Bring warm clothing. It’s bitter cold out there. — Mom
‘Twas the night before Christmas… No, ’twas the night of Christmas. The first without Dad. Or the second. Sorry, things got hazy in the aftermath of his passing. I flew in from Los Angeles to spend the holidays with my mother in New Jersey where it was bitter cold outside, and warm and toasty inside. Just as it should be this time of year. In LA, it’s quite often the opposite.
Mom’s house was decorated as usual, the tree, the Nativity scene, the stockings. Even with one less this Noël, they still crowded the fireplace. But there were none of her mouth-watering cookies. No homemade apple, cherry, or pumpkin pies. I guess it was too soon to embrace the new normal.
We celebrated Christmas Eve at my brother David’s house. He and his family, my brother Michael and his, and me and Mom. We all did our best to keep the mood merry. I hoped the tumblers of holiday cheer would help. They didn’t.
On Christmas Day, my two brothers, who lived close by, were off celebrating with their families. My three sisters, who lived far away, celebrated with theirs. This left Mom and me on our own. We filled the hours as best we could. We attended Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Lit a candle for Dad. Exchanged gifts. Fielded phone calls. But with an empty house and the mood understandably less festive, we decided to brave the elements and go out to a fancy restaurant for our Christmas dinner.
However, spontaneity had its drawbacks. Many of our local favorites were closed. Others fully booked. We felt like Mary and Joseph desperately looking for a room at the inn. So, as the sun fell from the sky, we ventured outside of town. Still no luck. The holiday spirit quickly lost its charm. Then in a flash of inspiration, perhaps divine, I thought of an eatery certain to be open. One where my sister waited tables long ago; “The Suburban Diner” on Route 17. Surely, they would welcome us as they did other poor souls who found themselves alone on Christmas. And they did, with open arms. Our server, a lifer I imagine, led us to one of several empty booths. Other than, “What will it be?” she asked no questions, though I’m sure she had many.
Once we settled in, I scanned the room, hoping not to see a familiar face. How could I explain that our loved ones forgot about us on this of all nights? But we Porros do not like to impose or bother, even family. So, Mom and I sat alone. And, as we Porros also do, we made the most of it. We enjoyed each other’s company, ate a fine “Suburban” dinner, and topped it off with a slice of homemade pumpkin pie. Not as good as Mom’s, but good enough. As was that forgettable evening. Just the two of us, in a diner, on Christmas night. And yet, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.