“Dear Sister Helen,” my great-grandfather, Clifford Hatfield, wrote to his last surviving sibling in December 1970. “Another year has rolled by and it is Christmas time again and my thoughts go back to the old days in Arcadia when we were children, blessed by having the finest father and mother anyone was ever blessed with.
“I remember the Christmas dinners, the pictures of the trotting horses hanging on the dining-room walls, we all gathered around the table, Father at one end with the turkey and Harry Cook at the other end with the goose and Mother, God Bless her! saying ‘There is no hurry, we have plenty to eat and plenty of time to eat,’ and everybody so happy, what a pleasing memory.
“Time passes on with the changes we must expect in this life and now you and I are the only ones left of the once fine family.”
Cliff died one month later, at the age of 87. It’s remarkable to think that the times he described from Nova Scotia date back well over 100 years, to a group of people that now exist mostly in yellowed photographs and fading memories.
The people have passed, but their love lives on, in documents like that quoted above, and in their progeny.
Cliff was 45 when his fifth and final child, Kaye, was born in 1928. Like her dad, she loved her family, and she loved Christmas.
Nan was like a big kid, and she seemed as excited for Santa to swing by as her grandchildren were. Somehow the rigors of life, such as a hard-fought battle with breast cancer nearly 50 years ago, didn’t diminish her love for living. She was the heart of our family reunions, the hug you most looked forward to.
An elegant woman who graced beautifully with age, Nan made sure her house was decorated to the nines during the holiday season.
Christmas with her and my grandfather, Bump, was always a party for young and old alike. Nan loved playing the classic holiday songs on the radio, cooking the huge Christmas dinner, telling stories of Yuletides past. She remembered how, as a Depression-era kid, her family couldn’t open their presents until they had brought gifts to people in town who were in need.
It was clear that Nan carried that important lesson through life. She loved to give.
Losing Nan over four years ago to Alzheimer’s took much of the wind out of the Christmas sails; the extended family she left behind still gets together on holidays, but obviously without her it’s not quite the same.
It’s tough for my mother, Nan’s middle child, to hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Lines like “Faithful friends who are dear to us gather near to us once more,” and “Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow” must be particularly hard to take.
I’m sure we all feel this sense of loss in our individual families. The older you get, the more people who can be taken away.
Still, Nan was too much of a presence in life, like her dad, for death to have carried her far away. I set her picture on a chair beside Bump at my wedding this August, and as Lauren walked down the aisle, I felt the most beautifully haunting sensation of my life. I’m sure much of that was nervous excitement, knowing my life was about to change, with this amazing woman. But I do feel, somehow, that Nan was there. A self-proclaimed “tough old turd,” I’m sure she found a way.
When Lauren came into my life nearly three years ago, I wondered if Nan had something to do with that. In her youth, Nan had been tall and blonde, and so is Lauren. Both women are known and loved for their sweet personalities. Nan adored England, and so does Lauren. Nan’s maiden name of Hatfield is similar to Lauren’s maiden name of Sheffield; plus I’ve traced my Hatfield ancestors to one who lived in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England in the 16th century.
Anyway, it makes you wonder.
Enjoying each Christmas with Nan, while it leaves us feeling emptier without her, also makes us realize the joy that can come from the holiday season. Regardless of your religious beliefs, whether you have any or not, there’s a cementing together of people that can come this time of year, at least if Black Friday stampedes can be taken out of the equation.
It’s tough to have and then lose, but Nan made her loved ones the better for knowing her, and as I share the holidays with my new wife, and with my family and hers, I hope I can bring to those occasions the love and excitement that Nan felt with her kin around her, and Cliff with his.
The people have passed, but their love lives on.