I’m pulled over to the side of the road, looking through the sagebrush and tumbleweed expanse of the desert canyon that stretches between my parked vehicle and my childhood backyard. There are four homes between me and the one I grew up in, and I’m straining to see if the yard remains the same as it was 20 years ago when I left it at the age of 15. Two pine trees, planted when I was shorter than my mother’s kitchen counter, have grown wide and tall, making it tough to see if the property looks the way I remember it. I can see a bit of the weathered backboard of the basketball hoop on the end of the concrete slab my dad poured sometime near my tenth birthday. I’m unable, however, to determine whether the original deck is still wrapped around the back of the house, or if the stairs that once connected the upper level of the property to the sunken backyard are still there. Memories of all kinds rush to my consciousness as I study the few details I can see from the driver’s seat of my 12-passenger van a hundred yards away.
I’m quiet for several minutes, trying to sort out the feelings that wash over me. I close my eyes and scenes from my childhood flash through my mind: a handmade swing set in the green grass, my dad’s oversized wood-hauling truck parked at the corner of the property, our family dog chained up to a post and the overturned bed of a disassembled truck that made up his doghouse; my brothers huddled in the dirt on the hillside, burying their large collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines.
One of my sons pipes up from the back seat and snaps my eyes open, ‘So many good memories in that house, right mama?’
I don’t say anything. Tears are threatening to spill over.
I want to say, ‘Yes, there were many good memories,’ because truly there were, but what I feel most sharply is the wave of grief that hits me over everything I lost in that home.
He says it again like a declaration, unaware of the still-tender tear in my soul. ‘So many good memories in that house.’
I finally say, ‘Yes, son. There were many wonderful memories there.’ I emphatically turn the key, start the engine, and leave it behind once more…
I was about 12 years old the last time I remember feeling uncomplicated joy during the holidays…My parents divorced, my dad and brothers moved out, and I started a tumultuous decade spent looking for my lost bearings, as well as the fractured pieces of my deeply broken heart.
We haven’t had a Christmas together since.
Sorrow has colored the joy and good times I’ve shared with new faces in new seasons, and I’ve never been able to recapture the same full-and-satisfied feeling of those early, simple years…
Emily Sue Allen is the founder and visionary behind KindredMom.com, an online community and podcast dedicated to helping women find joy and purpose in motherhood. Emily is passionate about living a deeply nourished life and celebrating the beauty of ordinary moments. She is forever marked by the rescue and redemption Jesus Christ has accomplished in her life. Emily is a featured contributor in Strong, Brave & Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, a collaborative volume of essays written to encourage moms in the weeds of parenting kids at home, a member of Hope*writers, and an ongoing devotional writer for Joyful Life Magazine. She lives with her husband and seven kids—three girls and four boys—in the Pacific Northwest. Emily’s website is emilysueallen.com. Subscribe to her newsletter “Flowers, Children & Other Lovely Things” at emilysueallen.substack.com and find her on Instagram.