Tuesday, December 6, 2011

...tis the season

before the merger
Bill's Marina Christmas 2010
Celeste's Condo Christmas 2010

My earliest Christmas memories are magic. Until I was old enough to have a Christmas job, I spent a week or more with my grandparents and Jo, the world’s best aunt. My parents didn’t arrive until Christmas Eve. Late. 
I loved every second of those days and nights. During the days leading up to Christmas, my grandmother’s kitchen became a confectionary. If you read my blog, you already know that desserts run in our family. Popcorn balls. Pecan logs. Meringues. Fudge. Fruit cakes. Yes, fruit cakes, and her’s were good, thank you. Especially her pecan/datenut cake: sliced with cream cheese slathered on it...my breakfast of choice. Sugar cookies decorated with sprinkles. Peanut butter cookies because I liked them. A coconut cake for my daddy. A ten-layer caramel cake with pecans sprinkled on half the top (for me) and not on the other half (for Jo). A lemon cheese cake. A Lane cake (for mother). Then there were the pies: pecan, cherry, sweet potato, pumpkin, blackberry (for my Poppa). Every summer, Granny would bag freshly-picked blackberries and hide them in the back of the freezer. This tradition had its roots in a oft-told family story.
Mother said that, when she was little, Sunday was “visiting day.” Relatives would drop in after church, unannounced but more-or-less expected. And Granny made sure that she had enough food on hand for whoever arrived. One Sunday, Poppa walked into the kitchen and saw a blackberry pie fresh out of the oven. Granny was in the dining room. When she returned, Poppa was sitting at the kitchen worktable, eating a healthy slice of his favorite dessert. 
“Henry, we won’t have enough to go around! What if Betty and the kids come?”  Betty was Poppa's sister. Granny was no fool. Her persuasive powers were legend. 
“Exactly. If everybody shows up, I won’t get any.”
Mother said as soon as they sat down to eat, a slew of relatives appeared at the front door. Granny offered the pie to the guests first. Gone in sixty seconds. Every Christmas after that, Poppa got first dibs on his beloved dessert.
During my stay, we’d pick magnolia leaves and make wreaths and garlands. Poppa would cut a fresh cedar. The tree didn’t go up until just before Christmas and I put the icicles on...one at a time, not tossed carelessly. The lights were the old-fashioned large bulbs; the ornaments, round shiny balls that over time began to lose bits of color. But I always thought this the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen.
Each year, Jo would take me to work with her for one incredibly special day. I adored her as did everyone else. Sitting by her desk, I basked in the aura that emanated from her. She would let me type or use the adding machine during slow moments. When I was little, we lived close to each other. I was allowed to carry the monthly check for the electric bill to Jo’s desk. She’d give me a receipt, a kiss, and a piece of divinity (refer to “dessert gene”). Imagine my shock when we moved to another town and no divinity came with the receipt. 
Two days before Christmas, we were in high gear. Poppa drove us to the Piggly-Wiggly where I watched as my grandmother checked out with two carts. The total: approximately $45. I’d never seen such an enormous grocery bill. In the carts, a large turkey, a cured ham, a standing rib roast, and ingredients for all the fixin’s that would carry us through New Year's Day. Next we’d go to Mr. Coleman's butcher shop where Granny would buy a fresh pork roast. Then, to the fish market. Every Christmas Eve, she broiled fresh fish on a large, well-oiled bay leaf.  Not the little ones in a can but a large fresh leaf from a bay tree. She would fry the roe (fish eggs) on the stove top for Poppa. 
My job was to wrap presents. I curled ribbons and experimented with mismatched papers folded artfully. Small pinecones dipped in glitter or a piece of costume jewelry missing a catch or pin added sparkle. When this was done, I wrote “The Silver Haven News”.  Here my blogging roots were born. I’d draw the ads, write all the stories, and then read it out loud to Granny while she cooked. We’d have fits of giggles and she’d say, “Lord have mercy, I’m never going to get this done if I keep laughing!” Then she’d add, “Don't stop. I’m going to be lonesome when you have to leave.” That thought was too horrible to consider.
Christmas Day arrived with the usual breakfast and gifting. In the afternoon, we’d visit nearby family to check out other desserts. And on Christmas night, we’d drive into McRae to see the Christmas lights. No ornate displays like we see today. Just a series of Christmas trees in front windows. Porch lights showcased the wreaths. Every now and then someone would wrap the door in shiny foil and tie a big bow on it. But evergreen circles dominated. Eventually things spiced up when a neighbor bought one of those aluminum trees with the revolving color wheel. Then Mother decided flocking the family tree would be a nice touch. Nothing stays the same.
This year we won’t be decorating much since we’ll be away. I’m holding out for a wreath on Forever After...don’t want her to feel left out at the marina. We’re heading south to visit Bill’s sister and his mom. And I’m gonna see my boy and his sweet Leslie and hold my grandbaby for as long as she’ll let me. Ciara, Cece’s comin’! Then Bill and I are driving my car across the country to its new home in California. Rest assured, Bill and Celeste’s Most Excellent Adventure will be a source of several blogs.
But we have established one new Christmas tradition post-merger...

To the right of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and the angel, a votive for each of our immediate living family members: Bill, Margy, Christina, Mary, Michael, myself (see note to Bonnie below), Adrienne, Scott, Patrick, Leslie, Ciara, Miss Jean (Bill’s mom). To the left, a single large candle for those no longer with us but present in our hearts and in our very special Christmas memories: James, Bill and Margy’s sweet son; our dads (AKA to me, Mr. Ray and Daddy); my mom; John, my late husband and father of my kids; our grandparents...indeed all who are missed and loved. [Note to Bonnie: Dollar Tree ran out of those little votives. You and your kiddoes are very much on the living side so all of you and I share one light. Seems perfect since you are the nexus for this coming together. Also, our smoke detector has a quick trigger and we're afraid we'll set off the emergency sprinkler system.]
Whatever your traditions or memories (sweet or not), may this season bring you joy, healing, hope, love and light. 

Merry Christmas to ALL.  We're family. And feel free to eat dessert first!

P.S. Cheryl, Glenda, all the Brady's: y'all have another big candle on the end table but I ran out of matches before taking the picture.  Photo to follow. For an only child, I'm loaded with siblings!

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