I’m struggling! I once celebrated Christmas with the wide-eyed expectations of a ten-year-old little boy…now I wish that it would just go away and leave me alone. Peter Pan grew up and became the Grinch.
Don’t get me wrong. I spent a wonderful Christmas Eve with family and my wide eyed five- and eight-year-old grandchildren and really hit a homerun with skates and helmets. My brother and his wife hit a homerun with a hover toy. I’m not sure my daughter’s puppy, Elanor, would agree with the hover toy. She was terrorized and not by Christmas’ ghosts, past, present, and future.
I’m the one terrorized by Christmas’ ghosts, past, present, and future.
It is the preparations, even the anticipation of preparations. It is the pre-Christmas rush and press to get everything “just right” that turns into “just get done.” It is the anxiety of getting to the “blessed event” that has turned me sour.
Thank goodness for Amazon. Christmas joy has turned into Christmas joyless. “Our Dear Savior’s Birth” has become too commercialized although I really appreciate the new Fitbit and flashlight enabled stocking hat my daughter and son-in-law gave me. Does that come under hypocrisy?
Another “extended” family gathering today, Christmas Day. No gifts to worry about, just food and family fellowship. I’m not really family. My bride and I are only related by marriage. They are fine folk, but I am attempting to “self-medicate” with Jack Daniels and Coke just in case.
My forced smile will cause muscle aches all the way down my back before this day is over. Pa Humbug and Ma Humbug doing what is expected and not enjoying it one bit. How and why did I turn into such an Ebenezer Scrooge?
It is over and I survived…okay, I enjoyed myself. I didn’t have to force a smile and my back doesn’t ache any more than it normally does. Am I disappointed that I enjoyed myself?
Great food and a fresh audience to try out my story-telling skills. I won’t enjoy the outcomes tomorrow. What a great spread, I have no self-control when it comes to food. The banana puddin’ was outstanding, but my gastric system is already complaining.
So…what do you want to do Pa Humbug? I don’t know but visions of red and green lights strung on palm trees appeal to me. Or strung from the mast of a sailboat…even a tiny Sunfish. Ornaments in the shape of pink flamingoes make me smile. I could self-meditate with an umbrella drink just as well as a Jack and Coke.
I haven’t answered my own questions. Would celebrating Christmas in the Caribbean ala Jimmy Buffett really make a difference? Why did Peter Pan grow up? Why don’t I enjoy Christmas anymore? Is it my narcissism that Christmas is no longer about me? Me! Me! Me!
A New Years’ resolution is in order. Find your inner child and bring back a small part of what you have lost. Whatever it takes, find him before another Christmas goes down the tubes. I know where to look. He is lost next to my sense of humor. You make your own joy, and it is certainly worth looking for. I know where to look for that too, it is inside and not outside.
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 shouldread, “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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” ― Shel Silverstein
Humanity is capable of such good. Humanity is capable of flight, capable of putting people on the moon and returning them home again. We can be so amazing.
I hope we can find our amazing light and shine it throughout the Universe.
Music, art of all types, the application of human creative skill and imagination…mathmatics, science,..we’re problem solvers.
I hope we put our collective minds together, solving more world problems, making life better for all.
Amazing breakthroughs in medicine, evolution in technologies. Testaments to what humans can do when they embrace a positive goal.
It is my hope we come together and embrace each other and find a positive goal.
So many people in need. In a world with so much plenty, so much wasted with so many hurting for necessities. In a world with so much opulence and wealth, we have people starving or lacking for clean water. This is despite the verse, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”
I hope we invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to our table.
I have hope we will see the light and channel our amazing abilities toward ending those pestilences that plague us…regardless of who “us” is.
My fondest hope is the “goodwill toward men” we traditionally embrace during the holiday season will continue into and through the new year.
I hope all a Happy Holiday and a Merry Christmas.
I hope all a warm and prosperous New Year.
More than anything I hope for peace and healing to all.
“Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” ― Shel Silverstein
“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.
Normally when I can’t run, it is a bad thing. My head, knees or hips won’t let me. Today it was a good thing to quote Martha. My running interfered with where I wanted to be in my head. Usually, I create stories when I run to avoid the pain endured while running. This was not the case today. In my head, I was remembering the “Ghosts’ of Christmases Past.” Consider this a Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday present to you regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I don’t think it will offend anyone’s sensibilities and, rest assured, I love all your sensibilities…and idiocrasies. Peace on Earth! We can all agree on that along with good will toward men…and women. I miss my wide-eyed wonderment during the Christmases of my youth. Having to grow up was and is a trap and I have been caught in it for far too long. Hopefully, my memories will help free me from my snare…although considering the alternative….
A most vivid memory is a Christmas Eve trip to Monroe, North Carolina where my family normally shopped. It was just my father and a seven or eight-year-old me. Mom was busy at home preparing for the onslaught of people who would attend our evening celebration and little Stevie was too young to make the trip. This was a type of yearly tradition for my father. He didn’t have to go; all the presents had been wrapped and placed under our tree…or hidden away until Santa Claus made his appearance. My father would go and buy nuts and fruit…maybe a trinket or two. I just think he liked being in the Christmas crowd…and Woolworth’s warm and salted cashews was something he could never pass up.
Had people been raindrops, Monroe would have been awash in a torrential downpour. Usually a small and quiet Southern town, it was bursting with activity. As we made our way toward Woolworth’s and Belk’s on Main Street I remember being maneuvered through a throng that included several panhandlers who we avoided like the plague. We paused in front of the Belk’s storefront to look at the mechanical Christmas scene…or so I thought. Sitting below the storefront Christmas scene was a man near my father’s age. He sat on a pad which was attached to a board with small wheels. The unknown man had lost his legs just below his hips and his pants legs were folded and neatly pinned under him. In his hand was a small tin cup containing new yellow pencils. My father had paused in front of the man with no legs, not the windows. Reaching into his pocket my father withdrew his billfold and placed a ten-dollar bill into the man’s cup. It was a considerable donation for the time. I watched my father’s eyes tear as he bent and accepted the pencil and the man’s tearful “Bless You.” My father took my hand and while looking over his shoulder choked out, “No, bless you and Merry Christmas!” In my mind, it is easy to create a story involving a World War Two veteran who paid the same high price our vets are still paying today.
In the small rural community where I lived, most of our activities revolved around our school and our churches. Christmas was no different. Church Christmas plays featured shepherds in bathrobes with towels wrapped around their heads, angels with coat hanger halos and wings covered in Christmas tinsel and Wise Men with homemade crowns. A Betsy Wetsy Doll starred as baby Jesus. Taken straight from the Gospels, the story of the birth was read and acted out. Familiar Christmas hymns were sung by the congregation or choir with “Joy to the World” bringing the play to a close. Downstairs in the fellowship hall, Christmas cookies and cakes waited to be shared as the children waited impatiently to see a secular Santa Claus who looked and sounded a lot like my Uncle James. In later years, there would be Aunt Joyce’s Christmas Cantatas, my favorite being the one including “Jubilate, jubilate, King of kings he’s born today” performed by the combined choirs of my church, Belair, and Osceola.
In my day (Doesn’t that sound old?), in my day Christmas break began with a half-day celebration of Christmas at school. Classes had drawn names and presents were traded as we sat around a freshly cut donated evergreen tree decorated with ornaments made from construction paper. It would seem socks were the gifts of choice. Our teacher began our sugar high with decorated sugar cookies in the shape of reindeers, stars or elves. For their trouble, our teachers received small ornaments, many handmade pastries and desserts, and, of course, socks. A concert featuring the band and chorus would close the day and, if you were not in the Christmas spirit by then, you had no pulse.
At home, there was a fresh cut cedar tree with multi-colored bubble lights that had to warm up before they began to bubble. White plastic ice cycles hanging with very fragile glass ornaments all covered with tinsel. My mother pausing to listen to “Stille Niche” or playing Billy Vaughn’s “Christmas Carols” ad nauseum. Sorry. I never learned to play the saxophone as well as Billy and his band. A robot that smoked, sparked and reversed path when it met an obstruction. A model of a twenty-mule team borax wagon. My first full-sized bicycle, a red and white Schwinn Phantom, arrived the same Christmas as a freak ice storm. Can you imagine the pain of waiting to get outside? It was almost as bad as the wait for Santa. Lying in bed hoping I had been just good enough not to be getting a bag of coal. A plastic Thompson Sub-Machine gun so I could pretend to be Vic Morrow pretending to be Sgt. Saunders in “Combat.” My grandmother’s gifts, a patchwork quilt Christmas stocking she had made filled with butter mints and peppermint along with healthier fruits and nuts. There were the more practical pocket notebooks, pencils, and pens, too. “These are a few of my favorite things…”
After my mother’s death, I found the first gift I had given her that I had picked out and paid for with the sweat of my brow. A cheap, red and green, cut glass Christmas tree broach from Woolworth’s. I guess she must have liked it. There was always one evening anticipating the arrival of church carolers and another to drive through the community looking at Christmas lights. Perhaps there would be a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” A much simpler time.
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 family celebration. Baking was one of my mother’s chores. Fruitcake, fruitcake cookies, yule candy logs, Missouri “no-bake” cookies, pies and cakes galore and her very favorite ambrosia. 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 Mom 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. A larger hammer would break the coconut open and a sharp knife would separate the meat from the husk. If my father was not bleeding by this time he soon would be as his knuckles contacted the hand grater. My Christmas memories always include pink shredded coconut. It also may be why I don’t like coconut desserts very much although I will eat one dessert in memory of him. Hopefully, it won’t be pink.
My wife and I have attempted to continue the Christmas Eve tradition, short of pink coconut. I enjoy having my brother and daughter and their families…despite the pain of getting ready. I could never do for my brother what our family did for us but I hope he understands that I try and hope my daughter’s memories are as rich as mine. If her memories are warm, it is due, in most part, to the influence of my wife, Linda Gail, a little elf who never fell into the trap of growing up but whose own memories include recent losses of and distance from family. Being from a blended-family I always had to return Ashley to her mother late on Christmas Eve. It was bitter-sweet. Bitter for obvious reasons but there was something sweet about our trip home. It is a time of private sharing between the two of us, a special time that I cherish and miss. To accommodate the red-headed little monkey, Miller Kate, along with her new brother Nolan, we have moved Christmas Eve to Ashley’s and Justin’s. My wife says it is temporary. She likes to oversee our memories.
I wish anyone reading this a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Dattatreya Jayanti, Mawlid an-Nabi or any other celebrations I have missed. For true “Peace on Earth,” I wish to embrace our diversity, each for each other. That is my wish as we close 2017 and enter 2018. May 2018 be the year of “Understanding” and a step toward “Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men!” Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a happy and productive New Year!
For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf