Christmas Memories

Tick tock, tick tock, folks.  Christmas, that most stressful/joyful of holidays, is only a week away.  Hop to it, am I right?

Not me.

I get reflective this time of year.  Things are winding down, a new year is about to begin, another year is ending.  I miss the people I love who have died.  I think a lot about all the years that have passed, all the Christmases that have come and gone.

As a parent now, I am the one responsible for helping my sons make their first Christmas memories.  I want them to be happy memories, joyful memories, loving memories.  So, I do what I can, suck up my grief and sadness, and get about the work of “making memories.”

For me it is work, always has been.  Along the continuum of Scrooge and Merry Martha Stewart, I fall somewhere left of center, inching dangerously towards Scrooge.  But I try.  I do.  And the trying helps.  It’s best for my kids and, no doubt, I could try even harder and it would be even better for them. Sigh.

This year, I find myself thinking a lot about my Donnas — my Mom and my daughter, both buried now, dead from brain tumors that took them too soon.  I think about my childhood Christmases and my eyes well up on an almost daily basis right now.  Water works, folks.

One thing that helps when I feel sad and weepy is just to embrace it.  Wallow a bit.  Feel all the feelings.  So here they are, a few of my memory snapshots that have me weeping this year.

  • I remember the potent smell of dust and must as I stood behind the heavy draperies in my childhood dining room looking out the windows up at the night sky on Christmas Eve, scanning for Rudolph’s bright red light, guiding Santa to our home.
  • I remember the Christmas I had chicken pox and spent the whole holiday in pajamas, separated from my brothers, sisters and cousins.
  • I remember Midnight Mass and how very crowded the parking lot was and walking into church up way past my bedtime and my breath, visible in the cold, stretching out in front of me.
  • I remember the year I proudly wore burgandy colored knickers, Calvin Klein brand, bought in a flight of indulgence on my Dad’s part, after telling me about the knickers he wore as a boy.
  • I remember how incredibly stressed and short my Mom would be trying to corral all us kids to clean up our holiday loot before the guests arrived and how all that stress and shortness just disappeared as soon as the door bell rang.
  • I remember being the youngest of four kids all piled in my parent’s dark bedroom on Christmas Eve, feigning sleep, anxiously waiting for Santa to arrive.  The doorbell would sound five, six, seven times, my Dad’s voice would boom out, “HO, HO, HO!  Merry Christmas!”  A few moments later we were allowed to run down the stairs to a living room full of Mom, Dad, Grandma, and our two nuns/aunts, settled around the sofa and the tree surrounded with wrapped gifts.  In just a few minutes the gold carpeting would be littered with scraps of gift wrap and smiling faces.
  • I remember licking the homemade crochet bell ornaments made by my Baba (Croatian grandmother).  They tasted like sugar, year after year, as she had dipped them in sugar water to help the fibers harden.
  • I remember the sound of the tea kettle, calling us all to the kitchen table on Christmas Eve, sandwiched between our gift opening and our Midnight Mass sojourn, for cookies and cheer.
  • I remember the artificial tree, well past its prime, that challenged anyone who tried to construct it, just one more year.  I remember the toy blocks, red and blue squares, that we had to nudge in between the tree and the silver screws that barely did the job they were charged to do — keep the tree from falling over.
  • I remember Baby That-a-Way and Tiffany Taylor — both Christmas gifts and the only dolls I ever played with my whole childhood.
  • I remember being at a Knights of Columbus Christmas party and entering the whistling contest.  We had to eat a number of saltines and then whistle into Santa’s ear.  The first one to whistle won a prize.  That poor Santa’s ears were flooded with half chewed saltine globs, mine included.  Poor, poor Santa.
Clearly, I was ambivalent about Christmas at an early age.  Me and my brother, c. 1973.
Clearly, I was ambivalent about Christmas at an early age.  Me and my brother, c. 1973.

I could go on, but I won’t.  My own tree still needs trimming, my boy is home sick with a cough and headache, and very soon, the baby will need a bottle.  I’m the Mom now, not the kid, despite still feeling like a kid myself.  There are some memories that need making and as hard as it is, I want those memories to be sweet ones.

Love to you as this Christmas countdown continues.  Feel free to share your own Christmas snap shots.  I will read them tonight over cocoa.

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