Merry Christmas! If we’re friends on Facebook, you know what we’ve been up to all year (or you can scroll back through our profiles if you’ve run out of gifts to wrap/unwrap by now); you probably won’t be getting an annual Christmas letter 😉. If we are not connected on Facebook or Instagram, feel free to read back issues of my weekly blogs to catch up!
My thoughts on this day turn to Christmas-past.
I was the youngest of four with nine years between the eldest and me, so my memories could be quite different from theirs (especially being the favorite and all 😉 ).
Obviously I don’t recall my first Christmas, but the above photo is from that 1963 Christmas. As I “pinched in” on the digital copy, I recognized several things from my childhood: an archery set, Tonka trucks, a hard plastic horse, Mom’s TV trays, and what I assume is a horse bridle and reins in the foreground which would have gone on our Shetland pony Tex. (As the youngest, I often ‘grew into’ gifts that had originally gone to older siblings.) Just in front of the yellow-haired boy Beany “doll”, on the right, is my first pull-toy. Somehow the ‘Patch Pony’ survived thousands of trips making the interior circle of our house, as well as being used by future cousins, and years in a closet. How can I prove that? Because I still own it! Well done Fisher-Price, well done.
A few Christmases I DO remember:
- Trying to hide gifts from four sets of prying eyes had to be difficult for my mother. Her dresser drawers may have worked fine for birthday gifts but they couldn’t handle the volume of Christmas gifts required for four children. I recall my middle brother and I searching the house one year and he pointed out the upper shelf of the bathroom closet as a key location. Then there was the year I was sitting on the living room couch and happened to look through a space in the back cushion only to realize there was storage in the base of the couch! Score! All this was great practice for later in our early teen years when we searched the haybarn for the homemade wine our elderly neighbor gifted my dad.
- We almost always opened our gifts Christmas morning, even if that meant we only got an hour or so to play with them before packing the Chevrolet for a 30-mile trip to the McAda Farm to see our paternal grandparents and cousins. That meant the night before was a difficult one to survive. My sister had a trundle bed that we would pop up and push together, creating enough space for us three younger ones to sleep together. We would wake up periodically, grab the flashlight, and tip-toe to the living room to check the status of gifts. (A small number of labeled gifts had been accumulating over the last week but these were the socks and underwear—the kind that could survive a good shakedown.) We were looking for the UNWRAPPED items that Santa would be delivering! 11PM—too soon. Midnight—nothing. 3AM—Bingo! And that’s all we wanted—to have the assurance Santa had indeed delivered. After that we could return to bed until sunrise.
- One year my gifts had a fish theme. My stocking (handmade from red felt and sequins by my mother) was full of fishing gear like hooks, corks, weights, and string. Under the tree was a large-by-my-standards aquarium! My mother sacrificed valuable kitchen counterspace for me to create a warm space for three Kissing Gouramis and later a breeding ground for guppies and algae. (It would have been too cold in the winter for either to survive in the unheated bedroom I shared with two brothers.) And then there was the year I got my first real bicycle. I think I noticed that the shredding of gift paper had been a bit uneven between my siblings and me, but then my father said he thought he had seen something on the front porch. I stepped outside to find a purple banana-seat bike just for me! Santa must have been really tired the night before because the steering wheel was on backwards but that was quickly fixed. In time, that bike became my wheels to freedom. With it, I could pedal the two miles to town for Little League practice or to Griffin’s Tiny Market for a Fresca from the vending machine and a paper bag full of groceries for my mother.
- In later years, we sometimes hosted my mother’s family at our house. The year of the Purple Egg Nog stands out as a memorable event. My paternal grandmother (lovingly named Goppin), who was diabetic AND Baptist (but enjoyed worshiping with the Lutherans), had a wonderful recipe for egg nog that included brandy or whiskey. I didn’t even know what brandy was until I was thirty, so I’m sure we always used whiskey in this holiday recipe. The egg whites were beaten stiff and it was time to add the alcohol. (You ‘drank’ this egg nog from cut-glass punch bowl cups using a spoon.) One of my aunts was given the authority to add the whiskey; she was Catholic and I think we all hoped she would be more generous with the measurements than the protestants. She took the bottle of name brand whiskey from the counter and poured enough to get an underage drinker excited. As it was dished up and sampled, the consensus seemed to be that something was ‘off’ from the recipe and it should not be purple in color either. There were many cooks in the small kitchen and they all began analyzing the steps that had been taken. That’s when a little more scrutiny of the “whiskey bottle” revealed that it was actually homemade wine that had been corked in a used whiskey bottle without removing the label! Well, it was a sin to waste food (or throw out anything that wasn’t at least four days old) in our house, so the Grape Nog was consumed and a new, proper batch of Goppin’s recipe was whipped out.
My Christmas wish for my readers is that stories like this make you laugh, sometimes cry, and always think of something humorous in your own life. Merry Christmas friends!