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Four Years at the Mount

Sophomore year

A holiday to remember

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

(12/2014) Middle school really wasnít that long ago, about 6 years, but for some reason I canít seem to remember much from those times. Perhaps because they were the most awkward years of my life. All I really remember at a glance is my 7th grade social studies teacher and eating lunch at a long table against the window. For this reason, I didnít expect to recall much when looking back on the holidays from this period. Unsurprisingly, I remember nothing from 7th grade Christmas, but when I was thinking about 8th grade Christmas, I became overwhelmed with the memories from that time period.

I remember a few small details, like asking for a camera as a gift and buying my dad signs for his new billiards room. I remember going to mass and freezing because the heat was broken. I recall distinctly struggling to Christmas shop for my "boyfriend" of 3 weeks. Boys and brothers are hard to shop for now, but an 8th grade boy who I knew next to nothing aboutóthat was nearly impossible. Iím sure it isnít actually impossible; Iím sure he had a hobby or collected something interesting, but it was impossible for me. So clearly the only choice was to end the relationship on Christmas Eve. I remember this Instant Messaging conversation clearly. I began this Christmas with a middle school heartbreakócomparable now to the fleeting sadness I feel when I drop my food or drink, but at the time it was quite a big deal.

I didnít know that I was about to experience what would now be some of my favorite memories. This Christmas was the first and last holiday I would ever spend with my whole family. For the past 13 years we had always been missing my Uncle Frank, who lived in Arizona for the majority of my life. The summer before 8th grade he moved back to the East Coast and was there for the first time. He brought the strangest gifts. As my sisteróhis goddaughterómet him for the first time in person, he gave her a rifle that he had rebuilt and refurbished. He brought my brother an interesting shaving kit that was set up in a mug that nobody could figure out. He brought me a Mountaineers Basketball sweatshirt that I still to this day have not worn because he underestimated my size, but I still have it. Basically, he didnít hit the nail on the head with the practicality of his gifts, but he gave us all something so much more that Christmas. He brought his presence, which I didnít even realize had been missing for my whole life. Suddenly my mom and the rest of my aunts and uncles seemed complete again in the simplest ways. They could tell stories now that they had never told before and take their first full family photo since my Momís wedding. I finally met the crazy older brother who built a BMX course in the backyard and shoved French fries in my momís mouth when she fell asleep. Having my Uncle Frank there for the first time made this holiday so memorable alone, but it was also my last holiday with my grandma, Nana.

My grandma was the glue that held the family together, and as overused as that phrase may be, there is no better way to explain it. She was strong when we lost family members and strong for the rest of us when she was in the hospital. She loved each of us uniquely and although she never let me have any of her chocolate mints, she was my favorite person in the world. She wasnít the typical image of a grandmother with a large family; she wasnít outgoing, she didnít bake, and she wasnít outwardly affectionate, but she was the strongest woman Iíve ever met. She dealt with the loss of her husband and daughter and never grew bitter. She was intelligent and stubborn and loved the same books I did. This Christmas was the last holiday we had together as a family with both my uncle and Grandma, and I will never forget the way my Nanaís face lit up when she saw her children all together again. She didnít talk during any of their stories and she didnít tell any stories of her own, but she just watched. Her look of pure joy is my favorite thing to picture from this Christmas. She had never seen her son interact with her grandchildren and hadnít seen all of her children together in nearly 15 years. Her happiness is the sole reason I canít look back on this last holiday together with anything but bliss.

I didnít appreciate it then as much as I do now. Partly because I thought it would be the first of many and not the one and only, but mostly because I was 14 and didnít take in what was important. Now that I can picture the scene in my head, all I can see is completeness and pure delight. I experienced my family in a way I never have before and havenít since, and it would be easy to be sad about this. It would be easy to not want to continue to go to my auntís house for the holidays because the memories could be sad, but instead we choose every year to come together to remember the joy we felt when we were all together and embrace what we have now. Thatís what I want to encourage everyone to do this Christmas, to appreciate everything and everyone. Even appreciate your cousin who wonít stop nagging you to color when all you want to do is watch Home Alone, and your great uncle who tells you stories that cannot possibly be even remotely true. The holidays bring families and people together like nothing else does. I watched as everyone left every worry behind and came together to share in the love and joy that only Christmas can bring. This will always be my favorite way to picture my family, complete.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary