Happy holidays to all and a huge thank you to Martin Crosbie for inviting me to be part of the 12 Blogs of Christmas. It’s quite an honor for me, a fledgling author, to be included in such accomplished company, and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to share a tale of my Christmas past.
At an office holiday party a few years ago, I decided to forego the ubiquitous Santa hat and donned a fur-trimmed tiara instead. One of my co-workers dubbed me the “Queen of Christmas," but I’m merely a pretender to the throne, a princess at best. The title was always owned by my mother who reigned over our family Christmas party like a benevolent dictator. She did all the decorating, the cooking, the cleaning—everything necessary for us to eat, drink, and be merry. She provided the playground; we came to play.
Growing up, I was surrounded by my mom’s tightly knit family. Her brothers all lived within 20 minutes, her twin sister about 20 seconds. The two sisters bought adjacent lots, built houses, and lived next door to each other for 45 years. Needless to say, we cousins were as close as most siblings. My aunts and uncles took turns hosting Thanksgiving for thirty to forty people, coming together for an obscene amount of food, football on TV, gossip and games. My cousin Brian introduced us to the card game that would become our favorite for decades—“Screw Your Neighbor." (If you’ve got three quarters, I’ll teach you how to play.) He also acquainted us with “Spoons," and we enthusiastically beat each other half to death. You knew it was an outstanding party if someone ended up in the emergency room.
The family Christmas party was always at our house, although our home was a modest one--a three-bedroom ranch—but the entire crew cheerfully packed in. I have tried and failed all of my adult life to recreate the feeling--the Christmas spirit--that enveloped everyone coming through the kitchen door (only strangers used the front door) on the night of what we called “Mom’s party”. Sounds of laughter, mouth-watering aromas, glittering lights, and a feeling of love wrapped around you like a heartfelt hug. And there were plenty of those too. We’re a southern family; we hug at the drop of a hat.
Between eating and playing cards, we sang carols and hymns. My grandmother, a feisty woman you didn’t cross, demanded “How Great Thou Art” which she belted out loud and proud and set the neighborhood dogs to howling. One year, my sister, her best friend, and my cousin’s wife were sitting on the piano bench together singing “Joy to the World." As a puppy, our dog had cut her teeth by chewing on the cross-support of said bench. Heav’n and nature had just begun singing when it, along with its occupants, came crashing to the floor amidst shrieks, closely followed by howls of laughter. The passage of time had weakened the compromised wood I-beam, and three butts were evidently over the recommended capacity. No ER visit necessary this time, and their dignity was only temporarily injured. We dragged the debris out of the way, pulled some chairs in from the kitchen, and struck up “The Little Drummer Boy." Pa-RUMP-apum-pum.
Over the course of the evening, Uncle Pete began randomly responding to comments or questions with a cryptic--“I don’t care; my mother drives a truck.” My grandmother most certainly did NOT drive a truck; she was 90 and hadn’t driven anything for years. We had no idea what he meant by it and assumed he’d had extra “nog” in his drink. As we cleared the table and got out our quarters for cards, he asked if someone could drive his wife home so he could head over to the Moose Lodge for a bit. I recall wondering if someone would later be called into service to chauffeur him home from the Moose. Everybody wished him Merry Christmas as he went out the door, and we returned to our game. A full 15 minutes later, he walked back in and directly over to my grandmother. “I can’t get out. Your truck has me blocked in.” No lengths were too great to set up a punchline.
Through all the joking, the occasional broken dish—or piece of furniture-my mother remained serene. None of that mattered as long as everyone had enough to eat and thought the tree was pretty. I can’t remember her ever sitting down until the we were all either screwing our neighbor or plopped down in the den reminiscing.
I was blessed with thirty years of Mom’s parties. Many of my family members, including my father, are no longer among the living; my sister’s in Tennessee, and I’m in Michigan. My mother, the Queen of Christmas, has spent the last two in a nursing home. Of course, she’s one of the few residents there that has a fully decorated tree in her room and a stash of cookies and candy to offer visitors and staff. Long live the Queen!
These days, I get a little blue when the holidays roll around; nostalgia can do that to you. Last week, my husband offered to fly me back to Virginia. I tried to explain that what I miss no longer exists. There is truth in that saying “you can’t go home again," especially when a stranger's family now lives there. I cherish the memories of Christmas at home, but I tell my husband we’re making new ones we’ll look back on someday just as fondly. Deep down though, I know if Santa put a time machine under my tree—I’d go back to the night the bench broke. Wanna come along? Bring quarters.