Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Christmas c. 1963
When school let out for the Christmas break [we were allowed to call it that back then] we kids rolled into our house eagerly anticipating what was to come in the following days and weeks. We usually started our Christmas shopping then, walking into town with allowances and a little extra provided by Mom and Dad to buy gifts for everyone. Baking and decorating cookies of several sorts then began in earnest. If time allowed, we'd make ornaments for the tree and to give to friends. Being naturally greedy kids, waiting for Christmas morning was nearly unbearable. Some of our friends' families opened gifts Christmas Eve -- but not ours! Sleep came only after hours of fidgeting and restless minds spinning with imagination. Often before the crack of dawn, I'd hear one of my two brothers tip-toe down the stairs from their bedrooms in the attic to retrieve their stockings. "Santa" left them outside our bedroom doors in hopes of having a little more time in the morning to drink the first of several cups of coffee and prepare a special breakfast. Patty and I shared a bedroom and squabbled about how long one was allowed to stand on the register on a cold winter's morning. Flannel nightgowns billowed with warm air as we took turns. Of course we'd have already dragged in our stockings, stifling their bells so that Mom and Dad wouldn't hear. Usually, each contained a Chapstick, orange, apple, candy cane, mini packet of Kleenex, a pad of paper, pencils, a magazine and other, age-appropriate trinkets. The aroma of frying bacon and coffee wafted up to our bedrooms and we knew it was almost time to go downstairs. It also meant that it was time to get dressed. No one was allowed to eat breakfast in night clothes, even on Christmas morning. Hungry as we were, it was hard to focus on breakfast knowing there were wrapped treasures within mere yards. But Mom insisted that we clean our plates. She knew we would have no interest in lunch after opening our presents. I still don't like scrambled eggs, but managed to choke them down with the help of a homemade sweet roll, bacon, juice and hot chocolate. Keeping us waiting for what seemed like days while Mom put the breakfast dishes in the sink, Dad lined us up by age, then slowly and ceremoniously lead us into the living room. In addition to dozens of candy canes, the tree seemed to have taken on extra sparkle. He didn't wear a costume, but Dad became Santa, doling out gifts -- one at a time -- to each family member. Only when all had opened, admired and thanked for their gifts did another round get distributed. TORTURE!!! When this ritual was finished, all gift wrap worth re-using (recycling wasn't a common habit back then) was carefully folded, along with gift boxes, some of which showed up year after year. Ribbons and bows that were not being worn on various body parts were trashed. Then and only then, it was time for serious play. Exhausted parents hugged on the sofa and drank another cup of coffee while we kids played with our new treasures. Looking back on many Christmas mornings, I remember the tired yet contented looks on Mom's and Dad's faces. Some years were lean, but they always managed to get each of us the one, special gift that we just had to have! They went without so their kids could feel special. Just over a week ago, I drove Mom to the airport to begin three weeks visiting three of my sibs in the Midwest. Driving through the parking garage at National, I realized that this year, for the first time in my life, Mom would not be celebrating with me. I'm happy for her and my sibs that they "get her" for Christmas for the first time in years, but I'm feeling a little lonely at the idea of Christmas without her. Have to remember that she'll be back in January. Tomorrow, spouse and I will spend time and enjoy supper with Janet and her clan in Southern Maryland. Eight-year-old Alex decorated the tree and is exceedingly proud of it. Must remember to stifle any giggles when I see it. Ben, Julia and nearly 0ne-year-old Lily are driving down from New York to join us, so it will be a special day. Hope you create and enjoy sweet memories with your own families and friends. Merry Christmas y'all!