Of Bubble Lights, Pointy Plastic Icicles, and Ghost Stories-A Christmas Memory

If you are lucky enough to have had a “normal” childhood, I’m sure you have warm memories of Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of the other dozen or so celebrations that occur this time of the year. I’m not sure what normal means, I just know the Christmas of my childhood was wonderous. I’ve decided to list some of my memories and hope they might trigger some for you. Most are from the Fifties and Sixties before I realized Peter Pan was a myth and I was forced to grow up.

Trapsing through the fields with my father looking for the perfect wild growing cedar tree to chop down and then dragging it home. I remember asking why there were so many cedar trees growing along the fence line and being told birds eat cedar berries and sit on barbed wire fences and poop. The seed that made it through their digestive system germinates and a tree grows. Science and Christmas memories.

Bubble lights strung on a cedar tree that had to warm up before they bubbled.  I remember waiting for them to bubble with anxious anticipation and I can still hear their gurgle in my head. Later they were strung on a fake ‘metal’ Christmas tree waiting to electrocute us all.

Pointy plastic icicles hanging from a tree so sharp they could have stood in for a dagger during a home invasion and silver tinsel hung “oh so” precisely and used Christmas after Christmas…even on the silver, metal Christmas tree.

Helping, you should read, “being in the way.” Helping to hang ornaments and dropping one of my mother’s oldest and most favorite. Seeing the pain in her eyes despite assurances it was okay.

The year Santa brought a full-sized bicycle and a three-day rainstorm that kept me wondering if I would ever get to ride it. It didn’t stop me from riding it back and forth in our small living room until strong orders to do otherwise.

Strange one: Sitting in a dark closet telling ghost stories to my brother and cousins on Christmas Eve as we waited for the family festivities to begin. That may explain a great deal of adult dysfunction on their part…and mine. They always requested my renditions of Thriller’s “Pigeons from Hell.” As our family grew, so did my audience and suddenly a Christmas tradition was born.

A windup metal robot gifted by my Uncle Olin, that walked, sparked, flashed, and smoked. It also reversed when it ran into something. Not very impressive by today’s standards but innovative in 1957 and a glorious gift for a seven-year-old boy.

Billy Vaughn, Andy Williams, and Perry Como singing from the huge cabinet stereo…ad nauseum. How many versions of “Silent Night” are too many versions? Where my mother was concerned, you cannot have too many versions of “Silent Night.”

It wasn’t Christmas until I heard Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”

My church’s Christmas play with shepherds dressed in plaid bathrobes with towels wrapped around their heads tied with bailing twine. Shepherd’s hooks wired to make the hook.

An angel dressed in cheese cloth with wings made with coat hangers for structure and wrapped in tinsel presided over a ‘Betsy Wetsy” doll standing in for Baby Jesus.

Being “promoted” from shepherd to one of the Three Kings. I used the same bathrobe but had a gold scarf wrapped around my head like a turban and carried a foil wrapped cigar box to present to the “Betsy Wetsy’ baby Jesus instead of a shepherd’s hook.

The cookies and mulled cider after the play as we sat around the Christmas tree decorated with construction paper in Sunday school, waiting for Santa to make an appearance to give every child in the church a gift. We were a small church, the gifts inexpensive, and Santa looked and sounded like my Uncle James.  Fun was had by all and appreciated.

My first “date”, an early teen Christmas affair. A “goob” the size Mt. Everest appeared in the middle of my forehead, but it didn’t matter. I was so nervous with anticipation I threw up and wasn’t allowed to go. Later I was so embarrassed I tried to hide every time I saw the young lady.

Playing my drum solo when the school choir sang “Little Drummer Boy” on the last day of school before Christmas break. I was scared to the point of nausea…a recurring theme? It was the last offering, and I had the entire Christmas concert to think about it. I survived it but have always wondered why Mary allowed the Little Drummer Boy to wake up Baby Jesus by pounding on a drum.

