Tonight I could be found on my living room floor, hair slicked back to my head in dye (from a box, I’m not proud), rummaging wildly though the cutesy storage boxes I’ve had for years but never bother to go through.

I was on a savage hunt. For a recipe. Not just any recipe, mind you, but THE recipe. My cousin Marco’s meatball recipe.

It might seem strange that a vegetarian would be wildly scouring her apartment for a meatball recipe. It IS strange, but this holiday season has been different. I’m usually more of a “meh, humbug” kind of gal when it comes to Christmas, but this year I let myself get swept up by the season. It’s been pretty fun. The boyfriend and I put up a tree. We hung stockings. We chased each other around with various annoying Christmas melodies (his weapon of choice was Aaron Neville; I preferred “Dominic the Donkey”).

One of the by-products of “Christmas cheer” for me has been Christmas nostalgia. Not melancholy, really, just thinking back to the times and people that made holidays in the past memorable. Mostly the people.

Aforementioned cousin Marco loved the holidays. Easter was his favorite, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas, he’d embark upon a baking and cooking frenzy. Every recipe had a story, and I spent countless hours with him in the kitchen – his “helper” (I use the term loosely as my cooking skills were still in their nascency). Basically, I’d pour the wine, measure out spices, try not to break the eggs, and made sure his Whitney Houston remixes kept going. And of course, listen to the stories.

So this Christmas, as I wrapped gifts and hung ornaments and tried to decide which cookies to make, my thoughts turned to Marco. He crossed over to the Big Disco in the Sky several years ago. I imagine him debating recipes with Julia Child (and cursing her in Italian when they disagree), and sliding, always so gracefully, across a flashing dance floor with Cher thumping through the heavenly speakers.

I digress.

While rummaging through my old files and boxes for THE recipe, I stumbled upon an assortment of artifacts from my own life. Forgotten maps, old love letters, things I had picked up in my various travels and on long-ago adventures. Cards from my parents. Maps of Iceland. An empty tin of Italian cigarettes. The photos of William S. Burroughs and Tom Waits I had hanging in my college dorm room. And the journals. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been carefully documented. Napkins and train ticket stubs are taped to pages filled with the stories of my life.

I didn’t find the damn recipe.

I did find myself overcome with gratitude. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily ebbs and flows of life and forget the bigger picture. The people, and places, and experiences that have shaped us into who we are. The people…

I like to think that celestial Marco led me on this little goose chase for the meatballs. He led an interesting, robust life. Telling me those stories in his kitchen in Manhattan made me realize I wanted fascinating stories to tell, one day. And now I do.

Happy holidays, everyone! Don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them. Don’t forget to appreciate all the stillness, or the wildness, that has shaped you. Don’t forget to remember your own story. I bet it’s a good one.