Quickly, name five of your all time favorite Christmas gifts. Now, name five of your fondest Christmas memories. For me, I had to rack my brain to even recall a few of the presents. But the memories, oh my, how easily they flowed. Bountiful and beautiful each and every one, these treasured times are my favorite gifts. No amount of money spent could have given me all that I received from the simple act of family gathering together for Christmas. I have far too many snapshots, snippets, stories and seasonal sensations to share, but here are just a few:
The sound of my grace-filled and lovely Aunt Nancy’s laugher was to me the sound of Christmas in my grandparent’s home. My handsome Uncle Bob outfitted in his Santa suit tummy not round but rectangle shaped like a king sized pillow. The smell of my grandmother’s homemade yeast rolls and the sweet perfection of her divinity made me want to devour them both by the handful. But, manners were a must for my grandmother especially where little young ladies were concerned. So, I learned restraint and the lessons of fine dining. Do not inhale your food, but experience it slowly so you taste all the pleasures that lie within. The sound of the piano – plink, plank, plunk – as my grandfather on his way to the kitchen ran his fingers randomly across the keys never hitting a sour note.
My older cousins, Buzz and Bill, whose very presence at Christmastime raised the heart beats of teenage girls throughout my small home town of Comanche, Texas. Girls would find any reason to catch a glimpse of such big city cool confidence. They were Houstonian Hollywood – think younger versions of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Burt Reynolds with a touch of Robert Redford rolled into two. Pride and ownership swelled inside me every December as I knew that I would be one of the three girls including my cousin Janet and my sister Katie, who would actually get their true love and attention.
Attending Midnight Mass at St. Matthew’s Episcopalian Church with my parents, sister and brother, we would enter the church a mixture of tired and wired yet after the mass would exit refreshed and inspired. The very small yet perfect in size church normally housed only a dozen or so people but on this Holy night there would be standing room only. Mr. Dudley who never stayed awake during any church service leaning back in a make shift folding chair and with a particularly jarring snore flipped backwards just before the “Peace Be with You”.
My Aunt Nancy, Uncle Bob, Mom and Dad serenading my cousins, their wives, my sister, brother and me outside our Christmas condo in Salado. Having declined their offer to “a caroling we will go”, our parents sang their way around the property saving their best song for last. Standing outside the large pane window looking in at their toasty grown yet not fully mature children, our parents belted out frosty notes of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. My cousin much to our amusement began dramatically and slowly lowering the blinds. The Christmas quartet never missed a note even though the curtain had been closed on their performance. The merry four bringing us good tidings of comfort and joy sang loudly and proudly to the very last note.
My husband, Noel, and my first attempt at taking a Christmas photo of our twins in Santa suits is still so fresh in my mind. At first game to this new adventure, the boys gave their best five month old version of a smile. Noel stood camera ready to click as I propped each one up straight in a big green Queen Ann chair then dashed out of the shot. The weebles wobbled at warp speed toward each other growing more uncomfortable with every slow move. Repeat 10 times. We ended up with what looked like miffed co-joined at the head miniature Santas. Most definitely, this is my favorite Christmas photo of all times.
The expressions and reactions on my son’s faces during those years when Santa was the “greatest holiday celebrity” in the world are permanent snapshots in my mind. I can see clearly the Christmas the boys left cookies, milk and hand written instructions for Santa, then not thinking this was quite good enough added some baby carrots and a sliced banana.
I know through the years I have spent too much time and untold dollars finding what I thought were the perfect gifts for those I loved. This year so far has been no different. But, from this day forward I am making a new promise to myself. I will look for ways to create memories that will be made rich with love and laughter last forever and cost nothing more than sweet time and lots of love.