Christmas Potpourri...A Memoir
By Carole Shukle
All Rights Reserved. Copyright 1998.
When I was a kid, I used to love our family Christmases. I would look forward to the trimming of the tree, to Mom baking cookies and making cakes, and to the presents piling up under the tree. Like any kid, I would sneak under the tree and count packages, making sure my two older brothers and myself each had the same amount of gifts. I never shook the gifts, because I was afraid I might guess the contents and ruin Christmas morning.
I loved the colorful Christmas wrapping, the various sizes and shapes of packages, and each glass ornament which had some secret significance to my Mom. I enjoyed the blinking multi-colored lights, especially the bubble lights. I would lie on my back with my hands tucked under the back of my head and watch the bubbles pump and rise in the needle-like tube and wonder where the bubbles went when they reached the top.
One of my favorite things about decorating the tree was stringing the silver icicles. I remember yelling at my brothers for taking clumps of icicles and throwing them in the tree like big silver snowballs. I preferred to place the icicles on the tree one or two strands at a time, so they would hang straight and sway gently when anyone walked by the tree.
I could never sleep on Christmas Eve. I would always wake my brothers at about four in the morning. We would then start to make noise around the house, hoping we would awaken our parents. It never failed. Dad would yell at us to go back to bed until six, but usually Mom would get up and make coffee. The heavy aroma would wind its way up the stairs to my Dad’s room. In a few minutes he would make his way down to the kitchen still in pajamas and robe. Mom would serve pancakes smothered in butter and syrup, with bacon, and ice cold milk. I would always dip my crispy bacon in the excess syrup before I popped it into my mouth, a habit I still have today.
After breakfast we gathered around the tree. My brothers would just want to dive in and open all the gifts at once, but I wanted Christmas to last. I convinced them to let me pass out the presents one at a time, so we could enjoy all the gifts. I would try to find a present for each person in turn. I had a pretty good idea where they were because of my snooping. Before long, my brothers’ impatience overwhelmed my initiative, and they were diving in when I handed a gift to Mom or Dad. I finally gave up and dove in as well.
My Dad loved to take pictures. During the opening of presents, he would have his camera set up on a tripod and be snapping pictures as we happily held up our new loot. Later that day, when we were all properly dressed, he would set the timer on his camera and rush to join us for our annual Christmas family picture. It’s no wonder we always looked a bit surprised in those family portraits.
One Christmas Eve, when I couldn’t sleep, I crept down the stairs to look at the presents one more time and to check on the cookies and milk I had left Santa. To my surprise, I found Dad assembling toys as he happily munched on a cookie. That was the Christmas I found out there was no Santa Claus. Before Dad noticed me, I crept back up the stairs with the image of Dad with a milk stain on his upper lip chomping on cookies left for Santa. Christmas was a little sadder for me that year, but I realized I was getting too old to believe in Santa anyway. After all, I was six.
No single Christmas really stands out in my memory. Oh, I remember over the years the shiny new bikes that progressed in size, the blue and white record player complete with a 45 adapter, a chemistry set, and a kit for building my own radio.
Adulthood brought many changes to our Christmases. While Mom was alive, my family would always go to Mom and Dad’s for Christmas, but because my brothers were scattered around the country, we rarely had a good old fashioned Christmas with all the family together. Now, it is usually just my Dad and his wife, my daughter and her husband, and my husband and myself. Christmas comes to our home now.
My husband goes all out for Christmas. He handcrafts all of our outdoor decorations-- nothing store bought for him. This year he made a twenty-six foot tree of lights which he hoists upward by pulley, like the sail on a ship. We also have Caroling Cats with an arched sign in lights which reads, “Have A Meowy Christmas And A Happy Mew Year.” Each cat is a life-like representation of our own four cats. Santa sits in his sleigh, loaded with presents, while all the reindeer ready for take-off. Last but not least, the nativity star, shaped like a four-point cross, sits overlooking the road. He fills our home with the Christmas spirit making Christmas a true delight for me again.
Each year at this time, though, I get an empty feeling I can’t quite describe. It’s more of a longing. I would love to have a close family where everyone can be together for Christmas. I find myself wishing our family had grown closer over the years, rather than farther apart. When I think back to all of those childhood Christmases, I realize I had the foundation and security of a close family and many joyous times with my family. No one can ever take that away, but no one can give it back to me either.
Published in Memoir Writing, December, 2001.