cumberland house

Despite all the reasons I give him not to, my friend Cameron still tolerates me. Despite my flakiness, my selfishness, my inability to ever match what he puts in - his friendship is constant.

Do you want to know what he gave me for Christmas? It's pretty amazing. He found one of the few untarnished memories I have of my childhood, boxed it up, and sent it to me so that I could experience it again, with more visceral force than I could about handle.

We were talking one night in early December when we discovered a commonality between our mothers: an obsession with Department 56 collectible villages. This was my mom's big thing, back in the day. Every year she would buy a house, or a church--the post office, or the city hall. And the accessories. Miniature Rockwellian people, frozen in friendly ceramic smiles and stiff-armed waves. Tiny glowing street lights and spiky plastic trees. Shredded white wax paper for snow. Everything was wired with lights, making for a cozy, twinkling little town to be gazed at over a cup of cocoa.

My mother battled depression and alcoholism, mostly losing. This made her unavailable, to say the least. But something about the holidays brought out her best, most loving self. She'd take me to the craft store for felt and pipe cleaners, glitter and pom poms. We'd sit cross-legged at the coffee table well past my bedtime, designing schlocky ornaments to hang proudly on the tree.

All this to say that when I think of my mom at Christmastime, the darkness with which I associate her recedes, and I see her at her warmest and brightest. I loved my mother most at the holidays, and I felt her love strongest.

When Cameron and I realized our Department 56 connection, we compared notes. I told him that I'd never forget my favorite piece: the New English-sounding Cumberland House. It was a two-story Colonial with a sloping brick roof and double chimneys. Spearmint green boughs adorned four majestic columns and a string of colored lights dipped down to side-by-side wreaths. It was a masterpiece of symmetry, an aesthetic which by then I already loved.

You know where this story is going, of course.

Cameron looked online, and found quite a few Cumberland Houses for sale. None of them would have reached me in time for Christmas, though. (What he really wanted to do was show up at my door with one, but that wasn't feasible this year.) On the 23rd, he happened to look on Craigslist Los Angeles. There was exactly one Department 56 piece for sale. It was a Cumberland House.

He reached out to the woman selling it and explained his shipping/timing predicament. Wondrously, generously, she agreed to wrap it and drive it from North Ridge down to LA and deliver it to me at work--on Christmas Eve.

One of the best parts of the whole thing was the reaction of my coworkers. Everyone was super intrigued by the little dragon label on it (an inside joke of ours), and impressed by the size of the box. And I felt pretty fucking special getting a special delivery. I was utterly clueless as to what it could be, and stared at it curiously on the train ride home.



And then when I did open it, well. I told him it was like unwrapping a lightning bolt. I actually cried out.



I wish my mom could have seen that moment, could have witnessed me experiencing an emotion thirty years in the making. But then that's why it's so important to cherish the ones we still have, while we have them, right?



And that's something I certainly didn't appreciate, thirty years ago.