So today is Christmas and if you are anything like me it is a bittersweet day. I love Christmas, don’t get me wrong, I even love all the commercialism, but there are so many different memories that makes for such a complex season. And furthermore, I fully expect to have these feelings for quite a few more years as more memories are added. My memories of Christmas past when the kids were little give my heart such a tug; when they were teens a different tug; and now as adults, still another tug. Then, the Christmas eves and days with Maddie, are a whole different set of heart tugs.
Since both sets of grandparents lived in the same town, dividing visits up was easy. My t Christmas Eve memories are from Mamaw and Papaw’s. Daddy had two brothers and two sisters (he was the baby boy with Bobbie the baby girl) so that meant lots of cousins of various ages for us to play with. One of my earliest Barber memories is of Mamaw and Papaw sitting in what to me were throne like chairs. My rational mind tells me these were just regular living room chairs, probably wing type, but Little Linda saw a king and queen sitting on their thrones. I’m sure now that sitting in these chairs was the only way they could protect themselves from hordes of rambunctious children!
I don’t know if I actually remember some things or if they are second hand images from so many stories, but I do know the brothers would play various instruments. I know Daddy played a trumpet and I’m sure Stan played a clarinet, but can’t think of what Elmer played but I’m sure it was something. I would love to see a movie of this because I can’t think of anything that would have been more fun than to see my Daddy and his brothers jamming like crazy. Lest you think the talent stopped at the brothers, I very distinctly remember cousin Stan the Man and his pickin and grinnin. There was a song he sang one year once he started the adults made all of us under 21 leave the room. Granted, we just moved from the living room to the dining room (I think, anyway, there was no wall that separated us) and we had all heard it before, still, it was very risque for the time.
There was not a formal sit down type of dinner. Or at least I don’t think so, mostly just counters of assorted good stuff to eat. Daddy’s favorite holiday food were wonderful cornmeal dumplings that Mamaw made. If we were late (and frequently we were since the drug store didn’t close until fairly late for last minute shoppers) there may not be much left, but there was always some cornmeal dumplings left for Daddy. I think the world would have stopped spinning if there wasn’t! I have made them lots of times (I treated Nort to them one time and now he is a fan) but they are never as good as the ones I remember. I don’t think they could be. I put a lot of love in my food, but there is something about a Christmas dish made with so much love as Mamaw put in these.
When we still lived in Oklahoma City and came home for Christmas, we always stayed at Ruthie and Sam’s. Since Mother was an only child that is where we stayed. As is always the case, when there is more than one child, someone is always going to be sick for a holiday. That’s just the way life goes. One year when I was seven or eight, I was the sick one. I’m thinking I had strep throat, anyway, I felt horrible and had to stay behind. Ruthie and Sam were the perfect concerned grandparents and felt so bad I had to miss all the fun with my cousins so they did everything they could to make me feel better. Ruthie decided that she needed to read a good Christmas story to me. Unfortunately, what she considered a good story and what I would consider a good story for a sick child were not even close. She read me the story of the Little Match Girl. I know, I know, it is a classic. But really, is a story where the kid freezes to death good for a sick little girl? So not only did I not get to play with the other kids, I was sick and crying my eyes out for that poor little match girl.
Christmas Day was spent with Ruthie and Sam and once we moved to Mulberry, they came to us. Sister (my Great-Aunt Cora though we were not allowed to call her anything but Sister and that is a whole ‘nother tale) usually came too. They would arrive after we had done the stockings and gotten our Santa presents and stayed for the rest of the day. Again, since Mother was the only child and we the only grandchildren, they didn’t have to try to spread themselves around different houses. We got to have them all to ourselves. There was never a big dinner, usually we had a big breakfast bar or make-it-yourself sandwiches and just grazed all day long.
I’ve mentioned before that Daddy had the drug store in our little Arkansas town. Not only was it the place to get prescriptions filled, but also the place for shopping and just to stop in and visit. While I would not call Daddy a gambler, he did love flipping coins. He would flip his lucky silver dollar for just about anything, but the holidays really brought out the flip master in him. Double or nothing was his mantra and more than one man got his girl friend, wife or entire family’s Christmas presents free. Not so sure that is a good business practice, but it was part of Daddy’s Christmas tradition.
