Christmastime in the Land of I Can’t Make This Shit Up

Since Christmas is just around the corner, I thought I’d discuss the far extremes of the holiday that I encountered as a child. The majority of the Christmas celebration is not one that I found many people to have experienced. In my house, we were raised to do Christmas the way my mom was raised to do Christmas; which is a very formal and Victorian-esque affair. That might sound nice, but it’s only nice now because The Sister and I have relaxed it a bit.  It was actually quite elitist and snobby before.

 

Maternal grandmother, my brother, The Sister, & me in my baby time.
Maternal grandmother, my brother, The Sister, & me in my baby time.

My mom’s adoptive parents were born in 1898 and 1909.  Yes, you read that correctly.  They were quite old to be adopting.  Anyways, they were not raised wealthy, but were middle class. Their parents, however, had strict rules that they instilled into their children, which trickled down and somehow just became a bit grander than it had been for them. Christmas was very much a rule centered, rehearsed and uppity endeavor.

Early in my childhood Christmas Eve was spent at my mothers childhood home, as was Christmas day. Later in my childhood, we would celebrate here at the house, having a Kingston Christmas, as close as mom could manage and then drive thirty minutes north a few hours later to do it all again. Anything with pomp and circumstance is referred to as the Kingston way, since that childhood home of my mothers was referred to as Kingston House, simply because it was situated on Kingston Street.

So, in my formative years, we would drive to grandma’s house on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember much because I was very young and she moved to her new house when I was about five or six. But, I do remember some bits. My mothers father died a few years before I was born, however, The Sister and my brother remember his presence there at Christmastime, which made things a bit more stringent than they were when he was gone. Don’t get me wrong, when I arrived on the scene there was still an orderly and precise way to have Christmas and those rules were not relaxed.

 

Hanging stockings up at Kingston on Christmas Eve.  I'm the baby and the stockings were hand knitted by our paternal grandmother.
Hanging stockings up at Kingston on Christmas Eve. I’m the baby and the stockings were hand knitted by our paternal grandmother.

 

I don’t remember much from Christmas Eve’s, but we had a formal little ceremony of sorts about hanging up all our stockings. Then it was off to bed. The house had a fireplace in every room (except for the kitchen, because my mothers father had it removed early on), and a fire would be set in each one, so that the room was all toasty and snug when you went up to bed. In those early years our aunt and her then husband were always present, opting to share a pull-out bed in the downstairs playroom, which had been the first owners’ bedroom. My parents would take my mothers old childhood room, our brother was in our grandfathers old room, (obviously before he passed and before I was born, he and The Sister would share a room), and then The Sister and I would be in the upstairs library, which had been our aunts childhood room.

The rules and regulations really started after one went to sleep. You did not leave your room for any reason what-so-ever, and you were absolutely not to creep down the formal front staircase to peer down onto the double formal parlours. You were also not allowed to gain entrance from the downstairs hallway by opening the double doors leading to the parlours. You weren’t even allowed anywhere near those doors. I’m not sure what would have happened, we probably would have been beaten, but we just didn’t do anything to upset the adults.

View from the top of the formal front staircase.  Mom, maternal grandmother, me, The Sisters' legs.
View from the top of the formal front staircase. Mom, maternal grandmother, me, The Sisters’ legs.  For some reason, yes, it was perfectly acceptable to remove your slippers in the middle of Christmas.  But you still had to wear them down there.

It doesn’t mean that we didn’t slip out out early in the morning and carefully alight down the front formal stairs, ever so quietly, to see all the presents before retreating back to our rooms like Ninja’s. This was generally a plan that only included The Sister and our brother, but I do specifically remember one Christmas where they allowed me to come with them.

