My Holiday Memories

My holiday memories.

At 53, I have lots of holiday memories…some better than others. Why write about my holiday memories now? Well, it’s almost Thanksgiving…my least favorite holiday, but I’ll get into that another day…and right after Thanksgiving, we start barreling toward Christmas, my favorite holiday.

I’m just feeling nostalgic, I guess. With this whole COVID pandemic, don’t we all just wish we could celebrate the holidays without getting government warnings and guidelines about how many of us can gather in one place? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making a political statement…simply an observation. I’ve laughed a million times at a video made by Mark Mathis, a meteorologist with KUSI-TV in San Diego. He pokes fun at California Governor Gavin Newsom by pretending he is “King Newsom.” You can see it on TMZ here. I think it’s hilarious, but then, I think almost everything Mark Mathis does is hilarious.

But back to the nostalgia…the good old days when the holidays were fun and worry-free, and we could gather with lots of people, even stadiums full of them! Remember when we could go to football games with 100,000 people we didn’t even know??? This year, I’m just hoping there will actually be a live game played in a fan-free stadium somewhere, so we can watch it on TV. What else is there to do after all the festivities on Christmas Day?

Truthfully, I don’t remember watching football on TV on Christmas Day when I was a little girl…definitely on Thanksgiving, but not on Christmas. And I remember a lot about Christmas and all the great TV specials leading up to it…Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, It’s a Wonderful Life, Holiday Inn…and later, A Christmas Story…so many greats.

I remember helping decorate our Christmas tree. For years, we could only have our artificial tree, because my younger brother was allergic. I can still remember standing in our living room in Brewton, Alabama, putting the tree up in the big picture window for all the world to see as they drove past on North Forest Hill Drive. We would assemble the tree’s “trunk” first, which was really just a few pieces of wood fitted together. Then we took the color-coded “branches” that looked like they were made from wire coat hangers and place them in the appropriate color-coded holes in the “trunk.” We would add lights, garland, ornaments, that silver tinsel stuff, and finally, the plastic angel on top. I thought that angel was absolutely beautiful, but in reality, a five or six-year-old’s idea of “beauty” is different than an adult’s idea of beauty. The angel really looked like a cheap knock-off Barbie doll with some lights around her. I’d say it was likely a pain in the butt to get her on top of the tree, but since our tree was only six feet tall, and Daddy was 6’3″, well, it was likely no big deal. Honestly, I thought that angel was so beautiful that I would stand in front of that tree just admiring her. Did I mention this was the old days when those fat Christmas lights got really hot and had a certain smell? Anyone who was alive in the 70s probably remembers that smell. It wasn’t bad. It just smelled hot. And the ball ornaments back then were made of glass, so if you dropped one, it shattered. I know, because it happened lots of times. But no matter what…as soon as we finished decorating the tree, we would walk outside and view it through the window…just to see what it looked like to passing cars or neighbors. In reality, that six-foot artificial tree with the knock-off Barbie on top probably looked pitiful from the road, but we thought it was the prettiest tree on the block!

Our family would decorate outside too, but our house wasn’t the one everyone wanted to drive past. Sure, there was lawn decor, but it wasn’t anything special. One year, we did all blue lights on the shrubs in front of the house. Maybe blue lights were on sale that year? Many years, we had white lights on the shrubs. And most years, we had our Noel candles out front, next to the front porch steps. Actually, at our house in Brewton, there was no porch step, so we just put them on the little entrance to the porch. But those Noel candles were my favorites. I don’t know why I loved them so. In fact, I have them stored away at my house now. I used them one year, but I’m a little afraid of the electrical components in them. Maybe I’ll get them out this year and only use them when we can keep an eye on them.

On Christmas Eve every year, after dinner, we would pile into the car and go drive around town to look at Christmas lights. We would drive through neighborhood after neighborhood, admiring the decor. And the whole time, I could hardly appreciate all the lights, because I was too busy watching the skies to make sure Santa wasn’t passing over my house. What if he came while we weren’t home? Would he know he needed to leave us gifts? Would he know kids lived there? In Brewton and later, in our house in Spanish Fort, we didn’t even have a chimney! I always worried about Santa finding his way into the living room with the six-foot artificial tree with the knock-off Barbie on top! After we got home from our drive, we would hop into bed and have lots of difficulty going to sleep. I would remind my parents at least twenty times to leave the front door unlocked for Santa.

I have lots of Christmas morning memories. I’ve written before about how my brother would get a toy train for Christmas every year, and we would play with it so much that the little engine box would overheat and die on Christmas Day. It might have been because we always played with it on high speed. Or maybe it was because Daddy was playing with it so much. We weren’t a sweet little quiet family. We liked to have fun! Go big or go home! And so those trains always burned up on the first day. But we always knew there would be another one the next year.

