks before any of that happens, I'm plugging light sets together and buying new ornaments. Menus are being planned and gifts are being purchased.

It's too early, of course, I know that. We look silly with our outdoor lights already going on at dusk, via an outlet timer. Who cares? We're making up for a whole year.

UPDATE: I wrote this column last week. On Saturday, as my kids and I cleaned our laundry room, I pulled Cap'n Jack's crate away from the wall to vacuum on the other side. There was the door to the Christmas storage. I took a deep breath and pulled on the wooden spool that's served as a handle for 63 years.

And what did I see? The results of David's last post-season shopping trip. He must have gone out on December 26 of 2008 and bought up some of the Christmas leftovers. There are bags of garland (where did he think we needed those?) and the gaudiest door wreath you can imagine.

Holy silk flowers, it's ugly. And nothing will stop me from hanging it. As soon as possible.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom or by calling 509-526-8322.

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