Monday, December 15, 2008

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, the year 2008

I mentioned before that I have very happy memories of Christmas as a child, and I hope you enjoy hearing about them as much as I enjoyed living them.

Christmas decorations at my childhood home were very serious business. My folks kept them stored in old army trunks from my dad's service days, and I can remember the excitement as they drug them down out of the attic. We would open them up and be greeted with the musty sweet smell of old memories and treasures near forgotten.

We had a beautiful nativity scene - porcelain figurines complete with a manger scene, baby Jesus, and the animals. For a lot of years, my mom set up a Christmas "willage" as we called it, with snowcapped houses and frosty windows. We had Christmas candles in the bathrooms, hand towels with Christmas motifs, and even Christmas toilet paper on the 25th of December. We had peppermint advent calendars, and each day we got to take a single peppermint candy cane off our calendars.

One of my first years in college, my dad bought me packages of gift certificates from McDonalds. With every pack you bought, they gave you a little stuffed reindeer. My dad loaded me up that year and stubbornly demanded his free reindeer toys. My mom found a sleigh with Santa in it, and attached each reindeer to the sleigh with black string. Those reindeer pulled Santa across the mantle of the fireplace in their home for years and years and years. I still get a chuckle when I think of my dad throwing down with the Mickey D's manager over eight tiny reindeer.

We had a mobile with angels suspended on elastic type string, and every year my brother and sister and I would do crazy things with them. Sometimes we hung them from their heavenly ceiling, heads down, like bats. One time, we made little tiny nooses and hung them. Well, by "we" I mean my little brother. My mother was rarely amused by our angel antics. Whoever got stuck sitting under the angels in the bay window at the breakfast table fought the damn things for an entire month. We loved them and hated them, all at the same time.

We had songs of the season, piped in all day on Christmas. And that one day a year, my mom drove us all crazy by answering the phone, "Merry Christmas" instead of "hello." I didn't get it then, but I totally get it now.

Christmas gifts at our house were insane. Santa left unwrapped gifts on Christmas morning, and my folks always made sure we had wrapped gifts under the tree, too. My dad went nuts every year buying gifts, and I didn't realize then how much we had, and how much my folks sacrificed to fill their den with mountains of beautifully wrapped gifts and treasures.

There were three of us kids, and one of us in particular had a very hard time maintaining her composure once the gifts were under the tree. That one of us shall remain unnamed at this point. Suffice it to say that my mother's firstborn was a very naughty girl. Her ridiculous ongoing lack of control when it comes to Christmas gifts warrants its very own Day of Christmas blog, I'm afraid. More on this one later.

Christmas goodies were such a treat for us. For years, my mom has made "Texas Trash" which all of you outside of the Lone Star State refer to as Chex mix. We hillbillies have our own special name for it. During my youth, I burned countless hours by sifting through the bowls of salty goodness to get to my favorite parts of the concoction. Generally that was the chinese noodles and the rice chex.

My mother's family celebrated every year with a family gathering, and there was no shortage of Christmas goodness when she, her sisters, and their sister-in-law got together with my grandmother and great grandmother. It is amazing that someone didn't have the forethought to bring a round of insulin for the house. We really needed it to offset the peanut butter bon bons, apricot balls, divinity, and fudge that filled the candy dishes.

One very poignant memory for me is that of my Nana's house at Christmas. Nana was my great grandmother, and she lived for more than a century. I cannot see Christmas candy peppermint taffy without getting nostalgic for the old girl. And for years after her death, I got sniffly every time I bought a box of chocolate covered cherries. Some things just remind you of the people you have loved and lost, and for me, it's peppermint taffy and chocolate covered cherries. The same can be said for my Mo's peanut butter bon bons. And for some reason, Grandmother Erma's scrambled eggs. Go figure.

My father had his Christmas favorites, too, and my mom went above and beyond to make sure he enjoyed his special treasures. He had a stuffed animal from Australia that he wanted perched "just so" inside a huge wreath that hung in the den. Called the silly thing Super Mouse. He had a funny choo choo train ornament that plugged into the Christmas lights and chugged along. There was a mailbox that someone had made for him. My mom never decorated a tree without hanging the ornaments so they were visible to my dad from his big recliner. I haven't seen the train this year, but when we were at Mom's house last weekend, she pointed out the mailbox on her tree, still facing where his chair sat for so many years. We will never know what happy memories these treasures stirred up for my dad, but I know that those things made him happy, and that he held on to them and relived them year after year.

Anyway, Christmas for me was a magical time, filled with nice music and nice decorations and great food and presents. The threat of Santa Claus coming for a late night visit was enough to keep me in line for months. Ok, weeks. And the promise of Santa coming was enough to keep me wide awake on more than one Christmas Eve night. I never saw the big guy personally, but I believe to this day that his spirit is out there and alive and well.

That spirit lives now and moves me to shuffle furniture and to carve out a few hours to set up our tree and to trim it. To stand in the front yard in the cold, battling with stubborn lights that won't work and tangles of wire. To spend countless hours making Christmas candy and wrapping gifts and reading The Night Before Christmas.

That spirit moves me now, just as it moved my parents a lifetime ago. I am creating happy memories for my child, and hopefully for her children someday.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas!

1 comment:

Big Al said...

The first time I came home with y'all for Christmas, I was shocked. I have never in my life seen so many presents under the tree.

I miss Christmas at your house.