Loading up in cars and traveling over our rural area singing Christmas Carols to the “sick and shet in” and shedding tears because we stopped at my home to sing to my mother. “Shet” is how the minister said shut…or it was Lester “Roadhog” Moran.1

Pink coconut caused by my fathers “barked up”, bloody knuckles from grating fresh coconut for Mother’s ambrosia or coconut cake.

Going to the Belk Brothers and Woolworth in Monroe, NC with my father early on Christmas Eve. I remember the press of people and the Christmas scenes in the Belk Brothers’ windows.

The man with no legs sitting in front of Belk’s selling pencils and my father’s tears as he dropped money in the man’s tin cup.

Eating Woolworth’s warm cashew nuts as we drove home, the bags of fruit and nuts he always bought to fill our Christmas stockings lining the backseat. The aroma of tangerines still takes me to Christmas.

The Christmas Eve reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” My vision was not of “sugar plums” but included a Sgt. Sauders “Combat” Thompson machine gun or a “Rifleman” Winchester and a lifetime’s supply of caps to shoot in them.

The annual drive through the community looking at everyone’s Christmas decorations.

Photographs from Christmases past. The family, still intact, sitting around a dining table in my grandmother’s small dining room. A faded one of my grandmother standing behind my seated grandfather. A picture of my brother, little “Stevie Reno”, opening a gift and presenting it to the camera lens along with a broad smile.  

“Little” Donnie dressed like Fred Kirby, a local TV cowboy and Roy Rogers want-to-be. My cowboy hat at a jaunty angle, a western vest over my pajamas, and two silver cap pistols “tied down”, gunslinger style. “Take that Black Bart! Bam, bam, bam.”

I find as I get older my memories have become snatches of events and I hate to admit it, some of those memories are dimming. I’m sure this is a normal occurrence. I hope it is a normal occurrence. I’m writing memories for that reason.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. I hope your Christmas memories are, well, memorable.

1Lester “Roadhog” Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys’ “Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School” was a comedic LP by the Statler Brothers that made fun of early country music and radio. It has nothing to do with Christmas except that I was introduced to it and a comely young brunette during a Christmas break somewhere in the dimness of my past. Christmas “spirits” may have been involved and would account for the dimness.

The Old Roadhog and his Cowboys

Don Miller’s newest release is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and may be downloaded or purchased in paperback at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1NL4KPTB0R4EY&keywords=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes&qid=1639579530&sprefix=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes%2Caps%2C224&sr=8-1

The Wishbook

…the Sears catalog, “serves as a mirror of our times, recording for future historians today’s desires, habits, customs, and mode of living.” The 1943 Sears News Graphic

Someone shared a memory and I fell into a rabbit hole. Later, I was looking at Amazon offerings on Cyber-Monday when the memory arrived-The Sears Wishbook.

When I poured over the offerings from the Sears Catalog, I never thought of it as a historical source. I was a child and perused it as most children did, wishing.  Wishing I had the gazillion piece “Fort Apache” set, the Lionel train set, a JC Higgins’ 100 Bicycle, the shotgun being hawked by Ted Williams, just to name a few. Somewhere along my pathway, I did own a Lionel train set, a hand-me-down from an older cousin, and a JC Higgins double barrel. Wish I knew what happened to them.

The arrival of the Sears Christmas “Wishbook” was a highly anticipated event. Not just by children. I remember my mother’s excitement and I had to wait in line for the opportunity to leaf through its five hundred or so pages.

The 1961 Wishbook cover I probably “wished” over.

The first Wishbook dropped from the presses in 1933 and according to History.com “Items featured in the first catalogue included the popular Miss Pigtails doll, Lionel electric train sets, a Mickey Mouse watch, boxes of chocolate and even live singing canaries.” It had not changed much in the Fifties and Sixties, but I don’t remember singing canaries.

Miss Pigtails…I think.

