Tomorrow is Christmas and I can already picture it. Dad will be sitting in his corner chair collecting discarded wrapping paper while issuing the occasional “garbage can material” remark and chiding someone for an errant throw into the extended trash bag.
Mom will be directing whichever grandchild is this year’s “elf” and pointing to each carefully wrapped gift and the corresponding children and grandchildren scattered across the room.
This is my parents’ 60th Christmas celebration in their home. In one respect little has changed, and in another everything. Dad continues to play the “bah humbug role” at 91, while mom is the consummate Santa and Mrs. Claus rolled into one at 10 years his junior.
Take the house for instance. That first Christmas there were no window coverings, and propped-up cinderblocks were the only access to the house. My dad built our home after work and on weekends himself with a simple handshake and a line of credit from the local lumber company.
The interior remains much the same: three large bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room and eat-in kitchen. The green and white checkerboard linoleum floor is original, as are the kitchen cabinets and tile counters. Over the years there has been a fresh coat of paint sparingly and a shower replacement, but other than that it’s remarkably unchanged.
The exterior is different. There are the improvements my parents made: garage, swimming pool, gardens … but beyond the property line much has changed. Our once rural neighborhood filled with open fields and walnut trees, is now condos, apartments and houses. Where formerly homerun balls hit across the road became buried in waist-height hay, someone’s window now would be shattered.
My parents’ roles have also changed. Dad grumbles far less and is actually more tolerant of all of the packages stacked around the tree. He’s just happy to have his children home. There are fewer “garbage can material remarks” and more “I love all my kids; we have the best family.” All six of us will make the pilgrimage home for Christmas this year.
It’s always been mom who has been in charge of everything: the holiday baking, meals, gifts, greeting cards and, of course, all things Santa. And she still is, but reluctantly downscaling. Growing up, we were long on love, but short on money. We lived frugally except for this one time of the year. Christmas dinner involved two tables laden with food, and mom baked dozens upon dozens of cookies for us and for gifts. The cookie room became legendary and now it’s the great grandchildren who run to that room with eyes wide. I can’t imagine how wide they would be if she still baked the amount that she used to. My sister — never the baker — now spends a weekend helping mom with the heavy mixing and lifting.
Growing up we didn’t receive gifts throughout the year. They were reserved for birthdays and Christmas. But at Christmas mom went overboard and still does. It’s now more difficult for her to shop, so we must provide her with detailed lists so she can go online. No amount of “we don’t need anything” is successful. Her annual Christmas poem threatens retribution for non-cooperation. Those who haven’t complied, have been the recipients of some rather unique gifts, and tended to fall in line the next year.
So, tomorrow is Christmas. If I could, I would turn back the clock and live it all over again, with all of the appreciation that it deserves. But I am lucky. Who else is able to celebrate Christmas in their childhood home for six decades with their parents and siblings? Dad is right — we have a great family — and it’s all thanks to him and mom.