Mother had her role to play in the drug store Christmas too, and took great pride in how beautiful the packages looked. (Free gift wrap if purchased there and a fee for presents brought in for wrapping) [As an aside, my very first paid job was wrapping feminine hygiene products in plain brown paper since they could not be just put out on a shelf for the whole world to see. Then I graduated to gift wrapping once I could wrap neatly. Laura and I can both still rock a neat paper fold.] Each year there was a theme. She picked the paper and ribbon out in the summer and we would start making fluffy satin ribbon bows in November. The back of the store walls would be covered in beautiful bows of every size. We probably wrapped thousands of gifts each year. Sometimes our entire days would be filled with gift wrapping and I doubt if there was any store in Fort Smith that did a prettier job. My favorite wrapping was heavy shiny silver paper, beautiful blue bows and “snow” sprayed on top. They were just gorgeous!
Oh, and the tree! What trees we had. I’m not real clear on when the other decorations went up, but the tree was always decorated on what ever night the Wizard of Oz aired. It was always a real tree. When we lived in OKC we went to a tree lot, but once we moved to Mulberry, we went out and got “wild” trees. We didn’t get just any old tree either, it had to be TALL and FULL. Daddy would put the lights on (picture Clark Griswald and you get the idea how that went) while Mother strung thread to hang the ornaments (no hooks for her thank you) and we put the decorations on. When all the ornaments were on, then it was time for the hanging of the icicles. One. Strand. At. A. Time. Sometimes the icicles were still being hung days after Christmas was over. There are plenty of pictures of trees half finished.
Now I did say the trees had to be tall and full didn’t I? We had lots of trees that did not come to the traditional point because they had to have their tops cut off. One famous year the tree was especially full. In fact, even in the corner of the living room it filled up half the door way going into the kitchen. Now, with a tree that size, it is bound to be pretty heavy. One would think that a man like my father would have noticed that the puny traditional little tree stand would not support a tree like that. Nooooooo. That tree toppled over more than once. So, coming from a bridge building dynasty, he fixed that little problem. Also, being the man who always over did things he got a little carried away (remember the hanging of the socks?). First he made a tree stand out of a piece of I Beam that weighed just a little over a ton. Then he put giant eyelet screws in the ceiling (3 of them!). The tree went in the stand and then wire was laced threw the screws and wrapped around the tree trunk. Not even an F5 tornado could have budged that tree. If I’m not mistaken, icicles were hung on the wires to keep them from being so conspicuous.
I find it funny that most of my memories are not about what gifts we received. Well, except for one. The Jolly Green Giant was new to the commercial scene and one year you could order a Jolly Green Giant stuffed doll. Laura and I wanted one so bad and begged for one. Now, we were not children who went looking for our Christmas presents, I don’t know why, but it just never entered our minds. Our friends would talk about how they had found the gifts and what they were going to get. That year for the first time ever we went looking and guess what we found. Yes! We found him! And we told our friends that we were getting the Jolly Green Giant. Mother over heard us. Bad move on our part. Come Christmas morning we were so pumped and could not wait to begin opening presents. Guess who got the Jolly Green Giant, not us. Our brother Larry was the proud recipient. Mother just looked at us and said “Guess you won’t go snooping anymore will you?” And no, we never did again.
I know that each and every one of you have wonderful Christmas memories and we could sit around and tell tales for hours. We would laugh a lot, and would probably cry a bit too. Some of our traditions would be so similar and some would be very specific to our individual family. As we grow older and our children and grandchildren grow older, traditions morph into new traditions. We wonder why our daughters don’t make the same cookies with their children that we did and why our sons aren’t putting out the same yard decorations they grew up with. We are jealous of the time the grands spend with the other set (or sets) of grandparents. This is nothing new, just a continuation of what our parents wondered and our grandparents before them. And so it will go and that is just the way it should be.
So dear ones, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and invite you to relish all the wonderful Christmas memories you have and to revel in all the new ones you are making. Love and Peace to you all.