Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Past, Present and Future

Top to bottom taken in 1990: Tracey holding her daughter, Ashley; Jason; Cousin Veronica, Cousin Michael, Cousin Jan

Cousin Veronica, Cousin Jill (in heaven with the angels now), Tracey and Jason singing, Away in a Manger Photo taken late 1970's

To Grandmother’s House They Go by Linda O'Connell

I love Christmas carols. I can’t carry a tune, but I keep my car radio tuned to the Christmas station during December and sing holiday music at the top of my lungs. One song in particular brings tears to my eyes no matter how often I hear it. The melody takes me back to Christmas Eves of long ago when my son, now 37 and my daughter, 40 were young. They stood on the decorated staircase with their cousins, each claiming his or her step. Their innocent faces radiated love, trust and hope. I taught them the words and hand motions to Away in a Manager, and every Christmas I photographed them in the same poses with their mouths open wide in song. I can still hear the blending of their tiny voices and see their interlocked hands nestled under their chins as they sang about the Baby asleep in the hay. Some were toddlers, there were the kindergarteners and even the big kids who made their fingers flutter in the air as they sang about the twinkling stars. They visored their eyes to look down where He lay. All of the relatives smiled proudly and clapped at the conclusion as their little hands cradled an imaginary infant.

The days of cradling my babies are long gone, but those precious memories unravel like a strand of loose red wool in a comfy sweater. Veronica was pie faced and smiley. Jill with her dark eyes and dark page boy hair-cut looked exactly like the Fisher-Price baby doll she received for her sixth Christmas –the last Christmas of her young life. Months later she was struck and killed by a car as she darted across the narrow one-way street in front of her house. There were the babies yet to come, Mike and Jan, but sadness, divorce and death scattered the family in all directions.

Whenever I hear the carol, Away in a Manager, I am reminded of those Christmas Eves of yesteryear when joy and laughter rang out as the children ran and played with one another and the adults enjoyed the festivities. On the way home, our kids excitedly watched the night sky for Rudolph’s red light. They hovered nearby as I poured a glass of milk and set two cookies out for Santa.

“Don’t forget a carrot for Rudolph.” They stood at the front door shivering as I tied a carrot to the knob. Then I hurried my little girl and boy through the tooth brushing routine and into their footed zippered pajamas. “Listen, I can hear the faint tinkle of bells. Hurry, hurry, climb into bed. Let’s say your prayers.” I was as excited as they were.
“Are you sure Santa can get in? We don’t have a fireplace.”
“Don’t you worry, Santa has magic. He can squeeze into any little boy’s or girl’s house.”
“What now?”
“I love you, mom.”
“I love you too.” I peer down into their faces and say the same thing to each, “I know you’re excited about Santa, but don’t ever forget, this is the night the baby Jesus was born.”
“Okay Mom, I won’t.”
“I know, Mom.”
I back out of their rooms smiling, singing softly, “Away in a Manger.”

Tonight I snuggle on the sofa wrapped in a holiday afghan with sugar plums dancing in my old head. Holiday music plays softly, Scrooge blurs on the TV as I travel to my own Christmas Past. I feel my little boy’s bear hugs and sloppy goodnight kiss. I smell my little girl’s freshly shampooed hair and kiss her soft cheek. My eyelids droop as I envision myself young, tiptoeing into their childhood bedroom, pulling the covers up to their chins. Satisfied with their rhythmic breathing, I dim the lights … goodnight my babies, Merry Christmas.

I awake to Christmas Present: my babies are parents with babies of their own. The phone rings at daybreak; the little ones want to tell me what Santa brought. I am Nana to a blended family of nine little darlings. I prepare a feast and await their arrival. The house fills with laughter, aromas of baked goods and fragrant, flickering holiday candles. One by one, the four families arrive. Adult children resurrect their individual childhood holiday memories. We eat until we’re stuffed. The youngsters huddle on the floor and rip open their gifts on the count of three. Later children are sprawled everywhere, the older ones play video games, the younger ones play board games, share toys and make memories. The adults laugh at the antics of Ralphie in our favorite holiday movie. One by one they prepare to leave and we kiss them good-bye. Our hugs last a bit longer than any other day of the year.

The last family leaves as the outdoor Christmas lights automatically illuminate the bushes. I sit on the sofa and smile at my husband, satisfied to my core. I gaze at the tree glistening with ornaments –some razzle-dazzles made in factories, treasured handmade ornaments from our children and grandchildren. Priceless, age-old heirlooms that belonged to our parents and grandparents hang from the highest branches. The angel atop the tree reminds me of God’s love and the meaning of all this hoopla.

Before I lay me down to slumber, I gaze into Christmas Future, and I know that despite all of the hardships they will have to endure in life, our children and grandchildren have a foundation built on love, faith and family that will see them through. Merry Christmas my darlings, Merry Christmas to you all.


Bookie said...

So very, very nice, Linda! A pleasure to read this morning, just the right mood setter for my day.

DH has something that looks like Shingles might be trying to happen and son is facing icy roads tomorrow. We sit and wait to see what is going to happen here. But house, food, holiday greetings, and Christmas Ever Tea invite to a friend's house in the morning are all under control...we wait patiently to see what develops otherwise.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Tammy said...

Oh, what a beautiful Christmas story--made all the more beautiful because it is true and therefore hits home. You brought back such cherished memories. Hee hee...I started to type "momories...." I often wonder if there's such a thing as a Freudian finger-slip!

Susan said...

Awwww, Linda. Now you did it. Tears are rolling down my cheeks and I have to go find a Kleenix. I think it's a sign of an excellent writer to make someone cry with one's words. So congratulations! God bless you and all your sweet family this Christmas. Susan

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Beautiful, Linda. A little bit of Christmas "tear" is a good thing I guess, so thanks for making me weepy...and I mean that in a good way. Merry Christmas to you and all your beloved ones.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I'm a little choked, too. But I'm also smiling. Love, faith, family...that really says it all. Thanks, Linda, for sharing your heart.

Linda O'Connell said...

Thank you for your comments Claudia, Tammy, Susan, Lisa and Cathy.
I didn't mean to make you cry. So many male editors write me and tell me that my work moved them to tears. Unfortunately, Chicken Soup and Cup of Comfort have rejected this story, but one day I might get it 'out there'. Have a blessed Christmas.

Tracey Simpson said...

Loved reminiscing about Christmas Eve's from long ago. You are an excellent writer, Mom :)
You always made our holidays so special and memorable.

Lynn said...

Beautiful story Linda!