Another story published in Senior Living
As we approach this holiday season, I find myself with mixed emotions about the quickly encroaching festivities. Having lost my mother this past March 9th, I don’t quite know what to expect. In the spirit of Dickens, I’m thinking of past, present and future. Christmas present is certain to be difficult. Christmases future hold promise and I can look forward to happy times of worship and celebration – hopefully with grandchildren one day. Christmases past might bring sorrow for my present sense of loss, but they also hold the memories and joy Mother brought to all of us. I’m going to do the best I can this year, not in the least for my husband, children and father who deserve to have me living in the present and not constantly grieving for the past. However, I know it will be Christmases past that will give me the strength to hold on. I see no harm in borrowing happy memories to help us work through situations that are less than desirable.
One of my earliest Christmas memories is when we lived in a very small two bedroom house we rented in East Lake. In addition to the two bedrooms, there was one bath, a living room, dining room and kitchen. As well as I remember, the back porch had been closed in and the washing machine was in there as well as my brother’s huge toy box. The water heater was exposed and sat in the corner of the kitchen. The only heat we had was a large gas space heater in the dining room. After my second brother was born, the dining room became a bedroom. Sometimes it was my bedroom and sometimes it was Mother and Daddy’s. It depended on what kind of mood Mother was in. Daddy would come home from work and find the house rearranged. He always said he never knew in which room he would be sleeping.
This particular Christmas Eve, Mother and Daddy’s best friends were spending the evening with us. I can remember the smell the tree gave off with the big lights warming the branches and see all of our ornaments sparkling through the clumps of tinsel we had thrown onto the tree instead of placing individual strands as Mother had requested. All my brother and I could think was “when will they ever go home so Santa can come?” Normally we enjoyed their visits very much. Our families were very close and they had a daughter and son close to our ages. This night, we just wanted them to leave so Christmas could get there.
At long last, or so it seemed, our friends went home and my parents put us to bed in their bedroom. That was probably the best way to corral us so Santa could work his magic. I don’t know if we slept any that night, but I do know we woke up very early. We kept making little noises trying to wake Mother and Daddy up. We coughed, giggled, etc. to no avail. Finally, they told us to be quiet until it was time to get up. That meant when they were ready with the camera and my grandparents and aunts had time to walk a half block from their house to ours. I can remember all these little details, but couldn’t tell you one present we received. I can see the magic everywhere, smell and taste the wonderful food, and feel the love all around me. I could pull out pictures and find an exact record of what Santa brought, but that wasn’t the important thing. Well, at that time we thought it was, but looking back it wasn’t the point at all.
When we got through with Santa, we opened presents from each other and then we had breakfast. Mother made the best biscuits in the world and we had eggs, bacon, grits with cheese, etc. After breakfast we played for a while then got dressed to move the party up to my grandparent’s house. We had a huge lunch, of course, and lots of desserts. I don’t know how the “women folk” managed it. There were so many different cakes and pies. Everyone had a different favorite and Mother and Grandmother made them all. Granddaddy had to have a Lemon Cheese Cake, Mother loved Macaroon Pie, Daddy’s favorite was fudge made from the recipe on the Marshmallow Cream label. It was so wonderful. All that love, presents and food wrapped into one happy day.
Later in the afternoon, they tore us away from our presents to go to the home of my other grandparents. My dad’s sister had four or five children by then and it was a house full. We had more presents and then another feast. I always feel sorry for the grandparents who get the second shift meal because everyone is still too full to really enjoy it.
By the time we got back home, it was time for bed. I remember objecting, but not too strongly. Mother would tell us tomorrow was another day and we would have all the time in the world to play with our toys and games: if only that were true. Time flew by so quickly. One Christmas faded into the next, moving measurably faster each year. We moved from that rental house to one we bought next door to my grandparents. Then, when I59 came through East Lake, we built our present home. It would take me a book to share all the wonderful memories with you. This is where I remember most of my youngest brother’s Christmases as well as Mother and Daddy’s first two grandchildren. It seems Christmas has always held magic for me since my youngest brother was nine years my junior and Santa always included the grown children when he stopped. There were also lots of cousins from Georgia here for the holidays. We moved from this generation to grandchildren almost seamlessly.
In 1993 when my husband and I married, I became a mom for the first time. I have two precious step-daughters that have filled a very vacant place in my heart. The oldest is married now and will one day fill our house with the excited sounds of children at Christmas. It has been much too long since this house has held that kind of joy. I’m trying to move from daughter to matriarch and plan the festivities for the first time. It’s been a long time since Mother was able to plan, decorate and cook, but she was always in charge anyway. We had to have our holidays at the nursing home. Now it is up to me to make it happen and hold it together. This will be a bitter sweet Christmas. There is no way around that. My prayer is that these wonderful memories will help me to prepare for my children and friends and keep the traditions alive. Mother always led by example and in this way, she still does. She was the best and I know she will live in our celebrations as long as I do.
November 3, 2004
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