’Twas the night before Christmas . . . no, ’twas the night of Christmas. The first without Dad, or the second. Things got hazy after his passing. I’d flown in from the Left Coast to spend the holidays in New Jersey where it was bitter cold outside and warm and toasty inside, just as it should be during this time of year. It’s quite often the opposite in Los Angeles, which made it tough to get into the spirit of things.
Mom’s house was decorated as usual: the tree, the Nativity scene, the stockings. Even with one less stocking on this Noël, they still crowded the fireplace. But there were none of her mouthwatering cookies. No homemade apple, cherry, or pumpkin pies. I guess it was too soon to embrace the new normal.
We celebrated Christmas Eve at David’s house: his family, Michael’s family, Mom, and me. We all did our best to keep the mood merry. I hoped the tumblers of holiday cheer would help, but they didn’t.
On Christmas Day, David and Michael 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. As the sun fell from the sky, we ventured outside of our village. Still no luck. The holiday spirit quickly lost its charm.
Then, in perhaps a flash of divine intervention, the neon lights of the Suburban Diner, an eatery where my sister waited tables long ago, appeared. Surely, they would have room for us as well as all the other poor souls who found themselves alone on Christmas night. They did, and they welcomed us 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 a few. 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 did not like to impose or bother anyone, not even family. Mom and I sat alone, and we made the most of it, just like we Porros always did. We enjoyed each other’s company, we ate a fine Suburban Diner dinner, and we topped it off with a slice of homemade pumpkin pie—not as good as Mom’s, but good enough. And though this might not have been the ideal scenario for our Christmas night, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.