It’s a quite Christmas Eve. Our grandchildren spent the evening with their father. Taking full advantage of having this rare kid free moment, all their gifts were wrapped and a serious Dr. Who marathon is underway.
Over the years there are variations on our rituals, this is my third Christmas after being diagnosed with Atypical Parkinson’s. The first Christmas I pretty much cried about everything. Too weak to decorate or warp gifts, I sat around thinking that this Christmas really could be my last.
A whole year went by and I did not die, so I decided to order presents on line and use decorative sacks instead of wrapping. I cried that second Christmas too, but I had by that point come to grips with the reality that for sure, maybe, possibly be my last Christmas.
This year I feel pretty darn good and I have plenty to be thankful for. We have a new grandchild who was born with a full head of hair and continues to get chunkier every day. I have a new shiny pink electric wheelchair and a great van that allows me to hook in and ride in the passenger seat. And an amazing “second tier” spiritual learning center.
We are going to a nativity play this evening, new grandbaby Liam is Jesus and our oldest grandchild Alex is the angel Gabriel. What grandparent could refuse? We will be home early, maybe a movie in bed. Although I would have normally added …and eat frosted sugar cookies… but I am on a special diet of rice, peas and broth. My inner- little girl is stomping her feet and I have to admit I did eat one or two cookies. Luckily I like rice and peas so that has helped, and a trained chef in the kitchen she has been able to transform these three items into some pretty tasty dishes. I actually had risotto for lunch yesterday.
Christmas when I was a child certainly do not compare to the quite grandparent Christmas we have now. My family, like everyone else had long standing traditions that could not be changed in any way. My brother had his tradition of opening all the gifts before Christmas. With an exacto knife and tape he could work off the tightest bows, unwrap the most fragile paper without a tear. So for at least several days before Christmas he already knew not only what he was getting, but he opened all our presents. Then he would start trying to get me to ask what my present was. I’ll give you a hint, he would say, you can wear it outside. Don’t tell me I want to be surprised. Okay, just one more hint he would say, it’s soft and fluffy. STOP IT! I would cry don’t tell me! Of course within 15 minutes he would have told me. I think that it was this reverse surprise, having to act surprised as gifts were being lobed at us, is what caused my brother to barf every Christmas eve.
Our family had a tradition to go out to a Chinese restaurant every Christmas eve. Exotic foods like pork slices with hot mustard, little bowls of soup with one wonton, dish after dish of things that I had known what it was. My favorite was the sweet and sour chicken, deep fried with bright orange sauce. And of course we would end the meal with tea and a fortune cookie. It was a blast, until the owner would come to the table and announce that my father had a phone call in the other room. A few minutes later my dad would emerge, a sad look on his face as he explained he had to “go on a run”. Now my father was a mortician. So “a run” meant someone had just died and he had to leave to pick up a dead body. Oh my God! How horrible to have someone die on Christmas Eve. Was it a Christmas related death? My imagination swirled with the potential hazards that lurked around a Christmas tree. When my brother and I pressed for gory details, is it a child? Did they fall placing the star on top of the tree? Too many holiday cookies? My dad would just say he was old and it was his time. Oh come on, really bad timing for sure.
Almost like he had been expecting to leave, we had driven two cars, the wood side paneled station wagon and the call car. The call car was like a hearse without any decorations. There was a big upholstered back and the front seat. My dad would often dive the call car when he was on duty so he could go straight to the scene. If my brother and I went any place with him we had to ride in the back where they put the just dead bodies. There were several small windows in the back, which my brother and I put to use by pretending we were dead and then sitting up and looking out the windows, startling the driver in the next lane. Dad made up a really fun game when we rode with him, a contest to see who could play dead the longest and we were both very good at this game. We would usually make it all the way home. My dad would announce we had both done a good job and that we both won.
The Funeral home business was a family business. My grandparents live above the funeral home, and my dad married into the family business. He embalmed people, did the grave side business of attending to the grieving families and even did the ladies hair and makeup, which my grandmother also did.
My Mother worked evenings at the Rexall Drug store. On those evenings my father would be in charge of putting us to bed. My mother was insistent about me sleeping with soft pink rollers in my perfectly straight hair every night, and on those nights dad had to set my hair. He explained to me that he only way he had learned to put rollers in was on dead people, so once again I would play dead while he carefully placed the rollers. You would think that I would have caught on to his ingenious method to us still. Very still.
So being called out on Christmas evening was both horrible and as I go older, a bit expected. It was so weird that every year this same thing happened. I am so sorry I have to leave, he would say, I’ll be as quick as possible so we can open presents. And off he would go.
It was also an after dinner tradition to drive around and look at Christmas lights. We would go to Western State Hospital who used to put out quite a display with a whole little town and a mirror ice rink with skaters whirling around to music that was blasting out of a couple of speakers. I was always looking for escaped patients, running wildly through the decorations, the arms of his straight jacket loose and flowing behind him as he ran through the ice skaters.
The best Christmas display was back at the funeral home. Entering the cemetery there were actual fires with signs leading us to the next tableaux, Mary on a donkey, searching for a place to stay, shepherds guarding their sheep by night, angels hanging from wire like they were flying over the shepherds. Behold! We bring tidings of Great Joy! Then finally we arrived at the big finale a whole nativity scene. On our way out of the cemetery I looked for ghosts rising from their graves, burial attire flowing in long strips after year’s underground, long hair and nails. Then at the very end we would get a quick glimpse of the three wise men with their camels, but we were done. It was time to go home.
