The holiday touchstone

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Distance makes the water between us look calm and cold, softening the swells and blurring the horizon so that sky and sea are opposite ends of an ombre spectrum of grey. Its soft, ghostly veil lulls my ache into something unrecognizable, something remote.

The website is down. His mother answers the phone and though I expect to hear her voice, for a moment I pause. Will she know me? I give my childhood name in hopes that she will, and I realize too late it won’t match the name she will see on my check. Still, she warms as she fits the puzzle pieces together, and I chat easily with her for a few moments, as if there aren’t years and miles and feelings for her son between us. It is only a few moments, and then she is gone.

One of her wreaths will ship as a gift to my father, the other will come to me. It will hang beside my front door, where the scent of home will linger long after the holiday has passed. Drew’s mother has been making wreaths since I was in middle school, and I have ordered them each year, turning the memory of a small town over and over again in my pocket, like a smooth stone, held with a reverence I can not admit out loud. The fragrance can take me to him in an instant, to his house in the woods, the outbuilding with it’s floor strewn calf high with fir boughs, and long fold out tables where his mother and sisters would stand twisting and bending and turning the wreaths as they laughed with each other. Where Drew faded in and out, shrugging off a jacket, bouncing a ball, trying to catch an eye, alternately helping and hindering the creative process.

I could stop ordering the wreaths, stop pushing aside the curtain at it’s edge to peer into the past, stay numb beside the ocean, never looking back. But the distance is something that needs to be measured from time to time, like the distance between revolving planets, like the frequency of waves lapping at the shore.

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