When my daughter was four months old I compiled a list of Christmas memories of my childhood and adulthood for her to read when she got older.
My sister Cindy and I would lie under the tree and look up at the lights as the twinkled and talk about things like what we wanted for Christmas. On Christmas Eve when I was a kid, Cindy would read me the story in the Bible of how Jesus was born, and then tuck me into bed. We watched all the TV. specials together – “Rudolph,” “The Grinch,” “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “The Drummer Boy,” “Frosty The Snowman, “A Charlie Brown Christmas; etc.” We listened to ‘The Sounds of Christmas’ album complete with sound effects over and over till we were sick of it and so was the family! We’d all huddle in the back bedroom and listen to it on one of my sister’s record players.
I’d help Dad unload the attic that had all our Christmas decorations in it and help him decorate outside. We’d all go together to pick out a very tall, full tree. Dad would always hold me up after decorating the tree to put the angel on top.
I wrote letters to Santa and Dad answered them. When I was seven I had casts on my legs and he wrote me that he was sorry about that. I’d always leave treats for Santa and Dad would eat them and leave the crumbs as evidence.
Cindy, her best friend, Rhonda, and I would rehearse Christmas carols two weeks before December then carol for about a week in the neighborhood. Every year, Cindy, Rhonda, and I would have ‘The C, T & R Show’ (The Cindy, Terri, and Rhonda Show) made up of Christmas skits and songs and performed for our parents. The rest of the year Cindy and I did ‘The C & T Show’ of non-holiday skits.”
We had Santa gifts that were unwrapped under the tree and wrapped gifts that came from our parents. I’d always wake Cindy up a bunch of times during the night before Christmas and finally in the morning she’d say, ‘Let’s go see what Santa brought.’ Once I made gingerbread men with Mom when I was about three years old. I shook my wrapped gifts I’d find in the closet and we’d try to guess what was inside. Once I partially unwrapped one and tried to wrap it back which I did, although sloppily. Dad always made home movies of holidays including Christmas. One year Dad got on the roof in the middle of the night pretending to be Santa when we couldn’t sleep and kept asking when Santa was coming. He stomped on the roof, said ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ and jingled bells for the ‘sleigh.’ Mom and Dad would have Christmas parties sometimes in the basement.
We’d always drive around and look at the lights in the neighborhoods.
Our favorite songs were ‘Come All Ye Faithful,’ ‘Silent Night,’ ‘We Gather Together (Thanksgiving),’ ‘Away In A Manger,’ and ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ among others.
When I was 9, we had two Christmas celebrations – one with my step mom and her kids and one with my step dad and his kids, which became a tradition. We’d always entertain ourselves as kids by playing Sorry!, Trouble, Parcheesi, and Life during Christmas break – over and over.
In seventh grade I sang with the choir in music class and we put on a Latin Christmas musical related to Jesus’ birth called ‘Destiny.’ I have a wooden soldier ornament I made in the seventh grade that I still have. My mom’s old dog, Brandy, would always get t he turkey carcass after our meal and carry it across the lawn like it was breakable. Some creative things put on the tree in the past included cotton balls, stuffed animals, Christmas cards, colored clothespins, homemade gingerbread men, and jewelry. We’d always listen to Christmas music when we decorated the tree.
During Christmas when I was in high school and college I worked at fast food places, restaurants, and Honeybaked Ham to earn extra money. Cindy and I would always go to a candlelight service at a church at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve. We always went together to pick Cindy up at the airport when she’d come home from college break for Christmas. We saw “The Nutcracker” around Christmas one year together. Cindy and I would always go ice skating and make creative gifts like collages and homemade coupons.
When I was 17 one of my teachers let me stay with her during the break instead of my foster home.
One of my former foster fathers, Terry would always take me shopping and tell me to pick out something I wanted. When I was on the college newspaper staff we’d always write editorials/columns of wish lists and they’d be published in the paper. They’d be funny requests, odd ideas related to our jobs on the paper or based on something we’d done individually. ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ is a favorite holiday film of Cindy’s and me. We saw it when it came out and still make jokes about scenes from it. I got to intern at my hometown paper when I was in college as a staff writer during the holidays.
When I was 22 I had my first apartment and my first real tree that was my own. I put it up myself and as soon as I got it in the stand, my cat, who was celebrating her first holiday, scaled it all the way to the top. I also have ornaments my mom gave me for my first tree. Cindy had a garage apartment once that opened onto the roof from the bedroom and at Christmas she had a gathering that year. It was small but beautiful with all the lights. Some charity ideas were making care packages for people, doing favors for friends, and giving people rides; also feeding the homeless and baby-sitting.
One year I went with my mom to their woods and we chopped down a tree for my apartment when I lived in Georgia. I also reunited with my now ex-husband Michael one time during Christmas ’90 and he showed me this really cool apartment he was sharing with his best friend that had an interior decorated like a ship. In ’91 I was reunited again with Michael when I unknowingly moved to his neighborhood. At the time we weren’t married and were broken up. I was unloading my car and I turned around and there he stood. He lived right next door and I had no idea! 1992 was my most blessed holiday gift-wise as a married woman. The month before that he and I were struggling financially but in December he landed a good job and we had a great Christmas. When we lived on St. Johns Avenue in Florida the community would always decorate the streets with paper lanterns the first weekend in December.
It was a good reunion that resulted in us getting married. On December 4, 1993 I got married to Michael since we first met on that date in ’89. In ’94 we celebrated our one year anniversary and watched ‘Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ on TV. and decorated our tree. In ’95 we couldn’t afford to have Christmas and we were on the road for his job but he made it right by us going to a Christmas Eve service.
In ’96 my best friend, Stephanie had a Christmas party complete with a Mexican buffet and had a ton of people there. I didn’t have enough for my asthma inhaler so she secretly passed a hat to collect the money then presented it to me.
My dog, Winnie, that I got a few years ago, would wag her tail so hard in front of the tree, that she’d knock ornaments off. In ’97 I almost didn’t make it to the hospital after a series of asthma attacks. As I rode in the ambulance I prayed for God to save me. I got a new breathing machine for Christmas that year and was very grateful to be alive having come so close. My cat, Charlie Chaplin and my dog, Ripley, didn’t get along at first when I added Ripley to the family but the second year they were together I found them side by side in front of the tree, motionless, just sitting together as if to say “Peace On Earth.”
Cindy’s cat, Eunice, would always like to bat the ornaments around.
Past Christmases smelled like pine, tangerines, and new toys; felt like going to the fair, anticipated tearing up of colored paper, like sticking your hand in a kaleidoscope of blues, reds, and greens, like night air on your tongue. It tasted like eggnog, milky, and warm ham.
This holiday is bittersweet this year because in October my boyfriend of two years found out he has liver cancer.
Every day is a struggle and another memory we make together, holding hands and hoping for a Christmas miracle.