Christmas morning, though we always looked forward to it, was also a bit of a drag. You were not allowed to be awake or out of your room until the adults woke up, which could be any where from between seven or eight. Once they were up, you were allowed to gracefully follow them (never lead) in their descent down the back staircase, through the hall, away from the double doors leading to Christmas, trooping through the formal dining room and into the spooky butlers pantry before exiting into the kitchen; which is where they would wile away what felt like hours, enjoying their coffee and waking up. You were not allowed to stray out of eye sight from them. You could be in the kitchen or in the portion of the formal dining where you could be seen from the kitchen. You couldn’t fidget or fuss and you were not allowed to ask when Christmas could start. My grandparents were certainly from an era where “Children should be seen and not heard”, and where you must always be on your best behaviour with nothing to upset the adults.

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Then when the adults were ready to have Christmas, they’d make you wait outside of the double doors in the hallway, while one or more of them went in to the parlours to turn on Christmas lights or make sure things were ready. Then you could open the doors and act surprised while they took a photo. Oh, did I forget to mention that there was a strict dress code? You must stay in your pyjama’s or night dress and you must be descent by covering yourself in a robe and you must wear slippers. Anything less was scandelous and I’m sure would not have been tolerated. The photo above is from the Christmas I remember most at Kingston; the one where I was included in sneaking down the front stairs to view all the magic. If you are unsure, I’m the little kid holding the teddy bear.

Then there was formality of removing your stocking from the mantle. It was always done in order of heirarchy, meaning when our grandfather was alive he was first, and where I was always last. The process was that you walked (never ran) to the mantle, took your stocking from the hook and stopped in mid removal to have your picture taken. It was the same with gifts. All eyes were on you when you were opening a gift, then there would be picture taking and then you had to wait to watch other people open a gift. There was no tornado, whirl-wind action in that house. So, Christmas was a rather long and drawn out event.

When it was all finished, dinner would be served in the formal dining room and you must be wearing, by that time, appropriate day attire. Christmas dinners were sombre affairs. Not a lot of chattering except for clinking crystal or the gentle clatter of a fork against the plate.  There was generally always a lot of bitterness to be swallowed with the Yankee style fare; the bland succatash or homemade cranberry sauce or the ever dry bread stuffing.

Things were different later after my grandmother moved house.  We didn’t stay over for Christmas eve, my aunt and uncle were separated and her and my brother didn’t show up for every Christmas.  This was when things changed slightly in my life.  I suppose it might be the change in house that enabled rules about Christmas to slacken, though I’m not sure.

So, Christmas moved to our home after my grandmother moved.  Our home may be a two story and was sort of grand by 1970s standards, but it was no Kingston.  It was certainly not a formal or grand home with real thick wood for everything, transoms over the doors, fireplaces in every room; your general type of Georgian revival, non Plantation home from the 1870s.  But, my mother tried her damndest to make our house Kingston, at least on holidays.  She and my dad planned out a fireplace for the den.  It was never finished with tile (thankfully since the colour scheme was mid 1980s mauve and blue), and it wasn’t grand, but it’s pretty fantastic because my dad built it… from scratch… with his own two hands.

Honestly, we’ll take a minute here.  I’m highly impressed that my dad built a fireplace out of nothing.  He also built an addition to our house, a sun room, in the middle of the air.   Obviously it’s connected to the house on two sides, but it’s over the basement patio.  The only other support it has is a metal beam on the opposite corner.  It’s literally 15 feet in the air.  He had no previous experience for either projects.  He just said, “I can do it” and did it with the help of his 1970’s Sears Fix It Book series.  No other people.  He hates if I bring either of these up, because he’s a perfectionist and they aren’t up to his standards.  There is a 3 ft rectangular hole between the fireplace and the mantel, which is where the tile was going to be placed and we just put some black frame matting up.  And the wood wasn’t stained.  But it works!  There’s nothing wrong with the fireplace except beautification standards.  The same with the sun room.  It’s been 23 years and it’s still structurally sound.

Anyways, I can’t help but give a huge shout out to my dad every time I mention these.  But, we’ll move on.  So, we have a fireplace.  Since about 1985 or 1986, which is about when we started spending Christmas Eve’s here instead of at grandma’s.

