Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Memories Part 1 of a 4 year saga

When I was a kid, our Christmas season would begin right after our Thanksgiving lunch/dinner. My family didn't have much money to invest in the holidays, our Christmas tree budget was usually tapped out around $20.00. Bear in mind, this was the late 70s into the mid 80s so a $20 tree then would have been equal to an $80 of today's standards. My dad preferred to search out a tree at one of the many Christmas tree farms around the towns we lived in and he enjoyed cutting the tree down himself. He always had in mind exactly what he was looking for, a tree usually no taller than 6ft...his same height. My mom, dad, sister and I would wander up and down the rows of trees until one of us spotted a potential tree. It was usually me due to my short attention span, if it was green and full I'd point and say I like it in the hopes of it being the one so we could cut it down drag it to the guy that would bail it and load it up for us...December usually averaged with temps no higher than the 40s in Alabama and the part of Florida we later moved to so I wanted to get in the warm car as soon as possible. Once we got home with our tree, my dad would trim the bottom a bit and set it up in the tree stand and get it inside. He'd put the lights and the star on top then leave decorating to mom, my sister and myself as he headed back outside to decorate the yard and outside of our house.

Inside, it is pretty much laid back. Outside, you would think a gang war was going on. My dad, armed with a hammer, nails and our old Christmas tree lights that have been replaced, would transform our home into a mini winter wonderland. My dad's intentions were from the heart but his patience wore thin and he dropped more GD, F and MF bombs in one night than most people could throw around in a lifetime. His vision evolved from making a few wreaths from a discarded artificial Christmas tree he found at the dump with hurricane lanterns filled with karosene hanging in the middle of each to tacking Christmas lights to the eve of our house to building a large Christmas train and presents to lay in the yard from old wood. He was a genius with wood. One year he made life sized wooden cutouts of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, though I never got their connection with Christmas it was awesome nevertheless. My dad's woodworking abilities weren't limited to discarded manufactured wood either, he created all of Santa's reindeer including Rudolph with logs too green for firewood and thick branches from various trees that were being cleared from the vacant lot near our house. My only regret is not getting decent photos of my dad's handy work each year. I don't believe photos exist for each year, just a few and those are spread among photo albums that my mom and sister have.

Back inside, my sister, mom and myself decorated our tree. My parents always talked about replacing our lights with clear lights but colored lights always prevailed, luckily. I am a colored light fan and can't get in the spirit with clear lights. Our lights were mini lights with plastic reflectors that each light was mounted in. Unfortunately, the light companies stopped making these back in the late 1980's. The last time I saw lights remotely close to them was at Family Dollar in 1990 and they weren't really the same either. Our tree topper was a small silver tinseled star with a light of a different color on each point and a flasher light in the middle. Since I could only reach to about 1/2 way up to the top, most of my ornaments dwell at the bottom of the tree. Our tree was littered with store bought glass balls, balls made of plastic wrapped with silk that began to fray after a few years, various arts and crafting projects from school and ornaments my mom created at home. Mom and dad were definitely creative and the holidays brought out the best in their creativity. I guess the fact that they were both skilled at 2 completely different but similar artistic outlets would mean that one would rub off on my sister and one would rub off on me. My sister was closer to my dad and I was closer to my mom but rather than us learning from each parent, I ended up with a hybrid of both of my parent's interests. I love working with wood and I love working with yarn and fabric. Decorating for Christmas would only take an evening. We made use of everything we could and until every decoration was utilized, the night was not complete. Once everything was in place, it was a waiting game...the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve seemed to be a year in itself but eventually, it did arrive.

While waiting for the night Santa would arrive. My sister and I watched everything Christmas related on the 3 network and 2 independent channels that we got on our TV. From Miracle on 34th Street (one of my favorites to this day) to Rudolph, Frosty and the Little Drummer Boy, we were entertained. I'm still a fan of the Christmas films we watched when I was a kid. One in particular that my sister and I loved starred Mickey Rooney called It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, hopefully one day it will be re-released because someone's trying to capitalize on it via amazon.com charging $200...It's about finding the true meaning of Christmas and apparently the seller hasn't seen it. Throughout the season, our family rides around residential areas seeking out light displays which was usually fun for the first few hours until the novelty wears off and then we realize my dad is aggressively taking notes and insists on driving for another hour or two.

