As I grew up, there was a television program, I Remember Mama. I can’t remember many of the plots, but I can recall that they all centered on the family; day to day problems, familial love, and their integration into the community. Black and white images still flicker across my brain, mostly still shots of their faces.
My memories of Christmas’s past do much of the same only in color. Cousins by the dozens would gather at my grandparents’ large rambling farm house in Indian Head, Pennsylvania. The din and the laughter rise from the cobwebs of my brain. Cookies of all kinds were toted in by my aunts for the occasion. My grandmother always made popcorn balls and would sometimes put the meats of butternuts in some of the syrup covered popcorn.
My grandfather, Ray, was a short statured quiet man. A smile rarely left his face, surrounded by his raucous progeny. Now, that I’ve aged, I understand that feeling. There are people who will not be here for Christmas again this year, claimed either by distance or death. That saddens me, but there is still love that the Christmas season brings and eases those feelings.
My grandmother Rebecca was always busy. If she wasn’t cooking or baking, she was directing the aunts what to do or where to place the food. If she ran out of those, she shooed kids from under her feet. She was a larger framed person who had very few gray hairs until later in life.
Christmas at my grandparent’s Beck was more subdued. We went to their home in single family groups. Strict Pentecostals there was less decorating and less laughter, but the memories are still just as tender. The hardest thing was sitting on their old excelsior filled couch and chairs. The upholstery was scratchy and the seats were hard. It was difficult to sit while the adults talked without squirming. Usually, there were gifts for us, socks, a few dollars in a card, and maybe a piece of fruit.
When I married and began celebrating Christmas in my own home, my wife Cindy tried to create memories for our own kids. She was worse that I was at the holiday. We would be up late, wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree. It didn't matter what time it was we went to bed, she would be awake at 5 a.m. and would make noises until our kids would be wakened.
Cindy wouldn’t snoop until the gift was wrapped. I could have placed a bag of unwrapped gifts on her side of the bed and they would be undisturbed, until they were wrapped. She would make excursions to the tree, poking and prodding, and trying to find what she got for Christmas. It became my mission each year to disguise her gifts and to make some challenges for her. I would wrap her panties around a cheap package of combs; hide jewelry in a Pringles can, or other unusual ways of camouflage.
The panties became a traditional gift for her. Struggling, as most families do when first married, she walked by me, one side of her underwear came loose from the elastic and drooped. “I said, “You need to buy some new underwear.” She replied that they were still okay to wear. When she walked by me again, I grabbed the droop and finished ripping the material from the waistband. She said, “Now, you have to buy panties for me,” and so it became a tradition, Christmas underwear for her.
The ring that I hid in the Pringles can came in a Lucite box. With her shaking, it came loose and rattled. Because of the gifts that I would but to stump the snooping, Cindy thought it was one of those kid games with the Bee Bees that needed to be maneuvered into place into holes of a picture. She tossed it back beneath the tree, untouched until Christmas Day. It was the last gift that she opened. Her eyes brightened, a smile spread across her face, and she mouthed, “Is it real?”
I guess that because the ring was real, Christmas and our love became more real as well.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a wonderful New Year.