It is the tender cusp of Christmas.

It is that time when emotions run close to the overfill point, when sentimentality and anger and depression and euphoria mix freely together, with not enough space between them to tell the difference from one moment to the next.

I am visiting my parents—and of course this does not help.

My parents are doing well (thank you for asking). They are in their eighties now, still living in their dream cabin in the woods and, although I know they are growing older, the signs are so incremental and their attitude so upbeat, it is easy to deny the passage of time when I am with them and imagine I am a much younger person than I actually am. 

Yesterday, we stopped at the local greenhouse in the small town near their cabin. It was unbelievably cold. I don’t know why I couldn’t believe it; I grew up in the cold and was raised with the idea that extreme cold was a signpost of Christmas and a litmus test for true Christmas spirit. But the truth is, I haven’t lived in a very cold place for a while and the cold stole the breath out of me.

The greenhouse was a bit out of our way, but my mother explained, “I like to support them, they put up such nice floral arrangements in the summer!”

The shop was surrounded by welcoming signs and Christmas trees propped up against giant bags of earth, waiting for spring. Inside it was warm and smelled of soil and cinnamon.

As my parents were in the greenhouse, bundling up the poinsettia for the drive home, I warmed the car and looked across the street at a mobile home that was a little worse for wear. The yard was piled high with stuff, now half buried in the snow. As I waited, the door flew open, accompanied by a string of expletives.

A man about my age was following a younger man out of the house, screaming at him, yelling terrible things. I watched as the young man—who was wearing the beginning of a thin beard and a winter jacket—was chased out of the house and began walking down the country road alone.

Minutes later, my parents in the car, we were driving home on the road that leads to the greenhouse when we saw the young man, walking. It was several miles to town.

“Should we stop, dad?” I asked. My dad was silent.

“It’s hard to know what to do,” my mom said, quietly.

The young man seems appropriately dressed for the weather. He is walking down the road in a deliberate fashion, as though he knows where he was going—I say all this to myself because I know I won’t stop. I know I won’t take a chance and put this stranger in the car with my eighty-year-old parents and get involved in something that I don’t know the first thing about.

We drive by.

Snug inside the car, my mother holds the small poinsettia in her lap. I wonder what that young man’s Christmas will be like and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do, in this crowded time of year, with all the emotions that bump against each other. I don’t know how to sort out the tangled strands of joy and sorrow that run through me.

Sitting with my happy, healthy parents, I am quiet as I watch the young man, walking alone down the road on this bright cold day.

Till next time,

Carrie

Carrie Classon’s memoir, “Blue Yarn,” was released earlier this year. Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.