The catalogue would arrive in our mailboxes in late August or early September and soon became as much a holiday tradition as “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” with warm, colorful Christmas scenes decorating the cover and the pages within. Thank you, RFD1 for the hours I flipped through the pages, defining, and refining my Christmas choices.

The Sears Catalog was a boom for those of us who lived in rural and isolated areas. It was a boom for R. W. Sears, a railroad agent who bought a shipment of watches to sell as a side business. He was later joined by Alvah C. Roebuck, a watchmaker, and in 1893 Sears and Roebuck Mail Order Company was born. The business quickly expanded to selling more than watches and the first Sears Mail Order Catalogue was mailed out in the late 1890s.

The Sears and Roebuck mail order business quickly took off. The Sears catalogue contained hundreds of pages of merchandise by the late 1890s. Rural Americans, two-thirds of the population at that time, could now purchase hundreds of different items—shoes, women’s garments, including unmentionables, horse drawn wagons, and for a time horseless carriages, fishing tackle, furniture, china plate sets, musical instruments, firearms, and bicycles—all by mail.

See the source image
The Sears Motor Buggy had a top speed of twenty-five mph. It was sold from 1908-1912 but became a casualty of Henry Ford’s Model T

You could order anything from a Sears Catalog. Anything would include a kit home called the Sears cottage. Between 1908 and 1940, seventy-five thousand kit homes were sold.  They were well designed, well made, and economical. Many of those homes still exist today.

How much did a Sears kit house cost? Comprising more than 10,000 pieces and materials, the kits retailed for between $600 and $6,000 and were available in over two-hundred styles. That would be about $10,000 to $100,000 in today’s money. Need financing, Sears did that too.

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One of the more expensive homes.

Need furniture, appliances, and tools to finish the project? Sears had it all. Window dressings, stoves to cook on, dining rooms to eat in, Sears was your “one stop” for all your shopping needs and with “quality” too.

With the population moving to the cities, Sears built its first brick and mortar store in 1925. Located by design in working-class areas, Sears was one of the first department stores to cater to working men. Durability over fashion, quality tools, and hardware were mainstays.

Not that women were ignored. “Fashionable” clothing, “exotic” perfumes, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, and sewing machines for those who wanted to sew their own and look fashionable doing it. Key up a mental vision of June Cleaver cleaning house in a dress featuring Peter Pan collars, bouffant petticoats, and high heels.

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The first Sears store. Chicago 1925

Sears was responsible for industry firsts. Kenmore sewing machines appeared in 1913 and expanded over the years to include vacuum cleaners, refrigerators, and air conditioners, followed by other quality appliances. Sears sold its first Craftsman tools in 1927 expanding to include power tools, lawn mowers, and garden tractors. At the time these were quality tools that carried lifetime guarantees.

All-State Insurance was a Sears creation as was the Discovery Card. Within a decade over twenty million Americans had a Discovery Card.

I’ve drifted away from the Sears Catalogue and into a history lesson.

The Sears Catalogue and The Wishbook don’t exist any longer with its glossy pages of colorful pictures. In the early Nineties it became a casualty of the internet age and big box stores. As the country roads of my youth became a casualty of the interstate systems and urban sprawl, The Wishbook ceased to exist anywhere but online and in my mind.

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1899 Sears Catalogue Cover

Sears, itself, became a casualty of its own making. Others emulated it and did it better. Big box stores like Walmart and K Mart sold more for less…and with less quality. Sears followed suit but couldn’t keep up, closing many stores and laying off its workers.

Sears sold itself to K Mart, Kenmore to Amazon, and Craftsman to Stanley Black and Decker. Finally, it filed for bankruptcy in late 2018. One more icon of the past gone…at least, in its original form.2

According to author Christine Brae, “Time waits for no one” but the little boy in me still remembers the glorious day when the Sears Wishbook arrived. I can close my eyes and see the Christmas scenes with gayly clad boys and girls. I can see the toys I could only dream about and remember some that found their way under the Christmas tree to be opened on Christmas morning.