Driving into our driveway there was my father, waving his hands in the air YOU JUST MISSED HIM!!! SANTA WAS JUST HERE!!! As we hurried out of the station wagon he explained that he had tried everything to get him to stay just a few more minutes so we could see him, but he was a busy man.
The youngest in the family, my sister always went down the stairs and into the recreation room first. There was also a “theme tree” in the lovely living room that was for guests only and they would be arriving shortly. Following the screams of my three younger siblings finding their Santa gifts I finally got to go down the stairs. The room had been transformed into four perfectly merchandised areas, one for each of us. No names where ever on our Santa gifts, but it were easy to tell which one was mine. One year there was a new doll on the market that I really wanted, and there she was leaning against a new sweater, the most beautiful doll in the world. Not a baby doll, oh no. She was a real womanly doll with breasts, standing proudly in her black and white bathing suit. She had several outfits hanging in a special carrying case. What is this?! A long black sequined dress with tulle around the bottom and her own microphone and stand. I was in heaven.
After we showed our Santa gifts to everyone we would move into the wrapped gift stage. My father acted as Santa to pass out gifts. He liked things to move quickly which I think added to the excitement, or that it reminded him of his football days and could get just that perfect spin on the gift as it lobed as he would yell to Randy, from Aunty Ta Ta! To Rich from Grandma Lu! To Nancy from Aunty Trudy! It seemed thousands of gifts were thrown and ripped open in a matter of seconds.
I forgot to mention that the family rule was to open your gift as soon as it was thrown to you, so at any given time five or six people were opening their gifts, exclaiming about them and repeating who it was from; extraordinarily gifts were passed around in the middle of opening other gifts. Finally, with the delight of a man well spent my dad would light a cigarette, still sitting in front of the very flammable under watered Christmas tree. I was not concerned; I already had created a disaster contingency plan in case of a fire or other disaster which never happened.
Then came the gathering the pile of gift wrap portion of the evening, my dad placed all the gift wrapping, ribbon’s, boxes and anything else he could get his hands on into our gas fire place. He really packed it in there. It will burn down he said, with the assurance of Smokey the Bear himself. It really was not a gas fireplace like today. It was a gas pipe sticking out of the inside wall of the fireplace. No wood was used in this fireplace, simply turn on the gas and throw in a lit match. After the initial explosion it would be just gas flames spurting out of the pipe. The paper burn spectacularly. The occasional plastic would smell for a while but my dad said it was nothing to worry about; we would just open a few windows to get the smoke out.
I am now back to the doll of my dreams. I change her out of her bathing suit and into the sparkly dress and the little shoes. Hum, there is only one. One tiny black stiletto pump was missing. OH MY GOD, it must have gotten in with the wrapping paper. The production of burning stopped as my father, this dead person getter, Santa Claus seer, smoking package throwing quarterback stopped everything to look for that tiny shoe. I actually do not remember if that shoe was ever found, it did not matter. What I do remember is my dad looked for it, and I remember him looking for it.
By this time the rest of my large extended family had arrived and my mother began pulling out “pizza burgers” she had left warming in the oven all evening. Melty pizza goodness in a bun. Paradise.
As I grew up some traditions began to change, it stopped being a matter of life or death, well more like heaven or hell for us to attend midnight mass. This particular Christmas I was singing a duet, Oh Holy Night, and could not miss midnight service. The roads were icy and there where pockets of heavy fog as I began my drive to church. There is a long straight road that goes in front of Western State Hospital. At that time there was still a rock fence that went the whole distance of the hospitals property. The Christmas light were still on, the skaters on the mirror had been removed from the decorations some years before. I am practicing my song when suddenly something was in front of my car. I could not see it clearly at first, but as it walked closer I saw a large black and white cow. It blew great gusts of warmed air into the cold. Now a car coming from the other direction stopped too and both cars just waited until that cow decided to walk to the side of the road and jump the rockery. Oh, Holy Night, shepherds quake at the sight.
Years have passed, tonight my daughters have tip toed out of bed to play Santa. Morning will come quickly. So I have this moment to reminisce. I remember my mom always signing as she cooked, those pizza burgers filled with her love of family and friends. And I remember dancing on my dad’s shiny shoes as he twirled me around to Etta James. I feel them close tonight, and all those we have loved and have lost. And I am grateful at the same time for the continuation of life, family and friends.
There's a saying old, says that love is blind
Still we're often told, seek and ye shall find
So I'm going to seek a certain lad I've had in mind
Looking everywhere, haven't found him yet
He's the big affair I cannot forget
Only man I ever think of with regret
I'd like to add his initial to my monogram
Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost lamb?
There's a somebody I'm longin' to see
I hope that he, turns out to be
Someone who'll watch over me
I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood
I know I could, always be good
To one who'll watch over me
Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key
Won't you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over me
Won't you tell him please to put on some speed
Follow my lead, oh, how I need
Someone to watch over me
Someone to watch over me
Welcome to my blog. Here I will write about all things Cathy.