 

Christmas decorations at our home.
Christmas decorations at our home.

So, our Christmas Eve’s.  Dad owned a jewelry store and was busy working and finishing jobs until 6 pm on Christmas Eve.  I always thought it was nice that dad put in an extraordinary amount of overtime getting jobs finished for customers, like that was sweet of him.  But, I just didn’t really understand how sad that really is.  How he had to work grueling hours and hardly ever come home just to make enough money for us to take a family vacation or to have birthday or Christmas presents.  But, as a child, him working on Christmas Eve was magical.

My mom, The Sister, and I would pile into our early 80’s baby blue Chrysler station wagon and drive the back roads and avenues to dad’s shop.  We would pull up into the parking area in front and his store front would be all aglow with light spilling out from the East and South facing, large panel windows.  We’d open the door and there’d be a few tacky seventies Christmas decorations and a little three inch tree in the show room and you could look through the panel window to see dad working at his jewelry bench.  The Sister and I would run in there excitedly to liberate him for Christmas festivities.  He’d close up and we’d pile in the car to go eat at Waffle House.

It seems like a super trashy way to enjoy Christmas Eve, but we all really enjoyed it.  We always had an excellent time and is a fond memory for me.  One year, a waitress there, and it should be noted that she was black, I gave her this teddy bear necklace that I had made, to give to her daughter.  Why is it important that she was black?  Because I like people that are nice to me, or even cared enough for that matter to give me the time of day, so to speak.  For the most part, in my entire life, black people are the one’s who have been genuinely nice to me, not white people.  So, out of all the years we ever went to Waffle House on Christmas Eve, we were always waited on by white women who were nice enough to my family but mainly disregarded me or were rude to me.

So, this lady was nice to me, more than just “I’m your waitress and I have to be nice” and would talk to me a little bit every time she came to our table.  Well, she complimented my necklace and said her daughter would love one like that.  But I couldn’t tell her where I got it because I had made it in Girl Scouts.  I thought it was sad that she had a daughter and she wasn’t with her on Christmas, and since she couldn’t go get one and she was nice to me, I wanted her to have my necklace.  My mother, of course, didn’t want me to give it to her, and the lady seemed unsure about taking it, even after I had insisted.  I had to turn to my mom and say, “This is my necklace, right?  I made it.  So, I can do whatever I want with it?”  There were a few “yes, but” ‘s in there, but my mom couldn’t deny that it was mine to do what I wanted with and I really wanted this woman to have it to give to her daughter.  I thought it was a grand idea.  It wasn’t my favourite thing, I was only wearing it because I had just made it a week before, but this woman said her daughter would love it.  Well, if someone can appreciate it and would like it more than I would, they should have it.  I’m still happy about that decision to this day.  And is also why I enjoyed going to Waffle House on Christmas Eve with my family.     But, Christmas Eve dinner at Waffle House is also right before things got weird.

Mom would then drag us to Christmas Eve mass at our Catholic church, later it would be dragging us to Midnight Masses.  After mass, we’d come home and start Kingston.  There was the formality of placing our stockings on the mantle.  However, we were allowed to choose one gift each to open that night.  A gift from the few that were already in place under the tree.  Then you were trooped off to bed.

I apologize for the nightmare fuel, but is the live cypress tree at Kingston.  Yeah, super creepy picture, but it was also rather pretty and as you can see, very tacky.
I apologize for the nightmare fuel, but this is the live cypress tree at Kingston. Yeah, super creepy picture, but it was also rather pretty actually and as you can see, very tacky.

Oh, but I forgot to mention the tree, it’s important.  My mother grew up with a fresh cut cypress tree as her Christmas tree.  This tradition continued until my grandmother moved house, at which time she purchased a fake tree.  She purchased one for us as well.