The Wishbook harkens to those days in my life when my biggest worry was if “I had been a good little boy.” Christmas carols, Mother’s Ambrosia, Nannie’s quilted stockings filled with fruit, nuts, and butter mints. My father’s bloody knuckles from grating coconut for coconut cake. Christmas was about family gatherings on Christmas Eve.

Early on Christmas morning, whispering to my little brother as we waited in anxious anticipation for our parents to wake up and take us to see what was under the tree. Hoping there was no bag of coal or bundle of switches. Peeking around the corner attempting to see what might be there before scurrying back to bed when we heard our parents’ bedroom door open.

It is about The Wishbook and the warm memories it triggered.

***

 RFD1
Rural Free Delivery (RFD) was a program of the United States Postal Service that began in the late 19th century to deliver mail directly to rural destinations. Until the late 19th century, residents of rural areas had to travel to a post office to pick up their mail or to pay for delivery by a private carrier. RFD post service allowed the distribution of national newspapers and magazines and was responsible for millions of dollars of sales in merchandise to customers through mail-order deliveries in rural areas.

2 Sears is in its final days. There are approximately twenty-three Sears stores still open in the United States, as of November 11, 2021. Of these, six are set to permanently close soon. There is still a Sears presence online that sells familiar Sears products like Kenmore appliances or Craftsman tools.

My author’s page is found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3IdxEjFJbXm_hKGSr97HEFWc02TNzkZReQYi33Ls4gox_V5KOabXN-Yvg

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

“After all, a woman didn’t leave much behind in the world to show she’d been there. Even the children she bore and raised got their father’s name. But her quilts, now that was something she could pass on.” ― Sandra Dallas

First, the saying for those too young to have heard it “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”–I can’t think of the last time I heard the old saying used. I suspect my grandmother last used it in my presence. The ‘stitch in time’ means the prompt sewing up of a small hole or tear in a piece of material may save the need for more stitching later when the hole has become larger.

So, what does it really mean? I tend to use ‘take care of the trivial things and the big ones won’t ever come up.’ They mean the same thing but ‘a stitch in time’ is more colorful and honestly, has nothing to do with this story unless your “stitch in time” is made with a Singer Sewing Machine.

We’re twenty-one days from Christmas day as I write this and I’m both flooded with Christmas memories and filled with the trepidations associated with depression and not having purchased or created the first Christmas present. The likelihood of me ‘getting on the stick’ is low so instead of “saving nine” by rushing out and Christmas shopping I’ll sit here basking in memories from Christmas’ past.

My grandmother was a creator of Christmas gifts, most sewn on an old Singer Trendle Sewing Machine. She came from a time when Christmas gifts included fruit and nuts, corn shuck or rag dolls, peppermint candy, hand stitched quilts and such. A time when gifts were made or were items, we take for granted now.

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A corn shuck (husk) doll for sale on Ebay. My Grandmother is rolling in her grave.

She told me once how much she enjoyed the tangerines her father, a mercantilist, brought home for Christmas gifts. I didn’t think too much about that until I realized how much harder it was to find tangerines in the rural 1910s as opposed to the rural 1960s.

I have the quilts she sewed for me. Patchwork quilts made from cloth saved from over the years. I’m sure many pieces had special meanings, others just filler. Some of the piece’s hand sewn, others sewn with that old Singer.

She also gave stockings full of gifts that meant something to her. Gifts like she received as a young girl. Apples and oranges, a handful of nuts, a box of butter crème mints or peppermint. Pencils and small flip notebooks. When in college, a book of stamps or postcards to make sure I wrote her.

One year she gave all her grandbabies quilted stockings she made. Somehow, I ended up with one so ugly it was beautiful. Ugly because of the orange and green backing, not my favorite colors, beautiful because she made it.