While I love my childhood Christmas memories, even better are the memories from our daughter’s childhood Christmas mornings. She’s 17 now, so some of the excitement is gone, but back in the early days…it was on! Her first Christmas, she was only 10 weeks old. We took pictures of her by the tree. Her second Christmas, in 2005, she was just 14 months old, but she was fun. She got a dollhouse, a play kitchen, a doll and stroller, and some red cowboy boots, but her favorite gift was from our neighbor. She gave her some toy cupcakes, and our daughter played with those things for hours! She carried them around everywhere…so cute! She also received The Muppet Movie, and on Christmas Day, we settled in to watch it with her. It was the first time she ever actually fell asleep watching something on TV…I guess all the excitement wore her out. I’m sure the nap didn’t last long; she has never been one to enjoy her sleep.

We have made lots of fun Christmas memories with her over the years. We even have some not-so-good memories, like the year she came down with the flu while we were ice skating with friends on Christmas Eve. We were up all night with her, because she was vomiting, and since I couldn’t leave her side, I had no idea how Santa would drop off her gifts. Fortunately, that year, I had been super-organized, and I had all her Santa gifts in a big black garbage bag upstairs in the guest room. All my husband had to do was go up and bring it down, and as soon as our daughter fell asleep for 30 minutes at 6am, I hurriedly put the gifts out in the living room for her to find later. She awoke an hour and a half later at 7:30am, and we stumbled in to watch her open gifts, but after just three gifts, she was too sick to continue and had to go back to bed. Poor baby. After three days of the flu, she and I checked into a local hotel, where we stayed for three more nights and ordered room service till she felt better.

And in 2017, we didn’t even spend Christmas Day together. My mother had fallen at her home in Alabama the night before, so I got up early Christmas morning and drove to be with her in the hospital. She passed away on the 30th of that year…a sad holiday season, indeed.

Here we are in 2020, the year of COVID. It’s going to be a different kind of holiday season, but we will make the best of it. I’ve put up our little aluminum tree and color wheel upstairs on the indoor landing, and right after Thanksgiving, we’ll put out some exterior decor and our real Christmas tree. So things will be different this year, but we’ll all be grateful for each other as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Mother’s 80th Birthday

My mother’s 80th birthday is approaching…September 3. She was born in Alabama two days after World War II started in Poland. Sadly, she isn’t here to celebrate her 80th birthday. She died 20 months ago, on December 30, 2017. To say I miss her is an understatement. I’ve written about her before. She was nurturing…nurturing us as well as lots of neighborhood kids and our classmates. She liked for things to be done “the right way.” Yes, she was a rule follower…I got it honestly. But she also had a fantastic sense of humor…it’s necessary in dealing with my brother, for sure. And she had a great sense of adventure and encouraged us, her children, to have a sense of adventure, as well. My husband would tell you she did a good job of instilling a sense of adventure in me.

In November 1997, I decided I wanted to go to Mexico City for vacation. I didn’t have any friends who were interested in going, so I decided I would go alone. A few days before I was scheduled to go, Mother called me and offered to go with me. I knew she was going simply because she didn’t want me to go alone, but it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. She purchased her airline ticket, and a few days later, we were on our way to an adventure. I had visited Mexico City in 1982, but Mother had no idea what to expect. I tried to make sure she saw everything she could safely see while we were there. We visited El Zocalo, which she found fascinating. We spent a lot of time touring the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, a place she considered one of the most beautiful places she had ever seen. We had coffee in the Gran Hotel, an historic hotel facing El Zocalo, admiring the beautiful glass ceiling. We shopped in local markets. We toured El Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Museum of Anthropology. We ate street food. We ate in great restaurants and dined al fresco at different places in La Zona Rosa. She always ordered chicken in molé sauce. And she fell in love with the warm people of Mexico. We spent Sunday afternoon in Chapultepec Park (see info here), visiting the zoo (pandas!) and Chapultepec Castle atop the hill overlooking the park. She laughed for years at how much I made her walk while we were there. And she laughed that we ordered late night room service every night while we were there. In fact, when the hotel put a copy of our bill under the door, I was shocked at the total. Remember, I was single and thirty years old…working in the travel business. I took one look at the bill and said to Mother, “Ummm…this bill is $8000. My credit card won’t take that much!” We quickly remembered, of course, that it was 8000 pesos. At that time, that translated to just over $1000 USD. Since I worked in the travel industry, I had secured us a great rate on the hotel room…80 percent off the rack rate…and we were staying in a beautiful hotel in La Zona Rosa. And in the end, it didn’t matter about my credit card, because Mother picked up the tab, as my parents had done so many times. Good times, no doubt, and it’s an adventure I’m glad we shared. She knew I loved Mexico City, and I am thrilled we experienced it together. I hope to one day take my own daughter to Mexico City to show her the same sights.

I have lived in North Carolina for the past 19 years, and Mother lived in Alabama, so I didn’t see her all the time. Many times, after Daddy died in 2006, I tried to talk her into moving to Charlotte, but she didn’t want to move this far north. I saw her several times a year, but we spoke on the phone every day…and often, more than once a day. She loved to talk about current events. She loved hearing about my life. She loved hearing about my daughter. She loved hearing about our adventures. She loved to talk about football.

She and my daddy also loved sunflowers. I grew some in my garden last year, and this year, I’ve grown more. Some of them are blooming now, but I hope a few will hold out a little longer. I want to have some blooming on her birthday, and it would be great if a few would hold out till Daddy’s birthday on September 14. In fact, two of my Mammoth Sunflowers are side by side…one is about two feet taller than the other, and that height difference makes me think of Mother and Daddy too. Mother was under five feet tall, and Daddy was 6’3″…so it makes me smile every time I see those two mismatched sunflowers.

When she fell ill on Christmas Eve 2017, I got up on Christmas morning and drove to Alabama, with the intention of bringing her back to Charlotte with me. On the long drive there, I thought of what I would say to make it clear she didn’t have a choice in the matter…she was coming home with me. But after arriving and speaking with the doctors, I realized she wouldn’t be coming home with me. She would be going home to the Lord. She would be laughing with Daddy soon. She died on December 30, 2017.

On her birthday, I will add a little Bailey’s Irish Cream to my coffee in memory of her. She would laugh if she knew that.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Mother.

Let’s Talk About Santa Claus

A friend recently posted on Facebook, “When is the right time to tell my kids about Santa?” She has two children under ten. Almost every person who responded said not to tell any child EVER that there is no Santa. Unless your child is about to be embarrassed by peers because he/she still believes in Santa, I agree.

What is more magical than waiting for Santa to arrive on Christmas Eve and then getting up to see what he left on Christmas Day?

Most kids figure it out before 10 or 11. I figured it out in 1976, at age 9, and though I thought I wanted to know, I really didn’t. Once the magic of Santa is gone, part of childhood is over. I know…Christmas isn’t all about the gifts, but kids sure like the gifts.

I remember sitting in my fourth grade classroom at Spanish Fort Elementary School, talking with friends about Santa. Most of us still believed Santa flew around the world in a magic sleigh with reindeer and went down every child’s chimney in one night. We were a sheltered bunch. Oh, I was a firm believer, but someone must have created some doubt along the way, because, well, just read on…

About a month before Christmas 1976, my mother couldn’t find her car keys. She was searching all over the house, and in desperation, she asked me to go out to the car and see if they were in the glove compartment. When I opened the glove compartment, of course, there were no keys, but I did find an address book and diary that would be perfect gifts for a girl my age. I didn’t take them inside and ask Mother about them. Instead, I left them where I found them…as a test. My thinking? If Mother and Daddy gave them to me for Christmas, then Santa was alive and well. BUT…If Santa brought them on Christmas Day, then I would know he wasn’t real. So, I left them and waited for Christmas.

I have a picture of me from that Christmas morning, sitting on the sofa in our den, wearing my yellow nightgown with the number 12 on the front (Joe Namath’s number) and looking less than thrilled. Oh, I was thrilled with my gifts…a 110 camera with plenty of film and flashcubes (remember those?), a telescope, Yahtzee, some 45 records (KC and the Sunshine Band, Rick Dees singing Disco Duck, The Eagles), some clothes, some books, and yes…the diary and address book. The magic was over. I knew Santa didn’t exist. My heart was broken. But I didn’t tell anyone. I just sucked it up and enjoyed the day, but Christmas morning was never the same.

But that brings us back to the original question: when is the right time to tell  kids about Santa Claus? Most people would say never, and I tend to agree. I never told my own daughter, but she figured it out eventually. When she was 10, she still believed. I remember, because she came down with the flu in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve, and she was up sick all night. I had the hardest time figuring out when I would play Santa that night. Thank God I had wrapped all the gifts in advance. (She had asked Santa several years before to wrap her gifts instead of just leaving them out in the living room.) But by the next year, when she was  11, my daughter no longer believed in Santa Claus. She now tells me someone at school told her. And Christmas has never been as much fun.

But there is an exception to the “don’t tell” rule: your 13-yr-old child is about to do presentation to his 8th grade class about Santa Claus. You have to save him from himself. You have to tell him.

Finding out the truth about Santa can’t possibly be fun for any child. But there is something that’s more fun than believing in Santa: being Santa. Until I had a child, I had no idea that Christmas morning is a lot more fun as a parent than it ever was as a child. Sure, a lot of work goes into making it “perfect,” but seeing the excitement of Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve and the pure joy on our daughter’s face on Christmas morning were better than I could have ever dreamed it would be. Even now, when I know she knows Santa isn’t “real,” it’s fun to see her excitement as she opens her gifts.

I will be playing Santa till I can’t play Santa anymore.