You are sitting cross-legged on the couch in the living room with Grandma Cookie’s scratchy wool blanket bundled tightly around your shoulders. The room is chilly and the cold December air seeps through the poorly insulated walls. Luckily, Isabel is asleep on your lap, a surprisingly human-like snore erupting from her tiny pink nose. You scratch behind her ear and she rolls over contently, revealing her blubbery bald stomach. Although she acts like a diva, she is probably the ugliest cat you have ever seen. She keeps you warm, though, and her presence is comforting in this storm. The weather outside is unforgiving, but you feel safe. The fireplace crackles and pops as heat waves distort the old bricks, making them look as if they are melting. Bodhi lounges in front of the fire, purring, his paws outstretched. His black fur takes on an orange glow.
The smell of the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies you and your mom just baked drifts in from the kitchen. You begin to remember baking these same cookies with her when you were three. You were at the kitchen counter, standing on one of the dining room chairs, wearing only a pair of Care Bear Pull-Ups. You were rolling balls of cookie dough in your tiny hands, sneaking tastes when your mom had her back turned. You remember you mom’s favorite CD playing in the kitchen and her singing along in her botched Arabic that she once spoke fluently. She would pick you up and spin you around, calling you habibti, the Arabic word for “my dear.” The house was always filled with music when you were younger. She would put on Turkish Groove or Celtic songs or Neil Diamond, anything to get you dancing. It’s a bittersweet feeling, hearing music in the house now; it has been a long time. December is the one time of year the house isn’t so quiet, and you savor these short, precious moments.
You start humming along to Bing Crosby’s hypnotizing bass-baritone voice as he croons your favorite Christmas song. The Christmas tree’s lights glow, and the melting snow catches gold flecks of light as the drops roll down the window. A smile spreads across your face as you admire the variety of ornaments hanging on the artificial branches. There is nothing generic about how the Campochiaro family decorates their tree, besides the fact that the tree itself is plastic. You spy the hand woven dolls from Haiti perched on branches; pieces of green-painted macaroni on a piece of cardboard, framing an image of your five year old face, chubby cheeks and nose blotchy red from the cold. There are the lifelike cardinals and chickadees carefully pinned on the twigs near the top of the tree, and, of course, you can’t forget the series of ornaments made completely out of bone that Grandma Cookie brought back from Papua, New Guinea. As untraditional as your family’s Christmas tree may be, decorated with the bone of who knows what type of creature, it is stunning to you. It is full of stories and traditions and memories that no other tree could ever share.
Your mom is in the kitchen humming to herself as she takes the tray of cookies out of the oven. You smile and breathe in deeply. The smell fills the house in seconds, and your mouth begins to water. You hoist Isabel off of your lap and pull her into your arms. Like a child, she rests her paws over your shoulders and nuzzles your neck. She is heavy and the fur makes your nose itch but you can’t bear to put her down, so you nuzzle her back and she begins to purr, licking your cheek with her sandpaper tongue. Her breath is nauseating and you have to hold yours until she is done. You put Grandma Cookie’s blanket to the side and get off the couch, making your way over to your mom. You put your arm around her and rest your head on her shoulder. She smells of Chanel Number 5, cigarettes, and Chapstick. You inhale, remembering her familiar scent. “Hi, Boo,” she says as she kisses your forehead and hands you a cookie. They are still hot and it almost falls apart in your hand, but you can’t resist. You take a bite; the chocolate chips melt in your mouth and stick to the corners of your lips. They are perfect, as always. You smile as you realize that this is what home truly feels like.
Olivia J. Campochiaro ‘14