Both my grandmother and mother had Singer Sewing Machines, my mother a more modern electric model. I remember, as a child, traveling to the Belk Brothers or Woolworth with my mother and grandmother as they perused the stacks of dress patterns until they found something “new” they liked. From there they would go to the fabric section to pick out the cloth they wanted, the salesperson using the length of her stretched out arm to her nose method of measuring.

McCall’s dress pattern from Pinterest

Cutting out the cloth using the patterns, pinning it all together before carefully stitching it up. My mother’s exclamations when something didn’t sew quite right causing her to tear out her seams and start over. Finally starching and ironing out the finished product before wearing it to church on Sunday.

I would say sewing became passe after my mother’s generation. Affordable clothing became too prevalent and time too precious. My wife has a Singer that was her grandmother’s. My bride has assured me she knows how to use it but never used it in my presence. She would be quick to tell me that “nowhere in our marriage vows did I agree to obey or sew. Loving and honoring were momentous enough.”

See the source image
Vintage Singer Sewing Machinehttps://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/283353-vintage-singer-sewing-machine

I have a former student, now friend…a fellow traveler down life’s pathway. She still sews but she is also a throwback to a different time. I guess a throwback to when sewing was a way to while away the hours productively and the quilting group a social meeting opportunity…if you read gossip into that it is your fault. My friend is a producer, a creator…may be a gossiper too.

Twenty-one days…I have time to do a bit of producing although the creative gene may have skipped a generation. I can make a birdhouse if I can find a hollowed-out log or weave a grapevine wreath. I have a gracious plenty of raw material and they tend to make themselves. 

I just won’t be using a Singer Sewing Machine. I have a mental vision of sewing myself into a cocoon.

***

Don Miller’s newest book “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2

Pink Coconut and a Hard Candy Christmas

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.”

From the movie “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

Christmas Wishes

 

“If wishes and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”

Not the exact quote from “Dandy” Don Meredith of Dallas Cowboy and Monday Night Football fame but the original “If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas” does not quite fit.  Unfortunately, the “wish in one hand, pee in the other and see which one fills up the fastest” seems to better exemplify my feelings at this moment.

I remind myself this is my “blue” time of the year.  “I’ll have a bah-looooo Christmasssssss without you” …without the sun.  Shortened days lead to increased depression…at least the after solstice the days will begin to lengthen and spring will soon be here…yeah…right!  Did you hear Elvis’s voice in your head as you read the quote?  I did as I wrote it.

I have memories of Christmases past that do not include “sugar plum fairies”  or being “snug in (my) bed.”   I remember candy and nuts in handsome, handmade, patchwork stockings…”hung by the chimney with care” or handed out by my grandmother to her five grandchildren.  Pencils and pens, pocket notebooks, a pocket New Testament and citrus fruits joined unshelled mixed nuts along with peppermint and butter mint candies.  My grandmother was quite the practical gift giver having lived in a time where fruit or a handmade doll for Christmas might be the norm.  She made many of her gifts; patchwork quilts, hand stitched with needle and thread, or small strips of lace tatted into bookmarks.  I wish she still filled those stockings with memories…or made those quilts.

My father often made a trip to the small town of Monroe, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve morning.  A twenty-mile drive, he took me with him, probably to keep us both out of my mother’s hair as she prepared to receive guests that evening.  I remember the “busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style”, the crush of people scurrying to finish their last-minute shopping, holding his hand to keep from being lost in the rush.

Pausing to watch the mechanical Christmas scene in the Belk Brothers storefront before seeing a legless man sitting on a type of mechanic’s creeper selling pencils. I remember the tears in my father’s eyes as he bought a pencil…for five dollars.  Stopping here and there, finally at Woolworth’s Five and Dime for a bag of warm cashew nuts that we hurried to eat before they cooled. I don’t know where to get warmed cashews anymore and wish I didn’t tear up thinking about them.

My mother spent weeks decorating for Christmas and preparing for our Christmas Eve gathering of family at my grandmothers, later at our home.  A huge tree in a small living room sat in the corner between the picture window and fireplace.  Silver tinsel over white plastic icicles and bubbling lights.  The bubble lights…they don’t seem to make them like hers anymore…real glass, not those plastic things.

I intently watched them, their gurgling heralding sweet ambrosia, Missouri cookies, chocolate covered cherries and the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning.  Sneaking around the corner of my bedroom to see if Santa Claus had left my Schwinn Tornado, wondering how he got it down the chimney.  I wish I could hear the gurgle of those bubble lights again.

Some wishes still come true.  My life with Linda Gail has fostered more memories.  She truly is Ms. Peter Pan dressed as Santa’s helper, never having quite grown up.  We don’t exchange gifts anymore, just cards.  What do you give people who found everything with each other?  Like my grandmother, sometimes I try to make memories for my bride.  Primitive art in the form of birdhouses or grapevine wreaths, an arbor made from broken mountain laurel.  Hollowed out trees, broken limbs and rusting tin repurposed.

I just chuckled remembering a rock I gave her one Christmas.  It wasn’t a diamond, just a rock she “found interesting” from as far back in the woods as we could be and still be in South Carolina.  “Sure would be nice if we could bring this home.  It would look nice in front of the fireplace.”  The heavy “boulder” sits in front of the fireplace reminding me of its punishing trip from the woods.  Punishing for me, not the rock.  The pain was worth the smile on her face when she unwrapped it on Christmas morning.  I wish for more memories giving me chuckles of joy.

Ashley joining us on Christmas Eve as the circle of life made us the eldest family members and the purveyor of Christmas memories.  No, not true.  Linda Gail is the purveyor of Christmas memories…trying to make them special…for Ashley and her brood and for my brother Steve and wife Rebecca…or anyone who shows up.  Just like our parents.

Years ago, there was always a poignant trip home late in the night to return Ashley to her mother.  A slow ride in a red VW bug or as she got older shifting the gears in my old FJ 40…larger hand on a smaller hand, running through the gears. running through the night.  A bittersweet ride in quiet darkness lit by Christmas lights…showing the way home.  I miss those special times, Ashley trying hard not to nod off while I just smiled.  A wish and a memory in the back of my mind.  Memories…just warm memories…just warm wishes.

My Christmas wish is for new memories.  Tonight we gather at Ashley’s and Justin’s to accommodate the two monkeys that are our grandbabies.  We are still joined by brother Steve and his wife, Rebecca.  Francis, Linda’s stepmother comes too.

I know Linda has her own Christmas wishes and memories.  Memories of her parents, like mine, now gone, and of a family in faraway Texas.  Memories of the first Christmas we spent in our little piece of heaven.  Memories memorialized in pictures; a childlike Ashley, her beautiful dark-haired great-grandmother she was too young know and the elf of a man who was Linda Gail’s father, a man I miss as much as my own dad.  More memories and wishes…for Linda and me.

The monkeys are two-year-old Nolan and five-year-old Miller.  They grow so fast.  They will be excited…on a normal day, they are wide open.  Wide open yet clingy to their parents until they adjust to the company.  Good parents, loving parents, just as I would have wished.  The babies’ clinginess will ebb as soon as Santa’s elf in the form of Grandmommy Linda begins to pass out gifts.  I’m sure Nolan will enjoy the boxes as much as his treasure trove.

I worry my Christmas wish for the world is too extreme.  I wish we truly embraced “peace on earth and good will toward all”.  I wish we might enfold the unattainable for a millennium instead of a few hours on Christmas Eve or Day.  Love thy neighbor both near and far, known and unknown, and live and let live.  Put the divisiveness away for good…beat swords into plowshares.  A hand extended in friendship and grasped with a grin on our faces.  Jesus preached it, we should embrace it.  It is my greatest wish.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all.  May all of your Christmas wishes come true.

The image is of Nolan and Miller Kate and this year’s Christmas tree.

Looking for more musings?  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM