Dec 28, 2011 by

Now I may be somewhat biased as the child of divorced parents, as to the merits of Christmas.  While those other children so smug in their parental unity got one Christmas, I had a myriad of Christmases, a variety of Christmases at my disposal to dabble in as other dabbled in finger paint.

Normally Christmas started the day after Thanksgiving, this may seem a wee bit early to some, but Christmas tradition dictated that the day after Thanksgiving my Brother and Mother and I were to go to a Christmas tree farm, of which there are plenty at close distances in Garrett County, unlike this area.  Adam and I would look at each candidate of appropriate varieties- no white pine or blue spruce need apply, we went for Frasier Firs or Douglas Firs of the size acceptable to appraise it’s adequacy.  Usually this meant traipsing in at lest a foot of snow, saw in hand, with our Mother telling us that this tree or that tree would not fit in the house.  Adam and I had to gauge the amount of nooks and crannies for decorations versus gaps and flaws.  We always picked a huge, but beautiful tree. (Sometimes so large we had to tie it to the radiator pipes just to make sure.)

My Mother was the Queen of holiday decorations.  Our home was always so tastefully decorated for the holidays with bits and pieces here and there.  Lots of greenery and holly, thoughtfully made grapevine wreaths from memorabilia from Christmases past adorned our house, with beautiful folk decorations.  My Mother has a good eye anyway, but her Christmas decorating was special.  It had a way of making our home feel like true real deal, Santa really does exist, even for adults.

And the tree was always stunning, between the artistic eye of my Brother and Mother decorations were never just placed anywhere, they all had to be put in a place to highlight their glory, be it popsicle stick sleds with our names on them or handblown glass ornaments.

Then there was the Christmas Eve routine.  We had Christmas Eve with Mom where we drove around to look at Christmas lights and we sometimes stopped in to give and get presents from family friends and then went to midnight mass (at 10 pm). We then each opened one present on Christmas Eve, of course my Brother and I were horrible snoops, he was worse and would touch and try to decipher what each gift was but Mom had her tricks to deter detection.  That night Mom would somehow sneak down an old wooden staircase that always squeaked (trust me I was a teenager in this house) without a peep to lay out our presents from Santa, not the ones from us that were beneath the tree before.  I think I probably believed in Santa far beyond the time a normal child would because my Mother made it so much fun to believe.  Sleigh Bells or passing salt trucks with chains on the tires?  Train whistle from coal trains passing, or the polar express outside the door?  That morning was always special, my Mom delighted in having her babies home with her, all hers for a few hours where she could still see the wonder and excitement in our faces, just like when we were two or three.

Next up we went to Dad’s house where we ate some of the Godiva chocolate he always received from us for Christmas and gave him classic Polo aftershave, along with other things. He always showered us with gifts.  That is what divorced parents do well, normally from all the guilt.  And it was the one time of year that he was always there to see us and not at work or running late or sending someone else to pick us up.  In years past we would have huge Christmas gatherings at that house filled with love and laughter and it was like the house had retained some of that happiness and let a little out each year when we stepped inside for Christmas.  Nothing and everything had changed, but Dad did everything he could on that one day to show us how much he loved us.

Next we got back into the car and my Brother drove us down the winding mountains into West Virginia to visit my Mother’s family.  This may perhaps have been secretly the best part of Christmas.  My brother and I would play our favorite Christmas songs and sing-along, although neither of us can carry a tune and fat chance if you hear us sing like that again.  The grand-finale would always be White Christmas by the Drifters where I would sing all the low parts and he sang all the high ones.

At my Grandmother’s house we always gathered in her big living room opening stockings that always had an orange in the toe, walnuts for cracking and a Whitman’s sampler and presents that I was truly embarrassed to receive from my Grandma, the home made teddy bear sweatshirt, the Princess Diana doll when I was awkwardly above doll age, but she adored Christmas and in her glow we all adored the love that poured out at having us all together on that day.

Finally we would then pile in the car with all our presents and drive across Petersburg to my Father’s first Wife Betty’s house.  Betty is a truly gracious woman.  She not only allowed, but welcomed Adam and I into her home as family to have Christmas with our half brothers and sisters in what must have been for her a terribly awkward situation that she embraced and made wonderful.  There was always a fantastic meal of the best lasagna you can imagine, not fancy, but the best, with homemade baklava from my sister Sue for dessert.  We would try not to fall asleep listening to the stories about our six half brothers and sisters growing up and laughing.  And we opened yet more presents, even ones from Betty herself.  I don’t think she will ever know how much gratitude my Mother, Brother and I have for how wonderful she is to our family.  We would fall asleep on couches there and wake up in the splendor of our large loud family and Christmas all around us in boxes. Christmas when I was young was the time when everyone showed up and the cares of the world were delayed to later days.

Now things are much different, my Dad is gone, my Grandmother is gone and I am married.  Mom doesn’t normally decorate too much as we don’t spend Christmas at her house and most of our treasured family Christmas decorations were burnt in a fire.  Although much different Christmas is still the best time of year.  Because everyone stops and spends a couple days with the people who really mean so much to them, and isn’t that what we all really want for Christmas?  And now it is my turn to make Christmas special, and at least for this year and last I think I succeeded.  Luckily I don’t have a squeaky wooden staircase to navigate- I still don’t know how she did that.

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