Christmastime was party time. First came my school party, then a party at Grandma C’s with all Dad’s brothers and his sister and all their spouses and kids, then Grandpa Z’s family got together: Grandpa’s brothers and sisters, and Buscia, and Uncle Gene and Aunt Annie and their families. Some of the fun was presents, but most of the fun was people. Christmas Eve was a party just for me and my brothers and sisters and Mom and Dad. Finally, finally, Christmas day. No party, but loads of fun and tons of presents. As soon as Dad’s birthday was over, which was the first of December, my whole world revolved around Christmas.
Of course at church we had advent, which was kinda like Lent, only not as much sacrificing. We had to fast and abstain, which meant no eating between meals and no eating meat on Friday, but that was practically like any other day. Sister Mary Something reminded me every week that Advent was there to prepare us for the big celebration of Jesus’s birth. I didn’t need to be reminded about that, Mangers scenes were everywhere; even at school. Poor baby Jesus, sleeping in a barn in the middle of the winter like that. Some lady left her own newborn baby boy, with that little cord thing still attached, in one of those Mangers outside a church in the city. Lots of people said that was the cruelest thing a mother could do. Mom said, “It’s obvious whoever did that wanted their baby to be found. Otherwise, she wouldn’t leave him right out there for the first passerby to see.” That was just like my Mom, sticking up for people she didn’t even know, when everybody else was ready to send them to Hell in a hand-basket, whatever that means. I thought it would be one sad day to leave a baby out in the snow like that and hope for the best. Good thing Mary had Joseph to hold her hand and tell her things would get better as soon as they got back to their own home town where friends and family lived.
I think we spent all December getting ready for Christmas. At school, we decorated with red and green construction paper chains, and memorized ”Twas the Night Before Christmas.” I loved that story, but my voice was small, so Eddie got picked to read it at the High School Band Concert. Eddie could read it to the music, just like it was a song; kinda like the way Bing Crosby sounded when he sang “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.”
I played my flute in the band concert and Deanna played her clarinet, and later Bonita played her cornet, and everybody else in the family picked up one instrument or another and got to play in the band or orchestra. Nothing was as special as Eddie and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
For some reason, Walter got my name every year in the name-draw. He got me the same old thing, too: chocolate covered cherries. What kind of gift is that? Those things are super sweet. I could just about feel my teeth rotting out of my head when I ate just one, and the back of my throat felt all itchy and tight, like I could stick my head in the watering trough the cows used, and drink and drink until I could drink no more. Mom loved chocolate covered cherries and said it must mean Walter was sweet on me to give me such a nice gift. I let Mom eat the chocolate covered cherries, and just said ‘thank you. You are so thoughtful,’ to Walter, ’cause it’s the thought that counts. I probably should have kept those cherries from Mom, ’cause that might be why she had all those silver fillings in her mouth. I never had even one cavity, ’cause I ate an apple everyday after lunch. Apples and carrots clean your teeth. I learned that in science class.
Every Christmas, I read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” to my grandchildren. It’s still a favorite of mine. I could recite it by heart, and sometimes I do, but then there’s no pictures without the book, and pictures help little bodies stay still. Somebody always gives me chocolate covered cherries, and that makes me think of Walter. It’s the thought that counts.
I’ve got a lot more to tell you about all those other parties. It will have to wait for another day. I gotta get my tree decorated and Christmas pajamas finished.