Thinkin 'on Christmas Past

It's almost over. The shopping, the wrapping, the cooking and all the other hustle and bustle of activities we do to get ready for Christmas. It's almost over, except for the memories we're left with each year.

Looking back, I never realized what a unique family we were and how differently we celebrated the holiday.

When the babies were small, our family's Christmases were such a riot. We never knew where we were going to find the tree. One year it was in the baby's playpen and the next year we found it hanging from the light fixture, upside down.

We could never have a pretty tree. We couldn't even hang icicles because Lacie would eat them, and Mitch thought the Christmas tree balls were for throwing. But it was our tree and no one seemed to care what it looked like as long as there were lots of presents around it.

It was the Christmas of 1959 (the year before Mitch was born,) that Santa came to our house on Christmas morning for the last time. That was the year I awakened everyone in the house at two in the morning to see what Santa had brought. Jo said he was going to have to come to our house on Christmas Eve from now on so we could all get some sleep. Jo had real good connections with Santa. Because of me, Santa had to make two trips a year!

Our family, like most others, had a family Christmas party every year. And we still do. When I was small, and both sets of my grandparents were still living, we would have two Christmas parties. Now that was worth livin 'for! One would be at Nanny's and the other would be at Mam Maw's, until she started renting the Ward 4 Parish Barn so we wouldn't wreck her home at Christmas.

Mam Maw was more of a socialite, I guess you could say, than was Nanny, and she did want to have to clean up after us. I remember very few Christmases when we actually had the party at Mam Maw's house (probably because of my narcolepsy), but the Ward 4 Barn worked nicely.

Mam Maw and Pap Paw's house had a completely different atmosphere than did Nanny's. Nanny and Paw Paw lived out in the country on a farm and Mam Maw and Pap Paw lived in the city of Sulfur, and we were actually allowed to enter Mam Maw's house through the front door.

She had a beautiful home, complete with statues of people and cats around her living room and a shiny, sleek black growling panther that always adorned her mantle. (I could never figure out why she would be a WO Boston Panther Fan.)

One of her prize possessions was a statue of a Siamese cat that held a place of honor beside her fireplace. We all thought it was ugly and called it "Mam Maw's Damn Cat." After her death, it became a Christmas tradition to pass around the Damn Cat. However when it was Lacie's turn, we never saw the Damn Cat again, until last year. She broke it or someone did, but it is with me for a while. I always wanted the panther, but the only one that got passed around was that Damn Cat.

Most everyone in the family would attend our wonderful Christmas parties, even people that we hadn't seen in years and years. And sometimes people we did not know at all, but met for the first time.

Christmas of 2010, we had the party at my mother's house. Everyone calls her Big Mama since she started acquiring grandchildren, except me of course. (To me, she will always be Jo, and she used to have a Big Daddy, but he died at our Christmas party in 2003 that we had at my brother's house.)

We all loved Big Daddy so very much. He was a rare and special person, kind of like Keno. (Their names were even the same, Ken .) Christmas has never been the same for me since that horrible party. There are certain happenings that even time cannot heal … Oh, how I hate death.

Anyhow, at the 2010 Christmas party, all of the guests in Jo's "big room" were enjoying my grandson, Cullen, who was then about four months old. Eventually, it was Jo's turn to hold him and Mr. Cliff's friend, Ann, who we had just met, asked; "What's his name?" Well, Jo looked at the baby and then back at Ann, then glanced nervously at everyone else in the room (they only offered quizzical looks) before finally saying, "I don't know!"

As the silence thickened, Jo burst into a fit of laughter followed closely by the room full of folks. Imagine not knowing your own great grandson's name! When the laughter began to dissipate, Jo said, "Well, he doesn't come over very often." Then the laughter began again.

Miss Ann was determined to get the name of this cute little bundle. A short while later, my niece, Kalee was holding the baby, walking around showing off his beautiful blue eyes and that dimple on his right cheek. As she passed Miss Ann's chair, she was asked, "What's his name?" Kalee glanced nervously at Cullen and replied, "I don't know!" Laughter time again, no one seemed to know my grandson's name!

But from now on, we will certainly know Cullen's name, just in case someone should ask. Cullen and his big brother Brendan, who was four years old, spent Christmas Eve with me, so their mother (my daughter … umm … uhh … oh yeah, Carrie) could wrap presents and make ready for Santa. That was in 2010, this is 2014/15 and we will have the party at my new Hackberry House.

In 2011, the party was held on Christmas Eve at Jeffrie's home. It is amazing that no matter what difficult paths of life that my relatives have chosen, that warm family bond remains. There was time to talk about the "good ol 'days," and to remember those blessed old folks that have departed this life. Keno believes that grandparents should never be allowed to die. So do I.

My wonderful grandparents, up in Heaven; please know how much I miss ya'll. And by now, you know just how much you have always meant to me. I love you, my wonderful grandparents.

Normally, we bring a white elephant gift and play that Christmas game where everyone draws a number and then, in numerical order, each picks a gift from under the tree; or steals a gift from someone who must again pick from under the tree.

My sister, Jeffrie, decided that she would host the only Christmas party that we were to have in 2011. As we were deciding what dish would be brought by whom, I reminded her to include the "White Elephant" information. She said, "We are not doing the White Elephant thing this year." "Oh, but yes we are," I quickly retorted. Miss Jeffrie was not about to alter that family tradition!

I can't imagine why she wanted to omit "The Game," but she got over it. And we tore open our presents with unbridled avarice, trading with anyone who was willing and stealing from those who were not. And then we ate (and ate) until our clothes were too tight and we all felt sleepy.

Oh! I almost forgot! The party ended with a showing of film footage of our childhood days! Jeffrie had taken all of the old eight millimeter films from our childhood, had them digitalized and placed on discs that she gave to each family member.

How wonderful !! What memories, our lives and times. My heart was touched. Wonderful memories were renewed in high definition and replaced indelibly into my mental library.

And Lacie? She forgot to bring "That Damn Cat" that year … But she brought it this year and I have it! Or I should say had it until the moves. I have had to move three times lately and "That Damn Cat" ended up at my brothers house.

Be at Peace and Prosper,

Travis Perkins, Author

As Told to Oyea Kendali

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