A rainy day, a bare street, and silver water dripping from the tips of the garlands as the Strip District fades into dusk. I expected this sight to be somber, not festive, but somehow, I sensed the holiday more clearly here than I have anywhere else in Pittsburgh to date — the deep gray of the day contrasting the garland into a brighter green, a rain-splattered hand-written sign, and the cherry red bows gleaming brightly despite the twilight.
It’s two days after Christmas, the day that my extended Grove family gets together to exchange gifts wrapped in glittery paper and eat homemade ice cream cake off my grandmother’s Lenox china. We’ve just finished our traditional supper of potato roll sandwiches, seven-layer salad, Kay & Ray’s potato chips, and homemade Chex mix served buffet-style, right to left, across Grandma’s kitchen counter, and I have just commented to somebody that I can mark my growing up like a timeline by recalling my annual reaction to this 25-year-old menu: the elementary school year I first put mayonnaise on my potato roll sandwich, the high school year during which I abstained from mayonnaise, the college years when I ate everything like normal again.
My mom, the piano teacher, has just sat down at Grandma’s upright piano to play Christmas carols. One my one, my family puts down their dinner plates and surrounds her to sing, my father with his rich bass, my aunt’s contralto, my two brothers’ bass and tenor, my 90-year-old grandma’s warbling-yet-on-pitch soprano, and the alto and soprano parts that my mother, sister, and I seamlessly trade back and forth like playground candy. Our voices blend like Brethren-in-Christ memories, smoothing over rough textures and varnished pews. My immediate family used to sing together in front of the church on Sunday mornings, a fact which I’d almost forgotten, but by my mom’s elbow with my siblings pressed in around a hymnal that predates all of us, I somehow feel that if we were all to rise out of our seats and through the ceiling, our singing could shield us in a world of no sadness like a cord of three strands not easily broken.
I glance over my shoulder to find my boyfriend Jon standing slightly away from the group, his iPhone out, intently studying the screen. “Who are you texting, hon?” I say, feeling hurt.
Jon glances up at me, surprised. “I’m following the words,” he says, and then he joins in to the fourth verse of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” an eager magnificent bass. I turn back around to face the open hymnal before me, a smile playing on my lips as we’re joined by my sister’s fiancé, and I flap my arms to get us all to laugh and sing the chorus a bit louder, lifting all of us into the night.