There’s this pretty new fangled idea of decorating for Christmas during the first days of December, right after Thanksgiving, right before Thanksgiving, or I don’t even know, and at the beginning of November!  However, my grandparents were raised with putting the tree up on Christmas Eve.  That’s when my grandmothers tree was up.  For us at home, though, we put it up when ever mom had time; anywhere between the 22nd and the 24th.  We were allowed to help decorate it too, so it wasn’t completely The Bishop’s Wife, which if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it (1947).  But, the young daughter goes to bed at four in the afternoon (honestly, it’s still day light!  So, The Sister & I joke that the time gets earlier and earlier every time we see it) and the maid decorates the tree.  The wife could help, but she’s a little scatterbrained, because… things.  But the tree was all part of the Christmas morning surprise, so the kid wasn’t allowed to see it being put up, is the point, so my family wasn’t that strict.

This is before we had a fireplace (not my stocking in the bottom right corner) and before our maternal grandmother purchased us the larger, nicer fake tree.
This is before we had a fireplace (note my stocking in the bottom right corner) and before our maternal grandmother purchased us the larger, nicer fake tree.

So, we would bring the tree down from the attic and leisurely decorate it very close to (or on) Christmas Eve, while having hot cocoa and watching some Christmas film or listening to Christmas music.  It was always nice.  There weren’t a lot of antique or vintage ornaments (like now) because they were still at grandma’s house, but we’d decorated the tree with things that my mother made in the seventies, little brass ornaments shaped like a cat with our cats name on each one… and one for our dog Nanna too.  Handmade ornaments from my paternal grandmother, things we had made to hang on the tree in school.  Ornaments commemorating Babies First Christmas; 1974 and 1980 respectively.  All sorts of things that are bittersweet now and don’t make it onto our trees now much, because it’s too sad.

Also, before being sent off to bed, we were to set out milk and homemade cookies for Santa with our Christmas lists.  In hindsight this is at once amusing and ridiculous.  For one, we set out A LOT of cookies for Santa, who of course was my dad and he had to eat the cookies.  One year Santa didn’t eat the cookies and left them on the plate, and one year he put them in one of our Tupperware containers.  The Sister and I were like, “What is WRONG with Santa?!?!”, so then poor dad had to eat and drink everything set out for him or we got upset.  It was ridiculous because everyone knows that you’re supposed to post your letter to Santa in the mail, so he’ll know what to bring you… or the fact that ya know, your parents have already purchased everything weeks ago.  It’s no wonder that I never got a black kitten or Nintendo Entertainment System.  It was all too spur of the moment!

Funny, yes.  But moving on… so, the rules were pretty much the same at our house as for Kingston.  No leaving your room at any time during the night for anything.  Mom and dad aren’t to be woken up until seven at the earliest.  If you wake up before then, too bad, you have to lie in bed until the appropriate time.  You’re to follow the parents down the stairs in your night clothes with robe and slippers and into the kitchen.  In our kitchen, to the left is just an open doorway into the den… to Christmas.  It would be dark and mom forbade us to go near it or even look in that direction.  She had to make coffee first.  Luckily she didn’t take hours and we could kind of pester our parents.  But, then they had to go in there and turn on the Christmas lights and make it all pretty before we could go in.

I actually watched a home movie just within recent years of one such Christmas.  I was probably seven or eight.  Mom was in the den getting everything ready and then said we could go in.  My dad is in pyjama bottoms with his floofy dark hair unbrushed, zombie stumbling into the den because he’s sleepy.  I push him and say, “Move it!  Outta mah way!” and rush past him.  This would NOT have flown at Kingston.  At all.  Then there was the formality of the stockings and pictures (so many pictures) and slow gift opening.  And then it was time to rush up stairs to change and get in the car to drive to grandma’s house for Christmas.

In her new house, her front door and foyer had the formal dining open on the right and the formal living open on the left.  Then a door which she always kept closed to keep the cats out of the front part of the house.  The Christmas tree was in the formal living room.  We couldn’t go in there or nose about, but it was perfectly fine to gape while slowly walking past to get to the rest of the house.  In fact, it tickled grandma that we could see a preview and that we were excited.  Completely different from the Kingston days.

