To my children, Ehmar, Jaedy, and Elcee,
Christmas is just around the bend now. We’ve put the tree up and I started cookie baking over the weekend. There won’t be a visit to Santa this year and I’m a bit sad about it. But 10-year olds, on the fence of believing, don’t feel comfortable trying to squeeze into the nooks of the big guy’s chair like they did when they were 5 and there was no protest when I suggested that maybe we wouldn’t make the annual trip to the mall in our reds and greens. Your ready acceptance of the change has made me nostalgic about this season more than usual. It’s as though I feel the ticking of the second hand like someone tapping me ungently on the shoulder to nudge me forward when I was hoping to linger a bit longer and gaze at the window display of sugar plums and soft curls that your childhood has been for me.
Days like this assure me that I was right to take a hundred thousand photographs along the way, that my love of capturing the details was not for naught. The photos and videos of your early Christmases will always serve as balm when Momma’s heart feels too tender about the drift away from the sleepless wonder and the rush to the bottom of the stairs and the squeals and ripping of paper on Christmas morning. Humor me on the days when I want to sit with you against me near and reminisce over them together, won’t you?
I’m thankful, too, that my own momma took photographs of our early Christmases, even as she wrangled 2 young children, a barn full of animals, and an old coal furnace that belched and burned hot through the deep winter months on our mountain.
I pulled out the shoebox today and found a handful of snapshots of our first Christmas on the farm. 1978. We’d only moved in some 4 months before and the front room still looks pretty bare. No drapes on the windows and just a few pictures on the walls. No porch swing hung yet but I see the pines in snow which was typical for Christmas mornings in central PA. I look at those photos and my heart feels like it might burst from all the memories pressing against it. Would you like me to share some with you?
See the Santa hanging in the middle of the tree? My Great-Grandpa Frisk gave that decoration to me on my first Christmas in 1974 and your Grammy always placed it in the center of our trees. I have him still, the elder member of the Santa shelf here in our own family room.
See the silver foil star at the top with the colored lights? We never used an angel, always a star. Last year I found a similar one in the thrift shop and brought it home. It’s on the little tree in the dining room now where I hang all my childhood ornaments.
And oh, the toys! The green dragon hop-along ball that I spent riding for hours in the basement, around the rough concrete circle that took me past the belching furnace and Grammy’s wall of canned vegetables. There’s the play kitchen where I whipped up cupcakes for my dolls. And the Fisher Price school house with its colorful magnets and chalk board. Oh, and my first typewriter. See? My writing days started early.
Uncle Jason is there in his Poohbear pajamas that Grammy ordered each year from the Sears catalog. Santa brought BlueBear pillow that year and Grammy would spend the ensuing seasons stitching him back together until there was nothing left remotely resembling a bear. Pepper the riding horse is there and you, Elcee, would hitch a ride on him some 30 years later. They don’t make them sturdy like that anymore.
And there’s my Momma, a young mother wrapped up in an apron, one eye on the toddler who’s too keen on the glass ornaments and the other watching the pot of boiling potatoes, taking advice from my Grandma Durandetta, most certainly about the meal that’s cooking in the kitchen.
The kitchen I remember so well, center of so much of our life on the farm, with its classic 1960s linoleum and highback red vinyl stools around the bar. And the chandelier above the dining room table that your Grammy always wrapped with tinsel, glass balls, and a hanging foil star. She never let us decorate anything until December 14th because Uncle Jason’s birthday is the 13th and his day was to be kept special for him.
I see my Uncle John leaning on the wall where little pencil scrawls marked our growth in inches. You can’t tell, but he’s talking with Great-Grandma Long who always came to Christmas at our house from her farm just a mile down the road. And look at the Christmas cards taped on the wall. Grammy filled that space with holiday greetings every one of the 18 years I lived in the farmhouse.
And there’s my Daddy, a young father rolling up his sleeves, getting ready to carve the turkey that’s just now coming from the oven. See that barstool in front of him? I sat there on the morning of my wedding, eating a bowl of Cheerios and thinking how very blessed I was to spend my childhood surrounded by so much love.
The cream and the butter and the green daisy Corelle plates have been set out. In just a few minutes, Grammy will be calling me with her familiar “Jennnnneeeeee” and Uncle John will be scooping up my little brother and plopping him into his high chair and we’ll be folding our hands to give thanks for the food and family and far-reaching Grace which has covered us all through the year 1978.
As far as I know, Grammy kept Uncle Jason from eating the glass ornaments on the tree that year. That’s more than can be said about your grandpa when he was a toddler. But that’s a tale for another telling …
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