Tag Archives: Christmas

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.

The Last Gifts

They say that confession is good for the soul, so……..

I am re-gifting this year. Actually the items in question were re-gifted to me for my birthday in 2005. They were originally given to my dad for Christmas in 2003. His last Christmas.

Daddy loved to rag on tacky gifts, and tacky gift commercials. Think “Chia Pet”, “Popill Pocket Fisherman”, Ronco, K-tel, etc. OK, admit it, you probably had a K-tel greatest hits LP of some sort if you were a teenager in the 70’s. Anyway, he’d watch the commercials and wonder who in the world would buy such things and then give them as gifts?? Remember “Billy Bass”, the singing fish? Daddy received one of those for Christmas one year. My grandmother gave him a box of junk once, because that’s what he asked for–“Just some junk.” When he was a Boy Scout leader he wanted a “Smokey the Bear” hat, you know, a ranger hat. Grandma got him one, a little plastic yellow one, with the words “Smokey Bear” across the front in red letters. OK, she got him the real thing too, but the look on his face when he opened that big hat box and took out that little yellow plastic hat was priceless.

There were two particular items that confounded his senses in late 2003: the Dawn automatic dish brush, and the Black and Decker automatic cheese grater. According to daddy, these two items had something in common: their purpose was to do something that people were too lazy to do the normal way. Scrub dishes with your hands and a scrubby? Are you kidding me?? Not when there’s a Dawn dish brush waiting by your kitchen sink. Grate cheese, with an old-fashioned grater? No way, you might accidentally grate your fingers and no one wants skin along with the parmesan in their Ceasar salad. And besides, Daddy practically sawed his fingertips off with a table saw once. Every time a commercial for one of these products hit the airwaves, he just had to comment.

So we just had to purchase both of them for him for Christmas. His last Christmas.

I know we got him something else, a real gift. But I don’t remember what it was. Probably something like PJs or slippers or something, since he was spending more time in hospitals by then.

But nothing memorable.

The best gifts should have some characteristic that sets them apart from the ordinary, that will make them memorable.

These are some of my Daddy’s best gifts:

  • When one of his friends turned 50, Daddy borrowed a goat. He and another friend snuck into this man’s yard late on the eve of his birthday, put up signs that said “An old goat lives here!” and put the borrowed goat in the yard. Did I mention that these friends were both pastors at Daddy’s church?
  • In late June of 2004, Daddy was in the hospital at UVA in Charlottesville. He had been incorrectly treated for congestive heart failure at the local hospital and was transferred to UVA in complete kidney failure. We though we were going to lose him then, but he recovered. My mom’s birthday is in early July. From his hospital bed in Charlottesville, he organized a birthday part for my mom. He recovered completely from the kidney failure, and was home in time to celebrate her birthday with her the way he planned it.
  • In October of 2004 Mama and Daddy travelled to his sister’s place on Lake Gaston. My son and I met them there and we all attended the annual celebration of his home town, Skipwith. No, you’ve never heard of it. The real places closest to Skipwith are Chase City, South Hill, South Boston. Skipwith day is always the first Sunday in October. They make huge pots of Brunswick stew. People bring desserts. There’s even a parade, sort of. My mom, my son and I watched my dad yuk it up with folks he’d known his entire life. Both of his sisters were there. They were all together, and it was a sight to behold. It was the last time my son saw him alive. My last face-to-face conversations with him occurred that weekend. He spent time on Saturday relaxing with a book of poetry my aunt had: Cherished Poems that Touch the Heart. Daddy loved poetry and could quote a lot of it. That particular book contained many of his favorites. I remember scribbling down the name of the book so I could get him a copy of it for Christmas. I didn’t get the chance.
  • The day he had his stroke, husband and I didn’t get to the hospital until several hours later. He was conscious but unable to speak. He would hold my hand and then push it away. My mom said it meant “I’m going to be fine. You take care of your family.” Damn good words, though not spoken audibly.

It’s time to head to my mom’s for Christmas dinner. She’s getting some really good gifts: a poem I wrote, pictures of the kids, artistically framed by moi, a tin of homemade preacher cookies w/ a prescription on proper consumption so as not to overdose (cookies made by husband, prescription written by…moi!)

A book of poetry: Cherished Poems that Touch the Heart. 

And a Dawn automatic dish brush, and Black and Decker automatic cheese grater.