Every Christmas Eve, my family drove to Grandmother’s house for the yearly celebration. No ifs, ands, or buts. The entire clan made the journey. I never minded. For me, this event truly launched the gift-giving season. And being like every other small child enraptured with receiving presents, I eagerly anticipated the occasion.
Laughter and love filled Grandmother’s red brick home as did good cooking, like smoked turkey and fixings. Desserts, too numerous to count, included her special tomato cake and mincemeat pie. Every baby was handed around the room until cranky and screaming for mom. Aunts and uncles found moments to see how school fared with nieces and nephews. My cousins, sisters, and I gathered in our own spot for “killer” Uno. All had a grand time.
After dinner cleanup, presents were passed around. The bows were removed and the paper ripped as we tore into the gifts. Grandmother received the most; some of which were interesting—a silly knickknack for her book shelves, knee-hi nylons, a serviceable sweater, yarn for knitting, kitchen tools, denture products, a school craft project.
Afterward, the relatives would visit a bit longer. Then, my family would load up in “Big Blue,” our Ford station wagon, and drive home to wait oh-so-anxiously for Christmas morning to arrive. And it did in a big way.
My love for the season grew while I grew. As my sisters and I sang along with the holiday hits playing on the turntable, which featured the well-loved classics of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and, my all-time favorite, Nat King Cole, we wrapped presents for Mom, decorated the family tree with the handmade sequined ornaments, and baked sugar cookies. We helped Dad untangle miles of blue and green Christmas lights to hang on the house and set the six-foot cardboard Santa just so, next to the front door, which was adorned with a plastic wreath of fir, poinsettia, and a red, satiny bow.
Our family treasures decorated the living room. A glittery silver-andred reindeer and Santa display went on top of the buffet. Four stuffed mice in candy cane-striped clothing sat on the piano. A music box from our long-time neighbor was placed on the coffee table. And for the finale, a Styrofoam angel topped the tip of the white-flocked tree. Nothing looked better.
Back then, our family had no cable network. In fact, it was unheard of. So we relied on mass-broadcast stations for our viewing pleasure. We popped bowls of popcorn and spread a generous supply of napkins in front of us each evening to watch television specials like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, and Miracle on 34th Street.
One program in particular captured our hearts, a musical about snow and love and doing something extra special for someone at Christmastime. The elaborate sets, costumes, and music by Irving Berlin thrilled us. We’d felt Christmas had truly arrived after viewing this extravaganza—White Christmas.
Around the time I’d turned fourteen, my parents splurged on a color television for the family room. The small, black-and-white set in their bedroom was transferred to my room with the admonition we could watch it only on special occasions. Since my sisters and I were major rule followers, the TV sat on Mom’s closed sewing machine cabinet at the foot of my bed, rarely viewed.
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