Sssshhhh…You know you have to be quiet when you are pretending to be asleep, waiting for Santa. How many times do I remember my brother and I trying our best to stay awake. The cookies and milk are in place and we are supposed to be sleeping. Santa always eats them, and sometimes even leaves us a note.
Christmas Eve is the longest night of the year for a kid, but as an adult, it is the busiest time getting all the presents in place, and making sure that you haven’t tucked something away and forgotten where you had hidden it. I’ve found things weeks later. I often wonder how many of our things found the same fate as a child.
There are so many sights and sounds that I relive during the holidays. It can be painful and make you smile all at the same time. There are things I miss, things that will never be repeated. Traditions, memories, and even smells that will trigger them automatically. Today, I will attempt to list them. The mind never plays them out in any particular order, they are just memories, randomly appearing when you least expect them. So here you are welcome to follow along, back to my mountain home in a coal mining community, where the snow was always beautiful and the fireplace was always crackling.
I miss seeing downtown lit up at Christmas, shopping as a family and later stopping in to eat at the Lock Stock & Barrel. I can still hear the local WXCC Coal Country radio station giving the hazard weather report and Mom asking if we should head home instead of lingering in town. Daddy always said, “nah, we’ll be fine.” I never doubted his driving. I always felt safe when he drove, regardless. The stop lights in town seemed to glow against the blowing snowflakes. I remember how magical it felt, warm in the car and the occasional swoosh of the wipers. I think I may have been a little sleepy too.
We would venture to the annual National Guard Armory Christmas party. Some of our cousins would be there, and so would Santa riding in on an army jeep. There, my brother and I would stand in line, waiting to talk to him, and getting the usual brown paper bag filled with fruit and nuts, and a candy cane. Since Daddy was KP we would be there until everyone left, helping in the last of the cleanup, if we were lucky we could play basketball in the gymnasium until it was time to go.
We almost always had snow either before Christmas, during, or after. What I wouldn’t give to pile on top of one of those mining curtains again and take that ten-second sleigh ride to the bottom of the hill. About eight of us flinging off of it in different directions. If you were lucky, you were the one that “didn’t” end up going into the creek. We burned tires, wood, anything to stay warm and whatever enabled us to stay longer. I miss the crunch of the snow on the long walk home. Even with the Betsy Ross bread bags in the layer of my socks? We seemed to manage having wet feet more than I could today.
It was usually so cold that when you did go outside and breathe? your nostrils kind of stuck together. Which actually was sort of cool when I think of it. Daddy seldom wore a shirt and I have seen him walk out to get the newspaper in just his pants and boots. Mom always fussed at him, but we all laughed when he would hurry back in and say “shewwww” it’s a little chilly out there. Then he would manage to put his cold, frozen hands on us when we didn’t scurry away quickly enough. I seldom remember him being “sick” … which proves you right my brother (cold doesn’t make you sick.. germs do)
The oven was always baking something during the holidays, hot chocolate was always on the stove burner. You could usually find a banana split cake in the fridge by Christmas Day. My Momma always cooked the turkey, and daddy’s specialty was the glazed ham. You can be sure that they were always competing in the kitchen and we reaped the benefits. My Aunt Moe’s yeast rolls would always find their way to the house, and they seemed to last all of four minutes. Oh, the smells of those kitchens.
The closer it came to Christmas Eve, the more I delighted in knowing that, being older? I would be part of the toy testing process for whatever my brother was getting. (yes, I bragged about it after every year) “I played with it first” ha-ha. What else are annoying older sisters good for? Who wants to be the responsible one all the time? I didn’t. It usually went without a hitch until something contained noisy parts like marbles, or a toy that was animated in some way. I don’t know why my Momma bought those things, because Daddy always performed surgery on them and took the noisemakers out. We had a game called “Lay an Egg” the chicken clucked and the egg rolled out…a few days later? The chicken just went around and had a thump..and then the egg. The clucking mechanism was no more. Apparently, Daddy figured if it still laid an egg, it worked and just didn’t get on his nerves quite so much.
The fireplace was always glowing, unless my brother was being slack on getting in the buckets of coal before bedtime. (mucho trouble came hastily his way for this one) We always blew black soot from our noses, but so did everyone else that heated with coal. It was the warmest type of heat. I have fallen into a hazy sleep many evening in front of that fireplace, with the noise of Daddy watching football games. I would only be awakened by the sound of a good play, then I would drift back off again.
Our tradition was to open gifts on Christmas Eve, saving only one for Christmas morning. The entire day would be spent in leisure, people in and out, just enjoying the day. I can still hear my Daddy answer the phone with “Merry Christmas” instead of hello the whole day. I smile thinking of how easy the holidays seemed back then, maybe because the focus was different? Maybe because it is my memories, and that’s how I choose to visit them.
May you find the balance in revisiting your memories of sights and sounds of Christmas past… make peace with them, and focus on the good things that come to mind. We have 363 other days out of the year to focus on the opposite. Share your memories with your own children, no matter how small.
I’m pretty sure the next time I drive past someone’s smoke-filled chimney, and smell the air, I will be lost…. a child again in a warm place…surrounded by the sights and sounds of Christmas past. I will be “home” in my heart.