The Christmas holidays are full of traditions for many, Christians, non-Christians, and those who are unsure. People of different religions and cultures raise and decorate trees, drape their homes in blinking lights, hang stockings, bake gingerbread cookies, and exchange gifts even though they aren’t Christian in their beliefs. It is a crossover holiday celebrated all over the world by diverse cultures. Families with diverse backgrounds gather during the holiday seasons to celebrate not only the birth of the Christian Jesus, but also themselves and their own traditions.
Unfortunately, when it comes to traditions, I have reached an age when it is easier to look back on Christmas than look ahead. Ahead shows a much shorter road to travel. I find myself emotional…but in a good way, I guess.
As I gathered nature’s Christmas decorations for my bride; grape vine, evergreen garlands, pinecones, birch limbs with golden leaves, and holly berries, I ‘barked’ up a finger. I cut it and it is barking like a bit dog. Watching the blood ooze, I was transported down an old dirt road, a pathway home to my past.
My mother was a child who failed to fall into the adult trap when it came to Christmas. Activity swirled for what seemed like weeks as she prepared for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family celebration. Baking was one of my mother’s chores despite working eight hour shifts at the local textile mill.
Fruitcake, fruitcake cookies, yule candy logs, Missouri “no-bake” cookies, pies, and cakes galore, and her very favorite, ambrosia, a dish loaded with pineapple, canned mandarin orange slices or fresh orange sections, miniature marshmallows, and coconut…fresh coconut.
In the days before shredded coconut could be purchased at your local supermarket, it was my father’s responsibility to break open and shred the coconut Momma would use for her ambrosia and coconut cake. He would use a small ball peen hammer to punch a hole in one of the coconut’s eyes so the milk could be drained. The milk would be used in the coconut cake to insure its moistness.
A larger hammer would break the coconut open, and a sharp knife would separate the meat from the husk. If my father were not bleeding by this time he soon would be as his knuckles contacted the hand grater. My Christmas memories always include pink shredded coconut and I smile with the memory. I am not a lover of coconut but will eat one coconut containing dessert in memory of him. Hopefully, if it is pink, it is due to a maraschino cherry.
As the blood on my finger finally coagulates, I continued to be triggered. Memories of my mother stringing bubble lights over the tree. Old timey bubble lights that had to warm up before they began to gurgle. Billy Vaughn’s saxophones or Percy Faith’s singers are playing in the background. She hums as someone sings “Oh Little Town in Bethlehem” on the radio.
Watching a fuzzy, black, and white TV’s many Christmas specials. There were many but Perry Como and Andy Williams were mandatory. A Christmas Carol and What a Wonderful Life were too. It was a wonderful life….
Hand-made patchwork quilt stockings made by my grandmother, Nannie, adorn the fireplace. They will eventually be filled with oranges, apples, and nuts…and peppermint swirls. Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” is now playing in my head. I am a bit sad, but I am hopeful too…just like the song.
Christmas is a celebration loaded with emotion and I feel mine ramping out of control despite it being several days in the future.
Chills chase themselves up my back as I am reminded of a trip to nearby Monroe on a Christmas Eve morning. It is only my father and me. I remember the crush of people. A small town of sixty or so years ago, its entire population must have crowded onto the main street. People scurry to do last-minute shopping, dressed in Christmas finery.
The red and green lights strung from light poles. Being lifted into my father’s arms to see more clearly the Christmas scenes in the original Belk Brothers store window. The man with no legs who sat nearby, a tin cup full of pencils and a small American flag sitting in front of his splayed stumps. The tears in my father’s eyes as he put a five-dollar bill in the tin cup and offered a salute. Things you remember that bring tears to your own eyes.
Finally, a short stop at Woolworths and a small bag of warm salted cashews for the trip home from their nut and candy counter. The cashews were a secret we shared. I can almost taste them….
Something has triggered a memory of splitting wood on a Christmas Eve morning and delivering it with my cousin…a cousin who has now transitioned to his heavenly rewards. It is because I am standing in a corpse of hemlocks with the sharp aroma of evergreens.
We delivered our pickup load to an old former plantation house, the old Nesbitt place, a bit rundown at the time but decorated with greens and reds with candles twinkling in every window. The lady of the house took us on an impromptu tour of the downstairs, decorated for the Christmas season, a tree in every room.
Later, I remember sitting in his pickup after unloading the wood, drinking a PBR, counting half of the money and thinking how adult I was. Adultism is a disease to be avoided at all costs…especially at Christmastime. Now instead of the money, or beer, I think of him and the old plantation home. I think of Christmas trees, their star tipped tops pressing near ceilings in every room.
We gather now at my daughters. A new generation, a new tradition. It is one I’m not comfortable with. Ten of us will gather this year, Covid-19 protocols will be observed but so will the wonder of a four-year-old and a seven-year-old as they open their gifts from their Popi and Grandmommy and uncle and aunt. It will be different, and I hope face coverings are not to become a tradition like the pink coconut became.
Whatever your culture, however you celebrate the holidays, I wish you a Happy Holiday and a Merry Christmas. I hope your Christmas Season will be loaded with wonderful memories as will the coming year…memories of Christmas past and of Christmas future. Take the time to enjoy your Christmas present while you enjoy Dolly and the ladies from the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
Don Miller writes on various subjects “that bother him so.” https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0iqIBEnIxXiIoowO7bX6UV-1RY03y2ts7HHF-RYE46dSMt-hvZ_5AsCHs