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Christmas memories

December 24, 2019

I heard a feature on KPCC the other day about favorite Christmas memories. Then last night I awoke in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep because I was thinking of Christmas memories.

The FAVORITE Christmas memory was easy. I’ve known it for years. But dwelling on it brought other fond memories of Christmases past. I often cannot remember much of my youth, but then something like this tickles the gray cells and I suddenly remember snippets.

The favorite memory? Well, it was about 25 years ago when my son was somewhere between 9 to 12. I was sick with a bad cold that Christmas –that happened a lot when I was teaching; I’d make it to the Christmas break and then get sick for Christmas. I had seen a doctor and he had prescribed a codeine-based cough syrup.

So I sat on the couch at my in-laws’ house all spaced out. Rich and his cousins Alexander, Matthew, Jason were all about the same age, given or take a year or two, and after all the packages were unwrapped they pile up all the wrapping paper and had the best time leaping on to it like a pile of leaves. The combination of being stoned and listening to their glee as they leaped and leaped made it a special memory, despite the cold.

As my in-laws’ family grew and kids had kids we morphed into a different kind of Christmas. Everyone got huge personalized stockings. Instead of presents adults got stockings filled by 15-20 family members. (Of course, almost everyone bought 20 of the same thing so everyone go the same or similar thing, but that’s okay.) Since I was among the oldest, my mother-in-law had made mine and my wife’s stocking early in the process. It was special, but not personalized. One year Susan fixed that by quilting a copy of my students’ newspaper atop a three-foot stocking.

The other thing that was special was that my mother-in-law would take the youngest generation to the bookstore in the afternoon and they could each select a book of their liking and she’d pay. We lost mom a little over fur years ago, but continued that tradition Christmas 2015 in her memory. I even copied the idea with a family connected to my mother for a couple of years.

Of course, once we lost my mother-in-law we all knew that the huge family gathering of 30 or more in one house was an endangered tradition. It was already getting harder and harder to schedule such a great get together as generations started establishing their own family obligations.

This is the first year since I got married that the in-law family did not get together. It was bound to happen, but I miss it.

How about memories with my family. They are less clear in my mind, but I do have photos in the scrapbook my mother kept for me that remind of some Christmases.

I remember as a young kid living in a small two-bedroom duplex apartment on 15th Street in Reedley. There were at least three of us kids, maybe four, before we moved to the “big” three-bedroom house on Palm Avenue in Reedley.

There is a photo of one Christmas where I am in my pajamas and wearing a cowboy hat while playing with a toy truck I got as a present. What is it with young boys and trucks?

But most Christmases in my family seem to have been held at grandparents’ homes. I have memories of the adults all sitting around at my mother’s parents house, but the fondest memories there were using the “big” feather bed in the basement like a trampoline. It probably was only as big a as a double bed and a8-24 inches deep, but it seemed SO MUCH BIGGER. Maybe that is part of the reason my kids’ experience jumping on wrapping paper stands out.

I remember one Christmas at my father’s father’s house where “Granny Bea” had bought a boxed set of magic tricks for my brother and something else for me. I wanted the magic tricks so much and made a fuss until she simply traded the gifts between us. Six months later my mother found a woman in town who was selling a lot of magic show equipment and bought it and lessons for me. That next year I did magic shows for a couple of the service clubs in town and one for my grade school as a special school-wide assembly.

Perhaps the best Christmases, though, were at Merdikee’s (Aunt Mary, but I never called her that) house. She had a color TV. She was always extra special to me; she essentially raised my dad after his mother died when he was young. Merdikee was really his aunt, but to me she was like a grandmother.

Christmases in the 80s through the present seemed to always mean that we were traveling to the Fresno area where the biggest concentration of both mine and Susan’s families live. Christmas time at my mother’s includes enjoying the hundreds of Santas she has peppered around the house, though each year now she puts out fewer and fewer.

Our immediate family has adopted Christmas traditions of going out to a movie together on Christmas Eve and sharing Christmas breakfast together at home before hitting the road. Only a couple of times over the years did the rest of the family come our way. One was when Susan was pregnant and could not travel. Another Christmas I guess at least my mom came our way because my son Rich got some red suspenders as a gift and was “so ga-cited for his red bus-spenders.” (He hates it when that is brought up every Christmas.) Another was last year because we were the ones with a house big enough to hold everyone. But many of the family did not travel for that one either.

At 67 I still enjoy Christmas, but more as a spectator. Watching my adult daughter Rachel decorate the tree and the house and bake all kinds of goodies for friends is a different kind of special. This year we get to share part of the day with a one-year-old whose mother is sharing the house with us.

That may be the closest I ever get to having grandchildren to share Christmas with, but I will take it.

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