Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Stories

I put up my little Christmas tree last weekend. I don’t do one every year any more… usually not if I’m going somewhere for Christmas, like to my folks’ place for a week. Doesn't seem to make it worth the effort. But if I’m staying home through the holidays, I usually do a tree.

As an apartment dweller, I just have a little 3 and a half-foot fake tree. It’s small but gets the job done.
Growing up, the tree was always a big deal. When we were real little, it would just appear there Christmas morning, shining like a magical apparition.
This is from the first Christmas I can remember, when I was 4, my brother was about 21 months, and baby sister was 4 months. The trike was for my brother, I think. The mail truck (lower right) was all mine though.

Note the stockings on the mantel: when we went to bed, we hung up some of my dad’s white sweat socks. (Yes, they were clean.) When we got up, Santa had replaced them with those “official” Christmas stockings. They were very stretchy and held a ton of little goodies. The Lifesavers Storybook was an annual find in there. One year my brother got a can of cherry pie filling. I got a bag of in-shell walnuts and a set of nut crackers and picks. We always found these unusual little things in the stocking and they were always perfect for us. My brother and I used those stockings every year until we moved out on our own. I still have mine, I don’t know about my brother’s.

That Christmas Eve, my brother and I were hustled off to bed, knowing that tomorrow was The Big Day. We shared a room back then, which had access to the stairway that went up to the attic. Not long after we bedded down, Mom came into our room, clutching a fistful of carrots, by their long green tops.

Santa just got here. I’m going upstairs to feed the reindeer.”

As we sat down there with eyes like saucers, Mom went upstairs into the attic and we heard a lot of stomping around and jingling bells. She came back down with nothing but the carrot tops and told us that Santa was going to be in the other room, so we better stay put and go to sleep.

Right.

You try being 4 and knowing Santa was out there right now!!! We just laid there in bed, quietly vibrating from the several gallons of adrenaline coursing through our little veins, too scared to move a muscle, lest Santa find out and take all our presents away. I don’t know how we ever got to sleep that night, but we must have because come morning, Santa had been all over our house, putting up a tree, replacing our sad little white stockings and decorating the house.

A Tradition Starts
Every year, each of us kids was given an ornament for the tree. The thought was, once we’re all grown up, we would each have a box of very special ornaments with which we would start our own Christmas trees. Our first couple of “Specials” weren't all that special… just regular bulbs, but with our names printed on them in Mom’s nail polish.
These are the first ones I remember. They are also some of the most “special” to me.

So as we grew old enough to participate in putting up the tree, it became a Griswaldian adventure to go out and cut one down. We always went to places where we could cut down our own, so we’d go tromping around until we found The One. Dad would cut it down, we’d cram it in the car, get it home, then wonder why it was crooked.

Here’s where the surgical Christmas Tree Strike Team jumped into the fray.

Dad wrestled the tree into the stand and got the lights on, then went to watch football. Then it was time for us kids to put our box of Specials on the tree. This, of course, would leave one very densely decorated patch at the front of the tree, with the rest pretty much bare. Mom's job would be to come in later and disperse our decorating efforts. That was her job: Christmas Tree Redecorator.

We used to make ornaments too… It always seemed to be one of those projects meant for all us kids, but the two younger ones would lose interest after a couple minutes, leaving me, as the oldest, to get the job done. One year it was paint-by-numbers partridges and pears. Another it was decoupage elves and Santas.
Often times, it was gingerbread men. Those were my favorites. We’d have cinnamon red-hots for buttons, currants for eyes and all kinds of sprinkles and colored sugar. Sometimes all that stuff even made it onto the cookies. Our best work would be put on the tree, at least temporarily, until someone was hungry enough.

Just about anything could be an ornament though. Now my dad likes to put hooks on plastic miniature Jack Daniels bottles and hang them on the tree. He also has this black and gold knit , um, “schlong-warmer” that he got as a gift from one of his buddies. Every year he hangs it right on the front of the tree. Then Mom moves it to the back after he goes back to watching football.

A Smashing Christmas
By the time I was in Junior High, I was old enough to baby-sit my brother and sister. So on Christmas Eve, Mom and Dad went out for dinner. Naturally, my brother and I began screwing around in the living room, throwing the throw-pillows at each other, and one of the pillows hit the tree and knocked it over.
It had even been wired up, in case the cat decided to climb it.

We flew into action, throwing the ornaments back on the tree as best we could. I played the role of Mom and tried to make sure they were evenly distributed. We tried to re-wire it up again and managed to get it so it didn't lean toooo badly. Then we did what any reasonable kid would do… we went to bed. At 7:00 pm.

Isn't it funny how when you’re a kid, you think you can make anything unpleasant go away simply by going to bed? I guess that’s because parents will seldom wake you up to give you a spanking.

It worked though. My parents never even mentioned it and we had a perfectly lovely Christmas that year. We couldn't believe we pulled it off. We thought we really did some kind of job fixing up that tree!

Many years later, when talking with my parents over drinks one Christmas, I mentioned how we’d knocked the tree over that year. They were shocked! They knew the tree had been knocked over, but they thought the cat did it, and that we tried our little hearts out to fix it.

Luckily, there’s a statute of limitations on childhood screw-ups and I wasn't sent to my room.

I still have every one of my Specials. It’s a lot of trouble to get that Specials box out and unwrap each ornament, but it always makes me happy when I do. Each one has a story. And you know me… I’m all about the stories.

6 comments:

  1. My mom still hangs the paper chain I made her when I was 4. After many, many years, it only has 2 links left, but she still puts it up. Other than that and a Santa I made in kindergarten, I have all my "specials", too.

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  2. Oh yeah! We had those hung up for years! I think our finally fell apart. I think Mom still has a little foil bell that my brother made before he even started school. You have to love those old home-made keepsakes...

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  3. What a wonderfully nostalgic post and so perfect for reading on this December evening. One year my brother and I went into our parent's bedroom after they had gone out. We knew that's where our gifts were hidden and we sure did find them. They weren't wrapped yet, so my brother had an early disappointment when he realized he was not getting the basketball he requested. I was just disappointed that I had ruined the surprise factor that is wondrous on Christmas morning. We both went to bed that night with our heads hanging low and never did it again!

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  4. Cher:
    That's one line I never crossed. I had no intention of looking for presents. I loved the surprise of opening them in the morning. In fact, I was probably the slowest present-opener ever. I loved sitting and watching everyone else opening theirs and just savoring the moments, and then gradually opening mine. I'd try to open them neatly, along the taped parts, just to draw it out and make the experience last longer.

    I did find one present, as a very little guy, but it was after-the-fact. I was nebbing around in my parents bedroom and found it under their bed. It was a toy truck car-carrier, including several little cars for it to carry. I thought it was the coolest toy ever, but I was told that Santa brought it here by mistake. I tried to get back at if for days. Turns out my parents thought it would be too 'grown-up' for me to play with. NOT!

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  5. Great pics. That TV is awesome. B/W? Love the avacado and brown color scheme--really ties the room together. At some point the drapes were upgraded to the floral pattern. Also, could they have hung that cuckoo clock any closer to the ceiling?

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  6. TV was definitely B/W. It was probably 6 years later before we ever got a color TV.

    The drapes, you have backwards. The pic with at the end with the brown drapes came the year after the ones with the floral drapes.

    The cuckoo clock? Hell, I never even noticed that... but I can tell you that it's hung up high like that either because the pull-cords were so long it had to be that way or else they would bunch on the floor, or that the folks were trying to keep the cords out of our reach.

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