The title doesn’t exactly sounds like a Christmas story now does it? I’m not sure where this story is going, so bear with me. It is early morning as I am writing this at my brother’s home on a hill in Oregon looking out on fog covered hills with the smell of pine in the air. The sun is peeking over the hills with a stream of light topping the myriad of pine trees. It’s really quite beautiful here.
I arrived two days ago in the afternoon and haven’t been here in almost four years. It’s definitely different scenery from Florida with the rolling hills, pine trees and colder weather (though not as cold as I was expecting). After going on almost three years of unemployment without a break of any kind, I feel like I have stepped out of time for a short while to catch my breath and collect my thoughts on what direction to take after this short vacation is over. However, other thoughts have entered my head, too . . . thoughts I didn’t know were going to overwhelm me for a little while.
In previous years when I have visited family in Oregon, I planned my vacation time at the same time as my dad and stepmother’s vacation (they live in Iowa) so I could visit with them when I visited my older brother’s family in Oregon, and usually those vacation times were in July. Due to being unemployed for so long I didn’t have the money to make the trip for the past several years, and this particular trip was a total surprise and a gift from my older brother and his wife.
While it had not crossed my mind before, this house is the place where I saw my dad and stepmother the last few times that I saw them–the last time being at my nephew’s wedding in January 2008. I never gave it any thought as I prepared for this trip that this was the last place where I saw my stepmother, who died suddenly and unexpectedly last April after fairly routine surgery (although I’m of the mind that no surgery is routine) that was expected to go smoothly. However, it did not and she died ten days after the surgery on Good Friday (ironically, she was born on Christmas Day 86 years earlier). My dad and my stepmother were married almost 32 years at the time of her death, and her death left a hole in me almost as great as the death of my own mother almost 29 years ago.
Before you think this is going to be a morbid post, I can guarantee you it will not be. It will be a tribute to my stepmother, Phyllis, who always listened, always had good advice and always had a great sense of humor. When I first entered my brother’s home two days ago and was talking with my sister-in-law in the kitchen, it hit me like a ton of bricks that this was the last place I saw Phyllis alive. I could see her in my mind moving around the kitchen, helping where needed, and I can still clearly hear her laughter. It has made this particular visit bittersweet filled with the memories of her. She loved Christmas but how could she not love Christmas having been born on Christmas Day. In fact, her older sister, who was nine years older than her and who died in 2004 was also born on Christmas Day.
Phyllis was a very private person but very open to those she loved and very giving, too. I have 32 years of memories of time spent with her and Dad, and many times with her on the phone after I moved to Florida in 1992. Weekly phone calls kept us up-to-date with the goings on in the family. We could easily gab on for over an hour.
Early on in their marriage Phyllis told me a story about, if I remember it right, a cousin (or possibly just someone she knew in the area in Iowa where she grew up) who lived at home his whole life with his parents. He had been employed at a hotel named the Hill Hotel and while I don’t remember the details, he lost his job though I’m not sure it was his fault and possibly he was laid off when business was slow. Anyway, while you’d have to hear Phyllis tell the story to get the full humor in it, this man never looked for another job again and was always waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel to go back to work (which never came).
As the years passed by and we had many, many conversations, one of the funniest things we would say to each other, after she had told me this story, was whenever someone came up in conversation who seemed to be stuck on hold in their life at that particular moment, one of us would say that that particular person was “waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel” and then we would both break out laughing. I can still hear her laughter so clearly.
Unlike the fellow in her story, I have not sat around waiting for a call from my former employer in Houston where I lost my job in April 2009 to see if I wanted to come back. No, it was clear I was not going back there. The very next day after I got fired I was at a Starbucks using their wifi to start applying for jobs, even before I applied for unemployment benefits. In fact, as of yesterday when I applied for yet two more jobs (hitting 463 jobs I have now applied for since April 2009), and, yes, doing it here even while vacationing in Oregon for a few days, the futility of it all after almost three years just overwhelmed me. And, I have no desire to get back on that plane and go back to the town I’ve been living in in Florida for over two years now where absolutely no door has ever opened for me. I feel totally stuck on hold and don’t know how to get off of it.
And then this morning, when I woke up very early to a quiet house, feeling incredibly sad about what direction to take with my life, I could hear the sound of Phyllis’s laughter and those words, “Waiting for a call from the Hill Hotel,” and it made me laugh. Oh, how I wish she were here now, one last time, to see her again. I know she would know exactly the right words I need to hear along with a big hug. But Phyllis would not want me to be this sad, so I’m determined to shake off this sadness and the futility of trying to find a job that’s as likely to come at this point in time as that job that fellow was waiting for at the Hill Hotel.
Christmas Day is only a few days away now which is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ whose birth, life, death and resurrection totally changed life for anyone on this planet if they choose to accept His gift of salvation. However, it is also my stepmother’s birthday, and I’m determined that no matter how tough these past three years have been on me trying to find another job, as one last gift to her, I am going to remember her laughter when I don’t think I can go on for one more day. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And it’s really her gift to me.
“For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5 NASB).
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