My sentimental longing began this year when I delivered a Poinsettia from my church to Mrs. Evelyn Wilson. She cannot hear, but I knocked on the window of her door until she looked up and saw me. On her notebook, I wrote my name, my husband’s name, and the name of our church. She nodded and talked to me. When I wrote my parents’ names, Mrs. Wilson smiled brightly and said, “I remember you when you were a little girl.”
My childhood was more than a few decades ago, and I’ve seen her many times as an adult, but the sweetness of her memory filled me with joy and made me laugh. We talked for about ten minutes. I had a prior commitment and regretted leaving, but I drove away grateful for sweet personal associations like Mrs. Wilson who filled my past with kind words and wisdom.
I promised myself and my daughter that I’d carefully sort through my Christmas decorations and purge, and I’m proud to report that I’ve been successful. However, some treasures cannot be discarded. Three hours after visiting Mrs. Wilson, I found something I had forgotten about, a small, red, wooden musical jewelry box given to me by my childhood best friend, Allyson. There’s a Hummel angel on the box along with the year 1975.
The hinges are broken, so for the past ten years or more, I’ve returned it to the storage box. That night, I placed it next to a musical figurine on a table in my living room, grateful for dear personal associations like Allyson who filled my past with delight and generosity.
The following day, my mom and I relived past Christmas Eves with my dad’s family, the Browns. We shared these memories with my son Luke, laughing as we recalled our varied Christmas dinners. No matter what the menu, Mom cooked her famous meatballs, there was always some kind of sandwich, and Dad brought boiled shrimp because it was Luke’s favorite. One year, instead of a ham or roast, Aunt Glenda (Dad’s sister) made lasagna. Another year, our Christmas Eve dinner was breakfast. We enjoyed our smorgasbord at the table, the hearth, the sofa, or an ottoman.
As a child, I drew names with my cousins and remember how excited I was buying one of them a gift. The adults drew names as well, and Mom and I shook our heads at the chaos of everyone loudly opening gifts at the same time.
When we grew up, the cousins began exchanging names with our parents and aunts and uncles. After boxes, ribbons, wrapping paper and tissues were ripped and tossed, we took the volume to a low roar and semi-listened as each family member, beginning with the oldest, gave a lengthy show and tell of gifts, each requiring a story or a joke from another family member.
When the cousins became parents, we passed our babies around, tied ribbons on their heads, then when they were older, let them play dress up and fight over toys.
A few years ago, we abandoned the gift exchange for the Dirty Santa game. As if the Brown family needed another reason to argue, this Dirty Santa involved both useful and gag gifts, so our chances of taking home a gag gift increased with each steal.
Dad and his siblings are no longer with us, and several of my cousins live too far to stop by for Christmas Eve. But, we have the in-laws (or out-laws as Uncle Sam calls them), and we try to be together. The menu might be soup and sandwiches or a Christmas Eve feast, but I promised Mom there'd be meatballs.
We may not bring gifts. We may only meet for an hour or two. But, we will laugh. We’ll create memories, grateful for decades of love and laughter provided by the most personal of our associations, the Brown Family.