It was 2010 — the first Christmas without Dad. Like every other space emptied by his death, this one hurt.
But just as meaningful as the absence of one stocking is the presence of others.
Five years later, though we are still one sock short, our entire mantel is full. From end to end, hand-stitched letters and tiny sequins announce the addition of Charlie, Anna, Laura, Aubrey, Caleb, Amelia, Tyler and Connor.
Though they all feature a different holiday scene — a boy and his dog by the fire, Frosty and Santa sledding down a snowy hill — they all have one thing in common: Each was meticulously sewn together by my mom.
“I wanted them to be special for the people I care about,” says Mom, who will continue to hand-stitch our stockings "as long as my fingers work."
The first one — for my brother, Charlie — was completed in March of 1980, shortly after he was born. My sister Anna’s was added to the mantel two years later. Mom found them at a craft store in Illinois. Mine came along eight years later, in 1990 (which probably explains why my name is detailed in Puffy Paint).
For the next 17 Christmases, our fireplace would be home to five stockings.
Then Anna married Aubrey, and there were six.
Then Caleb was born.
“I wondered if I could make another one, then his turned out to be the most extravagant,” Mom recalls.
Three years after Caleb, my niece and her stocking came along.
Then in 2014, I got engaged.
“I didn’t start Tyler’s until you got the ring,” Mom admits, laughing.
When my second nephew came along in October, a stocking awaited him.
Over the past 35 years, my mom has made 11 stockings (Caleb, Amelia and Connor have one at my sister’s house, too). And for a family that knows deep loss, seeing more stockings is a beautiful thing. We are thankful each year one is added, when the empty spaces are filled once again.