Last Christmas Eve it was too cold to stay outside on the terrace under the string of colored fairy lights. So we went indoors, and still dressed in coats, sitting in the narrow living room, the tree a haze of light, ornaments and the smell of pine, we decided on a game. We’d pick a Christmas, any Christmas, and go around the room telling stories.
Alex began by recalling the Christmas we spent in Venice. He was about twelve at the time and in his search for holiday gifts, went to the Christmas market in the square to join the bustle of Venetian last minute shopping. It was here he found a cloth bumble bee on a spring, bought it, wrapped it, and thought it just the thing.
Next Rozzie told her recollection, also of that Christmas spent in Venice. We had gone to San Marco Square. How cold it was with the smell of the canal. We went to Florians for tea. And she saw on the narrow lane near the bakery, a sock emporium, a place with beautiful socks for sale. In the window a mannequin’s leg, with toe pointed, had made a deep impression. It showed off a beautiful stocking, and at fourteen, she said to herself: This emporium is where I must buy socks! I must be a person who buys socks in a place such as this!
Elliot’s memory was also of that Christmas – of opening his present, a bag of plastic soldiers, which he played with all Christmas morning.
When I think of that Christmas, I remember it as bitterly cold and damp. The flat had heavy curtains and we ventured into the narrow streets and meandered wherever they took us, over bridges in the cold, filling our nostrils with the smell of canal water.
I had a cold. I remember feeling that I wanted to tap into something beyond ourselves. In visiting Florians Café, I was hoping to pick up some of the aura that Henry James had felt a hundred years before. I knew it was a stretch and that I had to force it in order to make myself feel what he had felt. Unfortunately Ben had been unwilling to play along, thinking the place too expensive, which of course it was. This is what must have put him in a mood.
So my children and I remembered that Christmas in Venice. What we wanted it to be and what it actually was. And somehow as we remembered, our stories combined with the story of the first Christmas itself, and with the story of that Christmas soon to be, in Falls Church, Virginia.