Whenever the first snowflakes fall, turning the world outside my window frozen and white, I picture him.
For me, cold weather means layers. Not only layers like sweaters, coats, gloves, boots, and hats, but layers of impenetrable ice and snow to clear from driveways and sidewalks. And layers of obligation—the Christmas tree, the decorations, the hanging of outside lights on the house. The parties, the school choir concerts, and White Elephant gift exchanges.
There are layers of Christmas cards to mail, and of ones received, to tape on blank walls somewhere. There is the early bird Black-Friday Christmas gift getting, as well as the last-minute headache of a forgotten present to find and buy. Layers! Lots and lots of layers!
By December 24th, the layers have begun to feel heavy. No wonder by New Year’s Eve, I’ve gained fifteen pounds and can hardly leave my house anymore!
My brother Jeremy is not like me.
If there were no Santa Claus, Jeremy would invent him. Modeled loosely after himself, Jeremy Claus would begin the season mid-July, right after a large Fireworks celebration and a float parade down Main Street.
Jeremy Claus would immediately order snow, and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, until every street is covered, and every house resembles a blanket fort.
People would ski everywhere or else use disc sleds to slip their way to the grocery store. Thick rope and black inner-tubes hitched to Four-wheelers would drive people to work. Can you imagine the carpool lane?
He has always been like this. For my brother Jeremy, Christmas represents the very best of people. He is not focused on what he’ll get. He focuses on ways to surprise the people in his life. Jeremy creates magic!
When I was ten years old, I loved Barbie dolls. I’m not sure when the obsession began, but I had quite a collection by the time I hit double digits. Add to that all the accessories—because no Mattel maven can have a Barbie and not have a billion teeny tiny baubles and clothes, shoes, hats, and coats to go with her—I had a spread that I kept in shoeboxes shoved in the corners of my bedroom. And Like any good addict, I enabled my two younger sisters to the Pink-Aisle-Cause and tripled the Barbie garb!
I’m sure my mother saw the need for some kind of storage for the toys. However, it was Jeremy Claus who came up with the solution.
He started weeks before Christmas. I don’t remember when the blinds over our garage’s windows were drawn, except that it was well before there was a hint of snow in the air. My dad began parking in the driveway, and my little sisters and I were forbidden to go near the garage.
We didn’t care. What did the garage have that we wanted?
However, weeks passed, and the sound of machinery peeling and screaming behind the forbidden garage door piqued our curiosity. My sisters and I came up with a plan to sneak a peek at the workshop.
We gathered on the front porch steps and pretended to rehearse songs for a play and took turns spying through a sliver under the garage blinds to no avail.
Suddenly we needed a screwdriver or a hammer or a nail to hang dramatic curtains for our play but were stopped before entering the domain.
“I’ll do it for you later,” Jeremy said, slipping outside and closing the door. He was too fast and too tall to get a look at what was going on behind him. Pretty soon, my sisters and I gave up.
On Christmas Eve, our sibling tradition was to gather in one bedroom. We would pile on the beds and floor, staying up all night telling stories about past Christmases or playing cards. Then every couple of hours, someone would propose it was time to go and arouse our parents.
Usually, my youngest sister, the smallest and cutest, would be volunteered to tiptoe into my parents’ bedroom and ask if we could open presents.
“No,” my parents would mumble. “It’s only 3 O’clock in the morning! Go to bed.”
The child would return and repeat the bad news to be dispatched an hour later with the same request. This went on the whole night until my parents could not take it anymore, and we were allowed to burst into the family room.
That year, I didn’t notice that instead of diving for the pile of presents under the tree, my siblings held back. They waited as my two little sisters and I spied the twin Barbie houses in the corner.
The houses were made of plywood and were three-feet high from floor to slanted roof and about two-feet wide. There were three rooms on the top floor and four smaller rooms on the bottom.
Each room had glued carpet samples on the floors and a square of linoleum fixed in the Barbie kitchen. Boxes and toothpicks created beds, dressers, and chairs. Jeremy made cushions, mattresses, and pillows from remnant cotton stuffed in fabric swatches, and he hung sheer curtains in every window. A shoebox cut in half and rigged to the outside was the elevator. My sisters and I squealed in delight!
Many Christmases have come and gone. In my youth, I received more Barbies than probably would be considered sane, but I don’t remember those, not individually. I do remember the Barbie house my brother spent weeks making, and I can’t remember the last time I felt that kind of magic!
Jeremy was always like this. He was the one who piled us in the station wagon with sleds roped to the roof and took us sledding. He was the one who played the first Christmas carols on the radio to get us all in the mood for the season the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Reflecting on the beginning of this post, I’ve realized what layers are and their effect on a person.
Layers provide warmth and a sense of comfort. Layers are generous, and layers mean there is plenty to share, which reminds me of my brother—he is the most layered person I’ve ever met. He is giving, thoughtful, inventive, and magical, the very best Christmas has to offer.