We’d mill about in the den, breakfast, and kitchen area for a bit.  More if my aunt and brother were there that year.  Then we could have Christmas.  We still had to be polite, but there wasn’t a lot of formality or picture taking, and we could kind of tear into the things with a slight bit of reckless abandon.  I generally stayed in that room while everyone else went to the back of the house to watch the telly or get dinner ready.  Then we’d eat in the formal dining room.  And unless our aunts new husband was there (in later years), it was quite alright.  It was still a bit formal and stiff, but we ate on octagonal Christmas plates that The Sister and I helped her choose from McRaes department store.  And you were allowed to talk somewhat.  Then there was more spending time together before packing up gifts and heading back home that night.

A few years after she moved in (sometime in the early nineties), she couldn’t really manage the tree on her own, so after Thanksgiving dinner, dad would bring her tree down from the attic and we’d help her decorate it.  Which was actually nice, to have that memory of Christmas Tree decorating with her.  Also, there were very specific things that needed to go on the tree.  Her tree’s were always very The Bishop’s Wife tacky with all the fake icicles.  Certain little glass ornaments from the 1950’s were also noted upon and had to be on the tree.  One ritual, however, was creepy.  There was a cardboard bell that was white with glitter and some fake greenery on it.  It was about 3″ tall.  It was the most talked about, most laughed about, most despised ornament and it simply had to go on the tree because what would Christmas be without Jill’s teeth!

 

Maternal grandmothers Christmas Tree at her new house... and that terrible bell.
Maternal grandmothers Christmas Tree at her new house… and that terrible bell.

Yes, that’s as weird as it seems and I’ll explain.  For reasons unknown to me, my mothers teeth had been placed in a little box and put inside this cardboard Christmas bell.  They had been placed on the tree every single year since whenever she lost them in 1954 or something.  They were just a couple of baby teeth that fell out when she was grammar school age.  Somehow it was my grandfathers doing and my grandmother just thought it was a hoot.  And since I was the youngest, for some reason it was always my job to place this rather unseamingly macabre momento on to the tree every year.  If my aunt were there, she would tease, “Oh yes!  We have to have Jill’s teeth on the tree!  Right little sis!”  My mother would smile that smile.  You know that smile.  The one where you are hating every single moment of this, but must endure it so that you force a smile and try to play along.  Yeah, that smile.  We chucked those teeth and burned that bell for her after we inherited it.  Otherwise though, decorating the tree with her was rather nice.

 

My paternal grandparents
My paternal grandparents

Now we get to dad’s family, because they always came in second place for celebrations, sadly.  The Sister and I think it should have been a switch up every year.  This year maternal grandmother, then paternal grandparents; next year paternal grandparents, then maternal grandmother.  But, that’s now how those things went.  It was this way for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Thanksgiving dinner or celebrating Christmas on the actual day at maternal grandmothers, then the next day going to the paternal grandparents’.  They always waited to celebrate until we arrived.  That’s sad.

So, things in my dad’s family were done on the complete opposite spectrum from my mothers family.  When he was growing up, Christmas was a lot like in the film, A Christmas Story.  No rules or regulations.  They also never had a fireplace, so there was no big to-do with stockings and when they should or must be hung up.  They were men’s knee socks laid somewhere informally near the tree.  Dad and his sister could wake up at four in the morning, run to the Christmas tree, dismantle everything and tear through their gifts at break-neck speeds and be passed out asleep before their parents sleepily shuffled into the room with coffee to slowly enjoy Christmas.  There’s maybe five photo’s from any Christmas before The Sister was born in their photo albums, unlike the rolls upon rolls of film that were taken every year for our Christmases with our grandmother or at our own house.

