Little Love Stories: Volume 3 (Holiday Edition), Featured Story

Novembers and Decembers by Jeneen Owens


There’s a feeling associated with Novembers and Decembers. And an aroma too. The atmosphere changes. You wake up one day and the season settles on your shoulders like a warm blanket that you didn’t know you needed. It begins with a whiff of cool crisp air on a bright blueish grey morning. I first noticed it in 1984. I was seven years old.

We lived on a wide street lined with row houses and trees in Southwest Philadelphia. The smell of warm cinnamon and brown sugar, nutmeg and ginger was woven into the fabric of my mother’s curtains, was ingrained into the ugly yellowing printed wallpaper and burrowed deep into the deep chocolate brown carpet. The sweet smell of candied yams and seasonings, of collard greens and buttered rolls, would wrap around me like a hug. The anticipation of good food and gifts would keep me awake long past my bedtime.

My Dad would bring the decorations up from the basement and we’d all decorate the house while The Temptations’ Twas the Night Before Christmas began the soundtrack of the season. And my mom would take me to John Wanamaker’s to see The Nutcracker light show. A show I never really paid attention to, I just liked being out with my mom amongst the people navigating downtown Philly. The people who were all so cheery and festive and helpful and nice. The people who smiled and held their children close as they oooo’d and ahhhh’d at the pretty lights. And the snow, piled on each side of the pavement to create a walkway we trudged through in the hustle and bustle of downtown. Where people were smiling and music to mark the season was always playing in the background.

There were dreams of a white Christmas. Or wishing you a Merry Christmas. Or “… chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” My parents were sitting on the couch in the living room. The lights draped across the tree, danced across their faces. My mom snuggled up against my Dad’s chest. And the smells and the smiles and the decorations, the anticipation, the food, the music, the family, the pretty lights. This was the feeling I’d waited all year for. It was like a drop of hot chocolate warming my belly. That was Love. That was love through the filter of innocence not yet tarnished by life’s tragedies.

The next year, my little cousin Jeffrey was born. He was the first of my cousins I remember interacting with as a baby. He was beautiful with an infectious laugh. The muppet show, Fraggle Rock, was popular then and each time I would yell Fraggle in a funny, exaggerated way he would laugh so hard it made me laugh too. In the fall of 1985, my cousin Jeffrey died. He was six months old. I still do not know the details of Jeffrey’s death. I’m afraid to peel back old wounds with questions.

That December, while the adults prepared the food and hung the garland and sang along to Nat King Cole, I cried. Lying on the couch in our living room with my face in the seat cushions, the room illuminated slightly by the light from the kitchen, I cried. With a dark heaviness hovering at the ceiling above me like a storm cloud, I cried. I cried for Jeffrey. He did not make it to his first Christmas. He would never experience that warmth in the pit of his stomach that comes with the season. Jeffrey’s death was my first experience with the duality of joy and pain, sadness and love in Novembers and Decembers.