I often wonder why so often families have such a hard time getting together for the holidays. Somehow all five of Dad’s brothers and his sister got together over the Christmas holidays. Of course, they did all live within sixty or so miles of each other. Still, I think it was important to them to get their families together. Besides that, they all seemed to like each other so much. So did all the kids.
Grandma loved Christmas. She sewed and embroidered and crocheted away all fall, just to have something nice for everybody. She made me pajamas for my doll, Jonsi-Belle, a dresser scarf and lots of embroidered handkerchiefs, and once she gave me a little triangular box that fit right in the corner of my dresser drawer. My nose dripped all the time, which is probably why she thought I needed hankies, but those things were tough on the nose, especially the way Mom starched everything. I kept a handful of Kleenex in my pocket instead; those were way softer. That little corner box was great, though. For one thing, red was my favorite color. For another thing I had all kinds of treasures to keep in there: my rosary and scapula, my key to the box Grandpa Z made for me, some convex and concave lenses, and that rock Dad told me was a petrified potato. That last one turned out to be a tall tale or a joke or a lie, I never figured out for sure which one it was, but it was a far cry from a petrified potato. I just kept it around as a reminder of that old saying about everybody gets fooled some of the time.
My best-friend-cousin, Debbie, and Deanna’s best-friend-cousin, Linda, and Vickie’s best-friend-cousin, Sandy were at the Christmas party. Bonita had no best-friend-cousin, ’cause all the cousins her age were boys: Gary, Jeff, and Jimmy; they all were each others best friend cousins. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Bonita wanted to be a boy so bad. Those boys were noisy and rough. I could understand why Grandma always said boys were made out of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails; but she was wrong about that sugar and spice business for girls. She never saw me and Bonita leg wrestle, or Deanna give the bloody knuckles, or me throw Deanna’s Tiny Tears down the stairs. Girls were just quieter, that’s all.
Besides Grandma’s presents, I got a present from a cousin. At some time, I never knew when, names got drawn out of a hat, and I had a cousin to give a present to, and one gave a present to me. I never got what I asked for, ’cause I never asked for anything. I always got something I wanted, which was the best kind of present ever: a surprise present. Lots of times I got a game, like Kootie, or Mr. Potato Head. Debbie got a game called Mousetrap. That game had lots of tinsy pieces that fit on the game board and built a big contraption of chutes and levers and a boot kicking over a bucket. Each player tried to build the mousetrap and prevent their mouse from getting trapped at the same time. All those little pieces got broken and they hurt like the dickens if I stepped on one with my bare feet.
Every uncle except Uncle Ellis had a whole passel of kids. Uncle Ellis and Aunt Doris only had one boy, Craig. I guessed one boy could only make so much noise by himself. Craig’s blue eyes got wide and his lips pulled in a little when he saw all those kids, ’cause he lived in the Motor City, and only got together with the rest of us every once in a while, mostly on holidays. I could tell that commotion was pretty darn peculiar to him. Craig never had hand-me-down clothes; so no stains or patches, or frayed cuffs around his coat sleeves. He was kinda quiet like his mom, Aunt Doris. The rest of us knew how to deal with commotion, even when we weren’t visiting. I could read a book while the house fell down around me; I was that good at blocking out commotion. Sometimes I never even heard Mom call me to set the table; that’s how good my concentration was.
Grandma didn’t have a house of her own anymore, she lived with Uncle Merle, who lived across a field from Uncle Frank. Those two were friends, but Uncle Merle was my Dad’s best-friend-brother, ’cause they were as close to being twins as two brothers could get. Uncle Merle was so close to my Dad that he refused to go to kindergarten without his little brother. Well, kids back then never knew they could have their own opinion, but Uncle Merle cried every day, until Grandma got fed up, and marched both little boys, one who was just four years old, and who would be my dad some day, to the schoolhouse. Grandma was super-quiet and kinda shy, but when she looked you straight in the eye and talked to you, well, you knew you better listen. So next thing ya know, two kindergarteners instead of just one.
I never heard Grandma shout or talk mean. Uncle Glenn told me once if he cried or pitched a fit, Grandma just laid her hand on his and breathed in deep and that was the end of that. I bet she was praying, “Please Lord, make this boy shut up, before I blow a gasket.” I only think that ’cause six boys in one house is an awful lot, especially with only two bedrooms. Aunt Barbara was quiet, just like Grandma. She grew up to be a teacher. Maybe she always wanted to get kids to tow the line and learn a thing or two. I never heard Aunt Barbara yell or act cross, but lots of times Moms keep things quiet in front of other people. Sometimes when my Mom was mad, when the phone rang, she turned right around and sounded sweet as honey She said, “Hello?” and her whole face got soft. After she talked to a grown-up for a while, her mood changed for good and she forgot all about being mad.
When the cousins started becoming teenagers, we got together less frequent, until finally our Christmas tradition disappeared. Then weddings started the whole get-together business revived. I think the cousins missed each other as much as the aunts and uncles did. I know that’s true for me.