Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas memories, vol 17

Obviously an action shot due to the slight blur from movement, nothing says "thanks for the present!"
like a tackle kiss given to a reluctant brother afraid of girl germs.

Christmas eve was always a bit of a bustle at my house. To this day, I believe that it is the longest day of the year. Endless. The morning would start with kolache baking, but while the bread baking lasted the whole day that was pretty much my dad's thing so we were not allowed to assist. If we hovered in the kitchen mom would sternly reprimand us for spoiling our appetites, so we'd be expected to go entertain ourselves in the afternoon. A cruel, cruel expectation, I tell you. Likely I read a book or played Barbies, but still...not enough to to take a kid's mind off of the impending present orgy.

My mom hates wrapping gifts, but she likes shopping. And, especially since we were wrapping cans of stew for my Grandma B, there was a lot of wrapping to do. As a hated chore it got put off until the very last second. Somewhere in the late afternoon, Dad would move all the gifts to M&D's bedroom and then one of them would shut themselves in with a card table and reams of wrapping paper and tape and they'd wrap each little thing one by one. My dad's engineering skills made him quite the precision folder, and you could always tell his packages because the box ends were perfect...not one little gap or pucker. They spent hours in there wrapping gifts, and periodically would set them outside the door. I was more than willing to run them to the tree, especially since it gave me the chance to try to figure out what was in each box.

Mom would come out early to start making dinner. It was always a simple meal...clam chowder and oyster stew, crackers, kolaches, houska and rye bread. There would be a relish tray (as there always is on special occasions) with carrots and homemade dill pickles and both green and black olives...Bob preferred the Spanish pimento kind, I preferred the dyed black ones in a can. There would be cheeses, likely a cheddar or Kojak block and a little pot of Swiss almond or sharp cheddar spread from Hickory Farms. It was quite the smorgasbord, I tell you.

Dishes were set aside, and we'd gather by the tree. Either my brother or I would read the Christmas story from Luke aloud and then we'd start with the presents. I got the first one since I was the youngest, but I think this was just a ploy to butter me up...I also had to hand out gifts to the rest of the family, and they figured they'd get me all frothed up with excitement and then I'd run to and from the tree like a little energizer bunny. (I believe this is the curse of youngest children everywhere. We are gift slaves to our families.) It was okay, though, because I set the pace. And believe you me, I insisted on a good clip. We are orderly present openers; you wait until the person before you has opened, admired and said thank you for their gift before even cracking the seal on the next package. Not easy to do when you're 8. Heck, it's not that easy now. But restraint is the hallmark of the well-brought-up, right?

We'd get through half of the gifts, and then Mom would signal that everything was over by telling me to hand each person their last box for the night. Everything else had to wait until morning. Although every year I hoped for some fantastic surprise finale gift that would fulfill my every wish, inevitably it was a pair of pajamas or a nightgown. I'd love them, too...I can't remember hating a Christmas gift...and would make sure I wore them to bed that night.

We now have Christmas at my brother and sister-in-law's. The day still looks the same, with kolache baking and kids full of nervous energy (though I don't play Barbies anymore to kill the time.) There is always oyster stew, but my brother varies the other soup each year. Often he makes vegetable beef using my mom's recipe, and adds another recipe with varying degrees of success. The cheeses have improved...I often stop at Lunds or Surdyks for a triple creme brie and maybe a Stilton and an Irish Cheddar. And my sister-in-law makes the best cookies ever, and her toffee is to die for so we eat our weight in sweets, as well.

And there is still copious present opening, even though the adults don't officially exchange gifts beyond Christmas morning stocking stuffers. But occasionally mom surprises me and the night still ends with a pair of pajamas. This year, I think mine will come from Lands End. (I like the flannel ones, Mom.)

1 comment:

lulu said...

Your family Christmas sounds a whole lot like ours, just leave out the oyster stew and add some Swedish meatballs and potato sausage.