We’d generally arrive at his parents’ house late at night, for any visit during the year or at Christmas, though sometimes we’d get there during the day, in which case both of our grandparents were waiting to greet us all.  But for trips where we arrived at night, grandpa would already be asleep because he would wake up at five in the morning, but grandma would still be awake with the door open waiting for us.  She was always a night owl and would sleep in until ten or eleven in the mornings, at least in her empty nest years.  We’d get tucked into beds after hellos and hugs of love.  The Sister had the first bedroom in the hallway, which had our uncle’s bedroom furniture; dad’s younger brother by eleven years, who is also the only one of the siblings to actually live in that house as a kid.  Then I got the next room with dad’s old bedroom furniture, with a cozy tan blanket and floral sheets and comforter and a super squish mattress.  Our parents slept in the room at the end of the hall, that contained our aunts old bedroom furniture, and the only other double bed besides our grandparents’.

In the early years, it was just The Sister and I and our aunts son.  Our uncle wasn’t married yet.  Our aunt and cousin lived just down the street and our uncle wasn’t too hard to track down, so the next day we all gathered to open gifts and have Christmas dinner.  There were a few photo’s taken, and you couldn’t just be a hooligan, but you could open gifts pretty quickly and it was an easy and relaxed deal.  Christmas dinner would be served buffet style with all sorts of Southern fare like cornbread dressing, giblet gravy (bleh!), piggy temple, and pecan pie.  You could talk, you could be sort of loud, you could go back for seconds.  It was great.  Very informal and just really, really nice.

Our uncle, The Sister bored with the telly, and my baby self checking out my grandmothers' fab tree.
Our uncle, The Sister bored with the telly, and my baby self checking out my grandmothers’ fab tree.

There’s just so many things to contrast.  Actually if you’ve ever watched the telly show, Gilmore Girls, that’s about sort of like how my mother was raised.  They weren’t that wealthy, nor did they have servants; and an education was worth something; extremely important, though not necessarily at an Ivy League establishment.  My own grandmother refused to pay The Sisters tuition at Yale, because it was too expensive (though she could have afforded it).  In her mind, travel and just about any other, non-Ivy League, but respectable, university was good enough.  She herself couldn’t be bothered to attend somewhere like Harvard or Princeton.  She attended Ohio Wesleyan in the 1920’s and it afforded her an excellent education.

But, the mother, Emily Gilmore, is very much like my own mother and also my aunt.  The Sister and I find the character of Emily to be adorable… because, ya know, we aren’t actually Lorelai and don’t actually have to deal with her.  The real life version of Emily… not so adorable, and every bit as nail bitingly annoying as Lorelai finds her own mother to be.  It’s also a little unsettling, because my mother and aunt are not even the same nationality (as they were adopted), but if Emily turns this way, she looks just like our mother; if she turns another way she looks just like our aunt.  Her hands look exactly like our aunts;  kind of stubby, but also elegant.  And half of how she says things is our aunt, while the other half is our mother.  It is really weird.  But there are no cocktails before dinner because my grandmother didn’t drink and my mother and aunt only secretly drank wine, when their mother wasn’t around.

The Sister and I at our paternal grandparents home.
The Sister and I at our paternal grandparents home.

Also, how Lorelai is given a key to her parents home; her own childhood home, but it’s only to be used in an emergency.  As in, she is not allowed to simply use the key to gain access to her own childhood home, because she must ring the doorbell and wait to be let in.  Exact same freaking thing with my mom.  She had a key, for emergencies only (and it was never used); no, she had to ring the doorbell and wait to be let into her own home.  Whereas, with my dad’s family, the screen door was the only thing that was closed, and it wasn’t even locked.  We were expected to just enter because we were family.  To not act like family in this way would be snobby and rude.  This was how it was during the entire visit and not just on the night when we arrived.  You didn’t knock.  You didn’t ring any doorbell.  You didn’t come to the front door.  You just came in through the carport door like you owned the place, because in a way you did, because we were all family.  And this wasn’t even my dad’s childhood home!