The closer to Christmas, the more my schoolwork would morph into Christmas themed arts and crafts...more stuff made from macaroni, dry beans, cotton and Popsicle sticks, glitter and glue for our tree. This was a time that schools could allow kids to celebrate Christmas while in school. The last day of school before the holiday break was always a half day, just enough of a bother to get up hang out and do practically nothing for three and a half hours and then home for 2 weeks. Inevitably there was always a Christmas concert featuring every child in the class or grade taking part in the festivities. I was only ever chosen for a solo part 2 times 1 time in preschool where I played a shepherd in something that I can't remember and another time when I was in kindergarten and I played the grandson of a man that read a story of Christmas to the congregation of the Pleasant View Baptist Church in Mobile, AL. I don't remember much about that performance other than I had to sit in his lap for 35 minutes, his breath was TERRIBLE and I had to remain starry eyed and awake. Now back to those horrid elementary school choral performances....An hour of kids standing on those risers in the cafeteria looking like a hot mess wearing what the teachers told us should be our Sunday best. To be completely honest, I didn't know the lyrics to most songs and if I did I was most likely singing my own words. I know 90 percent of the kids were singing out of tune or screaming at the top of there lungs. Basically the program was the same every year, all Christmas and NO Jewish stuff...I'm sure there was a Jew or 2 around but in Pace, Florida there was only one holiday season and is wasn't called holiday season is was apparently Christmas Season...It was always Merry Christmas, no Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings...ADHD just kicked in...Anyway our music teacher, Mrs. Chiles, at the piano and none of us near a mic...the only mics were hanging from the ceiling above us and I'm sure most weren't working. As Mrs. Chiles bangs away on the piano, we are belting out Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Up on the House Top, that controversial little number I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and then the lights go down...you hear a box of bells being pushed around the stage and the lights come up and you notice the hot mess of a choir is now armed with BELLS....You know what's coming...You know it will been prolonged also...Dashing through the snow, blah blah blah and we hit the chorus and OMG you don't know what's worse the Annie audition rejects belting out JINGLE BELLS JINGLE BELLS JINGLE ALL THE WAY OH WHAT FUN IT IS TO RIDE....or the fact that 90 children are armed with bells and it's that part of the song where they have to adjust their voices to compete with the tinnitus you are sure to endure even after the real bells quit ringing...Have you forgotten how long the song is? Let me refresh your memory, 4 verses and 1 chorus that repeats 3 times...Verse 2 my mind wanders on the name Fannie Blank and I draw a blank...I pick it back up at the chorus and lose it again what seems a day or 2 and pick it up again at the chorus and that 4th verse...I think only Mrs. Chiles knew it because we either lost interest or everyone's thinking about Fannie Blank's name from verse 2...Yep, there's actually someone that is named after what some of our teachers refer to our butts as..."I'm gonna tan that fanny...Sit your fanny down"...couldn't been just me though....And that awesome monstrosity ends...but wait why are they still holding the bells? JINGLE BELL JINGLE BELL JINGLE BELL ROCK....the stripped down Lady Gaga (time machine) inspired piano and bell version of the rockin' Jingle Bell Rock...I'm sure by the time 6 choruses and 2 verse number We WiSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHH you a merry Christmas ended, our parents were ready to shove their car keys deep into their ears. The second the last ANNNNND A HAPPyyyyyyyyyyyyY NEWWWWWWWWWW YEARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR came out of our mouths, we were rushed off the stage, our parents giving us the fake "You were amazing" speech and in the car we were going back home with only the sound of our ears ringing to drown out the roar of the engine.

Christmas EVE finally arrives, my sister and I excited...We track the progress of Santa on WKRG TV-5 and we would open our family gifts then run to bed about 8pm cst. Maybe it's just me but on the Christmas nights that Santa brings no assembly required gifts, our house is totally silent. On the nights that rivals our dad's outdoor decorating nights, my sister and I wake up with a bike or something that required assembly...JUST throwing that out there.

Christmas Day, my sister and I wake up about 6am, one usually waking up the other...We run to the tree and make enough noise to let mom and dad know that we are up and they need to come see what's under the tree. It only takes 30 minutes before we know everything that is mine and hers and ours and then we play with everything at the same time with the attention span of a classic ADHD child before running back to bed to sleep for a few more hours to definitively name your favorite gift when you wake up. Christmas dinner is served about 12pm, yes it's a tradition and I carry that on to this day. My mom's turkey was usually dry so she opted for ham. Cornbread dressing, pretty much the same recipe I use, candied yams, green beans (not a green bean casserole), whole kernel corn, brown & serve rolls and gravy were usually the standards. Dessert consisted of homemade Pumpkin Pie, Pecan Pie (I don't like that to this day), Pumpkin Bread my mom baked in discarded metal coffee cans and various homemade candies my mom was well known for...Fudge, peanut brittle and divinity. We would eat throughout the day and it was a lazy day....However if Santa forgot batteries or we ran out of milk...we would end up driving around town looking for the only store that was open on Christmas day...Big Bee Drugs.

So that's it, I began writing this December 2012, revised and completed it December 25, 2013 at 12:59am. I seriously threw a lot of memories in this but there are many more to come for future Christmas entries...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!

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