Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Our oldest brother and sister were also there, each on college break. I suppose they were helping Mother and Grandmother prepare our stockings and lay out our unwrapped presents in our special places. This would be one of the last Christmas vacations the four siblings would all be together under the same roof. My brother would graduate from college and go off to Hawaii for graduate school. My oldest sister would graduate and marry her soon-to-be-lawyer husband and move to Colorado. In fact, I would grow up, get married and have a child of my own before we would once again gather under the same roof at Christmas. In my family, college graduation apparently meant leaving and never coming home again.
But I didn't know that yet. For that night, I was secure in my family, giggling with my sister, happily anticipating what Santa would bring. Mother had to tell us to GO TO SLEEP several times before we stopped giggling and fell asleep.
Then, in the morning, I woke first. As soon as my eyes popped open, I woke up my sister. We ran into our Mother's room. She groaned. She finally gave us permission to go downstairs, but STOCKINGS ONLY - DO NOT OPEN ANY PRESENTS. We raced down the stairs. Grandmother heard us and came out of her room. Each of us had an assigned chair or sofa corner. We knew which was which because our stockings were there with our names sewn on in sequins. We each dumped the contents of our stocking out. Apples, oranges, tangerines, assorted unshelled nuts, one silver dollar, Hershey miniatures (to be traded around later, to get rid of the ones you didn't want and hopefully get more of what you did want), Hershey kisses, some socks and usually one small gift at the very top. Mother would appear, then our oldest sister with a sour expression on her face. I would usually race back upstairs to cajole our brother into coming down, which he did with some complaint.
Our brother sat next to the tree and handed the gifts out, one at a time. This was no free for all. It was very organized. For me, the youngest, it was almost unbearable, because I had to wait while five people each opened a gift before it was my turn again. My brother always made a big production about opening his gift when it was his turn, knowing that he was torturing me. It made me squeal, which made my oldest sister roll her eyes, which was probably his way of torturing her too.
There was always one game for the whole family. That year, the game was Mousetrap. Oh! It was so much fun!!! My Grandmother, Mother and oldest sister disappeared into the kitchen to put the Christmas meal together. But our brother helped us figure out the game and put the "trap" together. He eventually got bored and went off to do something else. That left my sister and me, playing with the game or messing with other stuff we had received.
And then the Christmas feast. Roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, rice and gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, green & black olives and crescent rolls. Pumpkin pie and cookies for dessert. Leftovers for dinner. But this was before microwaves, so things had to be reheated on the stove or eaten cold. We had no clue that was a problem, so we happily did it!
I wonder - if I had known this would be the last Christmas we were together, would I have done anything differently? Probably not. I was too young to really understand it. But through the years, I have always experienced a bit of family envy when I heard about other multi-generational families all living near enough to get together for the holiday. I've always wondered why my siblings left and never came back. Maybe that happens in a lot of families and I only noticed the ones in which it didn't happen.
Each Christmas, my thoughts go out to those who are not with family - or ARE with family, but wish they were somewhere else. Because amidst the exultations of joy and celebration, I know there are heavy hearts, for a wide variety of reasons. My arms are around you, if that is you. You are not alone! Call me, if you need me!
But right now, I'm looking at that Swarovski bag over there from Reggie and wondering what is in it. I'm waiting until tomorrow, when he calls, to open it because it is the only present I have! But I'm sure it is something wonderful and I will be happy to have it, even if he is 1800 miles away.
Tonight, I must GO TO SLEEP! Merry Christmas, everyone!