Christmas Gypsies

I guess I’ve always been a Christmas gypsy.

When I was little, Christmas was always at my Grandma’s. Or, Grandmas’, or whatever the plural-possessive form is for “grandma.” Christmas Eve was at my Grandma’s house. We’d spend the night so Santa could find me, then Christmas Day was at my Great-Grandma’s. Then we’d head back to Grandma’s, and maybe back home Christmas night if it wasn’t too far.

My Great-Grandma lived in the mountains. She and my Great-Grandpa ran a country store complete with pot-bellied stove. They sold everything from candy to clothes to farm implements and gas. This summer when we were in Todd, NC we went to the Todd General Store. The minute I walked in I was flooded with memories from Great-Grandpa’s store. Shelves on the wall behind the counter, the push-button cash register, the creaky wood floors.

Christmas Day was all about family and food. There were the three children, around 13 grand-children and close to 20 great-grandchildren. I don’t think we were ever all there at one time, but we came pretty close. There were people and food everywhere: in the kitchen, dining room, living room…I think I even ate a Christmas dinner or two in my great-grandparents’ bedroom. A typical Christmas dinner went something like this: country ham, turkey, biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole, creamed corn or corn pudding, rice pudding, broccoli casserole, rolls, pickles, preserves, cakes, pies, custards….

Their house had a porch across the front and down one side. There was a spring house, complete with dipping gourds, and a separate porch across the back. Part of the side porch became their bathroom when they added plumbing. I think it was sometime in the late 60’s or early 70’s when they got a telephone, party line. There was a small spring house in the front yard where they’d leave the full milk can to be picked up by the dairy truck, and where the empty can would be returned.

All of us gypsies would gather there on the mountain, eat until we had to get horizontal, exchange a few gifts and just visit. If the weather was nice the younger ones (my generation) would play outside on the porch swing or in the creek or the spring houses. If there was snow we’d play…outside on the porch swing or in the creek or the spring houses. The grown-ups would be in clumps in various rooms, talking about farming or work or us kids. Around 4:00 in the afternoon families would start saying their goodbyes and heading for their cars to start for home. All the goodbye-ing would last an hour or so, and we’d finally hit the road about sundown.

When hubby and I got married in 1984 we continued the gypsy Christmas: Christmas Eve at grandma’s, Christmas Day (morning) at great-grandma’s, and end up at hubby’s parents in the evening, then back to our own home. We probably traveled a couple hundred miles round trip. It was doable, until the kids came along. The trip to my great-grandma’s became an every-other-year sort of thing until she passed away in 2004. In its place was the trip from North Carolina to my parents, then my grand-parents, then hubby’s parents and sibs.

And so it goes.

Today we made the gypsy trip from North Carolina up the mountain where my great-grandparents are buried, past the towns where my grandparents and my dad now rest, to the town where hubby grew up, where his parents also now rest. Today my oldest sister-in-law said she was carrying on the matriarchal tradition of wrapping gifts at 5:00 AM and cooking non-stop from then until everyone finally arrived around 2:00 this afternoon. Again, we exchanged a few gifts, visited a little, started saying our goodbyes around 4:00 and finally got on the road about an hour later.

Each year it gets a little harder to put my gypsy shoes on Christmas morning.

And each year I know that, if I don’t, another year could pass before we see some of our family again, unless we’re forced together to say a final goodbye to someone else.

So, we wear the gypsy shoes.

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