(originally published Dec. 4, 2016)
While driving to my parents’ house this weekend, Riley and I talked about what Christmas was like when I was growing up. It was always happy, warm and fun for us kids.
This post is about my mom’s side. I’ll talk about my dad’s side in the next post.
I have a big extended family: My mom has seven siblings, and of the eight kids, seven have two or more kids. Plus Granma Teda’s three siblings and their kids. On Christmas Eve back in the day, we’d gather around 2 in the afternoon at Granma’s little concrete-block, two-bedroom, kitchen, den, zero-bath house. If we had to relieve ourselves, we’d head through the kitchen to the back porch, lock the kitchen door, lock the storm door to the outside, then hover over one of the two 2-gallon chamber pots. Granma didn’t have a bathroom until the early ’80s, and that’s just how it was.
We drew names at Thanksgiving, so we had a month to find the perfect gift for our person. As we walked in at Granma’s on Christmas Eve, we’d deposit our presents under the tree in the den. By the time we all showed up, the den was a sea of gifts, leaving just enough space around the edges to walk through the door or pick our way to the white leather couch.
We kids would run around outside (cold or not) while the moms and aunts and grandmothers got the food ready. The men? Well, in between sneaking out to a truck for a nip or two of George Dickel, they watched football on TV.
Of course, we couldn’t open presents until after we’d eaten and the kitchen was cleaned up. Turkey and dressing, ham, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potato casserole, yeast rolls, desserts, desserts, desserts.
Then … it was time! Granma would hold court next to the tree. She’d reach under, grab a gift and read: “To Tiffi, From Stephi” or “To Michael, From Vashon” or “To Lindy, From Tony” or “To Wesley, From Sherri.” Squeals of delight pealed through the house as we opened Barbies, albums (yes, vinyl), and Nerf guns or Lincoln Logs. The adults’ laughter mixed in with our mirth–there was always a gag gift like the “Golfer’s Ball Washer,” which consisted of a jock strap and a small brush.
After opening presents, we’d crank up Elvis on the record player and dance the night away, while the grown-ups played Rook. We never noticed the men leave, but when we got home around 2 a.m. we always noticed that Santa had been there.
We’d play with our toys until we could barely hold our eyes open. Then Mom and Dad would tuck us in our warm beds and we’d fall asleep, content and happy.
Though Granma passed away in January, she lives on for me in the memories of these Christmases Past at her little concrete-block house with no bathroom.