But getting back to Christmas.  My grandparents never had a fireplace.  They did end up building on an extra room in the late 1980s and added a fireplace in that room, but that was because our uncle ended up getting married and having five kids, and since they lived in town they were always over there and the house was a bit small now.

But there was one Christmas that we stayed over on Christmas Eve at their house.  This was before Christmas Eve’s got moved to our house, as we were only ever accustomed to having them at Kingston.  So, we didn’t really understand that there were other ways to celebrate.  So, The Sister and I were worried about how Santa would deliver presents because they didn’t have a fireplace and because we had forgotten to bring out stockings and where would we hang them.

Our grandfather was awesome.  He assured us that here Santa always knew to use the door and that they always left it unlocked for him on Christmas.  Also, he ran down the hall to his bedroom and produced orange and red men’s knee socks and he tacked them up on to the hall door; six of them, one for each of us.  We were completely satisfied by all of this.  Grandpa knew everything and he had a plan and we were perfectly OK with this.  It was actually one of The Sister and I’s most cherished memories ever; not even just a Christmas Eve memory.

Paternal grandparents, mom, and baby me doing my thing.
Paternal grandparents, mom, and baby me doing my thing.

However, it was the only Christmas Eve that we ever spent with them.  It’s because my mother hated spending time with this family.  Mainly because of grandma and our aunt.  She’d rather spend holidays first and foremost with her family, though they drove her crazy.  She told dad that we had hated the paltry socks and lack of fireplace and that our Christmas Eve and Christmas had been ruined.  She made dad feel ashamed of his family and his poverty (which his family was kind of poor, or were when he was growing up, and it’s something he’s always struggled with).

We didn’t find this out until I asked him in my late twenties why we’d never gone back to their house for Christmas Eve.  When he found out how The Sister and I had actually felt about it he cried.  Well, he doesn’t like crying in public, but he became very verklempt and looked away and became silent and I knew he was sad and happy at the same time.  Sad because of times missed with his family because our mom is uppity, and happy because his daughters didn’t hate his family like he’d been led to believe.  How could we hate his family.  His parents were AWESOME!  Yes, his mom was fussy and snarky, but she was so adorable!  And his dad was a little scary because he would scream how happy he was when we’d arrive, “MAH GRANDBABIES!!!!!” and then lunge at us to give us a hug.  But to The Sister and I, they were pretty much top of the list for the most awesome people to have ever lived.

But let’s talk about my grandmothers tree.  They had a really nice, sturdy fake tree.  Every year it seemed as if she systematically placed every single ornament at perfect angles, probably using a tape measure or something.  She also always made her own ornaments.  Not all the ornaments were handmade by her, but she took special pride in her handmade one’s and special pride if you noticed what was new.  Her trees were always simple, in comparison to the tacky 1950s mess that was my maternal grandmothers tree, but her tree was so lovely every year.  So inhumanly perfect in a way.

Also, she had this, thing… something they had purchased in the 1950s.  She would set it up behind the hedges to face the front door.  You hooked it up to, something.. like a vacuum and not merely the electricity… or to a fan, perhaps that was it.  So, it was a disc with four colour panels on it, and a light bulb that would shine behind it, and it would slowly turn to colour the front of your house in red, blue, green, or gold.  No one ever told me a name for it, and I can’t remember how it worked, I just remember that you didn’t plug it into a wall socket and boom you have a colour light spinny thing.  It was something very 50’s, like wheeling your dishwashing cabinet over to the sink and hooking a line up to the faucet sort of oddity.

We should discuss gifts.  Gifts were very different between each household.  At my maternal grandmothers house you received at least one book, if not a few more, as well as a new board game.  My grandmother was very big into both.  There were also educational things.  The Sister and I each received a very nice globe on a stand for different Christmases.  One year I received a giant Atlas of the World.  Both of which I still have.  One year, I received an archeaology kit, with a recreation of broken greek pottery that I was meant to dig out of dirt and then piece back together.  Or other fun, random items that were quite dear, like the year The Sister and I received the Strawberry Shortcake Mansion.  Not a lot of kids got that.  Not a lot of people wanted to fork over the funds for it.

