The Ghosts of Christmas Past

I have an old hand-written address book that I usually only get out for the purpose of sending Christmas cards to old friends and relatives that I don’t see very often. This week as I was doing that task, it was a wake-up call to see how many of them are dead…including many who are younger than I am. And a few whose cards have been returned “address unknown.” People who at one time were important to me and that I have fond memories of, who for whatever reason, I’ve lost touch with…they’re gone, but not forgotten. I hope they think of me occasionally, with the same good wishes for me that I have for them.

As I’m prone to do this time of year, I also remember some of my favorite Christmases from childhood. The guitar my mother got me with Green Stamps (only people of a certain age will know what that is) when I was nine. The year there was a big, heavy box under the tree with my name on it, from my brother Robert, that turned out to be a bottle of Scope mouthwash wrapped in about a hundred layers of newspaper. The year that I bought said brother an album he really wanted, only to find out on Christmas morning that he had carefully unwrapped it right after I put it under the tree and replaced it with an old album. The year I got a tiny grand piano that really played, which I loved, and which a neighbor kid sat on and destroyed. The year we got a mini-bike, which was one of my favorites. We just knew we were going to get one; my stepfather was working in  a motorcycle shop, and my brothers and I were just convinced we couldn’t possibly get anything but the mini-bike we wanted. Early on Christmas morning, we all went downstairs, and found a nice pile of loot under the Christmas tree, but alas, no mini-bike. We had been up for about an hour when I went to the bathroom, and there it was, with a big red bow on it. We woke up the neighborhood riding it in the yard at 6 am.

My favorite Christmas memories are of being at my grandparents’ house every year with all the cousins. We would all have our instruments and be playing music and singing to entertain everyone. And slipping outside to have a sip of the concoction my mother used to make that we all called “green god-a-mighty.” I don’t know what was in it, but I suspect it was moonshine made by one of my uncles, with frozen lime-aid in it. It was potent. My grandparents didn’t drink, or have alcohol in the house, so my mom left it in the car in a big cooler with some cups, and if my grandma ever knew why we all kept slipping outside and coming back in looking a little red in the face, she never said so.

People who lived through the Great Depression didn’t waste anything. I remember my grandmother very carefully unwrapping her gifts so she could save the paper and bows to be used again the next year. She would use it for years. When she grew so old she had to move out of her home, and we were cleaning it out, I found her recycled stacks of wrapping paper, folded neatly, and every single card that anyone had ever given her in a cabinet, in stacks tied neatly with strings. One of my prize possessions was a butterfly quilt that she made for me, made from the dresses that my mother had when she was a little girl, and the dresses had been made from flour sacks. Yes, young people, flour used to come in cloth sacks. I have already passed it down to my great-niece.

This week I’ve been baking some Christmas goodies, and using the cutting board and rolling pin that belonged to my grandmother. I get her tiny nativity set and a little red glass lamp out every year at Christmas. I remember all the gifts she gave to her grandchildren, which probably cost less than a dollar, and it seems like we all appreciated them more than any expensive gifts we might get today. I still have some of mine, and they sit on a bookshelf along with her picture and other mementos of her. If my house caught fire, they’d be the first thing I grabbed.

Earlier this year, my oldest brother was in a serious accident, and he’s lucky to still be here and be able to celebrate Christmas with us. I will always be grateful for the 25 Christmases I spent with Champ and with his family. We had a lot of good times, and survived a lot of hard times, and I will never forget them.

This year, I have been blessed with the love of a good man, and I am making new memories with him. I will be having Christmas with him and his family for the first time, and I’m looking forward to it. This coming Sunday, I will gather again with the cousins. We’ll eat and visit, and play and sing like we used to do at Granny’s house, and maybe slip out for a sip of moonshine. It reminds me that all the hoopla and stress and shopping surrounding the holidays isn’t important at all. The only important thing is being with family and loved ones, and being grateful for the gift of that, and it doesn’t come with a price tag or any wrapping. Merry Christmas to you, or whatever you celebrate, and I wish you joy and health and happiness.

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