At our paternal grandparents house, there weren’t as many gifts, which is perfectly fine, but our grandmother always knew the perfect things to get us.  I know she didn’t call our parents, because they had no idea the things we wanted, or liked.  The year Return of the Jedi came out, The Sister and I each received an Ewok plushie.  One year, I received a radio/tape player.  That Christmas was recorded on an old home movie, of which I viewed a few years ago.  You can hear me loudly exclaiming my thank you’s because I’d been wanting one so much.  It’s true.  I remember wanting one for years and years, and my mom refused to buy me one, as she didn’t think I should have one.  One year they got me a little kids computer with learning games on it.  Once it was a doll… I’m not a big doll person, except I liked Barbie.  But, at the time I was fascinated by The Civil War.  I got into being interested in various wars early in my life.  It’s not that I like war, but for some reason I’m drawn to learn about them.  Anyways, she was a doll representing a girl from The Civil War era, with a little info booklet on life during those years.  It was actually a really great gift.  How did she know I was into the Civil War?  My parents, I’m certain, didn’t realize.

I mention the doll for more than just the reason I stated above.  Dolls were a big deal with my mom and maternal grandmother.  They liked dolls and didn’t think they were creepy.  I got a lot of dolls from my maternal grandmother; mainly fancy and expensive Madam Alexander dolls.  Which is very different from the more awesome and thoughtful gift of a doll from my paternal grandmother.  But, out of any doll I received from my maternal grandmother, having the recreation of original Barbie was kind of cool because she was made in the vintage style, and Barbie’s last name is Roberts, just like me.  But, my absolute favourite was the American Girl Felicity Merriman doll.  My paternal grandparents would never have purchased that for me.  They might have liked to, but She was probably a $250.00 gift; her, three outfits and three books.  But, I adored her because I was very into Colonial America and the Revolutionary War.

Though I do wish we could have switched off holidays between the grandparents, and even though Kingston Christmases were a bit droll and hectic, plus the fact that my mom turns into a sort of Nazi with Christmas (as well as birthdays), I enjoyed my Christmases, though the extremities could make ones head spin.  I’m sure there are people out there who have experienced something about my Christmases (or perhaps all of it in some way), but I was always fascinated and slightly weirded out by other people’s Christmases when I was a child.  It was difficult to wrap my head around the fact that people’s Christmases weren’t like mine, or the fact that my Christmases weren’t normal in the least.

Family friends at one point in our lives were more religious than Christmasy and always talked about the baby Jesus and sang Happy Birthday to him and it was all about him and very less about gifts, tree’s, twinkle lights, or family.  The wife even tried to incorporate that into my mothers thoughts and one year, all of a sudden mom wanted to make Christmas all (and only) about Jesus.  You can’t have a seven and thirteen year old and suddenly expect that they’ll go along with singing Happy Birthday to baby G, instead of a classic Christmas carol.  Too little too late, ya know?

Or the other family friends who woke up to stockings stuffed with chocolate turtles, beef jerky, and gift cards to McDonald’s; among mounds and mounds of other food items and candies.  I can’t even imagine.  We hardly ever received food items in our stockings.  It was mostly miniature toiletries, a new tooth brush, toothpaste, pens, notepads, and perhaps a few Hershey’s kisses or peppermint sticks; perhaps some nuts.  And McDonald’s, though my dad grew up on it and loved it, we rarely were allowed to eat it.  Or that they spent the holidays listening to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album.  No one in my family owned anything Bing Crosby.  I mean come on, if we’re going to choose an old Hollywood celebrity who beat and tortured their adopted children, we’re going to choose Joan Crawford every damn time!

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