For my first three Christmases I was an only child, The Olde Vermonter showed up in time for Christmas of 1956, The Musician followed in 1960, so I'm guessing that I was probably a spoiled brat for at least one of those Christmases. Of course, in '53 I was naught but a wee bairn and in '54 I was a toddler. So I would like to say that in '55 I got lots and lots of presents. But I doubt it. My parents were not wealthy and, as I recall, they were good parents who didn't believe in spoiling their progeny.
While certainly no rods* were spared in my upbringing, we were disciplined when necessary, actual thrashings were non-existent. My Dad having swatted me on the bare behind but once, and having seen the barely discernible red mark left by his hand immediately afterwards felt so bad that he never struck any of his children ever again. Mom never hit us, not that I can recall, instead she would give us the old "wait until your father gets home" admonishment when we were getting perhaps a bit too obstreperous. Much like having a "fleet in being" the threat of Dad coming home to wallop us was much more scary than the actual walloping which probably would not have occurred. (Thanks to me, yes I take credit for all of the stuff I went through so that my brothers would not have to. Generous to a fault I am. And humble as well.)
Anyhoo. So my memories of those 64 Christmas seasons are somewhat jumbled together and present a kaleidoscope of memories rather than a series of clear pictures of things that I can recall in great detail. Though to be honest, at my age recalling what I had for dinner a few days in the past is often beyond my ken. (By the way, I say "seasons" rather than "Christmases" because while I am approaching my 64th celebration of the birth of Christ, we ain't there yet, as I write this, and I am a big believer in not counting my chickens before they are hatched. No, we've never had chicken on Christmas Day to my knowledge, but I digress.)
With that being said...**
In the 18 odd years that I lived in my little town in Vermont with my parents, we lived in three places, oddly enough all three places were on streets whose names started with the letter "C," though in truth only two were streets, one was an avenue, but again, I digress. Commonwealth Avenue, Crescent Street, and (finally) Cooper Street, where the ancestral home still stands and is still owned and occupied by members of our far-flung clan. That would be The Olde Vermonter and his branch of the tribe.
As far as Christmases go, I think we only spent one (1953) Christmas at Comm Ave (as it's called in Bawstin). As I was only seven months old at the time, I don't remember any of it, though my parents told me that I was the perfect child - quiet, reserved, and always obedient. Now think the exact opposite. Then when I was still very small we moved to Crescent Street. We went from an apartment to essentially an entire house, though as I recall the landlady lived in what today we'd call an in-law suite. Maybe they called it that back then, I can't say.
One thing I remember about one Christmas on Crescent Street is that only the downstairs portion of the house was heated. Upstairs one wore parkas, mukluks, furs, large blankets, and lots and lots of underwear. Okay, maybe it wasn't that cold. But I distinctly remember one Christmas morning when I dashed downstairs more for the warmth that was there than the presents under the tree. I'm sure that once I stopped shivering I noticed the presents.
Now when we moved to Cooper Street the entire house was ours. (And there was heat throughout!) Alright, it wasn't a gigantic house, it was a split level with three bedrooms and one bath. Now picture that with two adults (the parental units) and three growing boys. I had my own bedroom, the younger siblings shared a room, which (when The Musician was a baby) I myself had shared with The Olde Vermonter. (One of my earliest memories is Dad yelling from downstairs, "You two shut up and go to sleep!" The Olde Vermonter was ever loquacious. I too could hold my own in conversation in those days.)
Now Christmas on Cooper Street was where some of my fondest memories of Christmas past were formed. We always had a real tree, which Dad had to always run twine all over the living room in order for it to stand straight, didn't look all that odd because Mom would hang Christmas cards from the twine. Lots of tinsel on the tree which we boys would "artistically" apply, think handfuls flung at the branches while Mom yelled in exasperation, "Don't put it on that way, watch. See? You drape it." We barbarians never got it right but we thought we did. For when we got up the morning after decorating the tree all the tinsel looked absolutely perfect. Little did we know that Mom would stay up half the night re-arranging all of the decorations and the tinsel. One constant, that my mother still has, and uses every year, was the star atop the tree -
|Top of the tree in '15|
Christmas morning was always the same, The Olde Vermonter was always up before anyone else and trying to sneak downstairs for a peek at the presents. I would, in the true spirit of the season, always threaten to crush his skull if he did so. If he told me what he saw, then I would do it slowly. Mom always told me not to talk to my brother that way. As I got older, I learned to say it more quietly, still she always managed to hear it.
Eventually Mom and Dad would give up on their quest to sleep past seven and grudgingly get up and "release the hounds." That is, let us boys head down to the living room to see what treasures lay under the tree. For The Olde Vermonter and I it was two players trying to get at the puck in a corner of the rink. (Hockey reference for you southerners. Oh wait, they play hockey in Florida now don't they?)
We boys would spend the next 30 seconds opening everything which had our name on it, leaving my mother to wonder why she stayed up half the night wrapping presents. Okay, it took longer than that, Mom would make us go slow, to savor and enjoy it. When everything was opened, the next hour or so... Well, I remember it as being a lot like this, before Ralphie opens his special gift at any rate.
One thing we always did was done for our cat. Before all of the wrapping paper was picked up and disposed of, Tommy got his catnip. One sheet of discarded wrapping paper, one 15-pound black cat, and perhaps a tablespoon of catnip and we'd nearly forget all about the gifts we had just opened. It was time to watch our cat get his Christmas buzz on.
He'd sniff at it, then sneeze, then sniff a little more, then plop right down in it. Imagine, if you will, the human equivalent, one sniffs the wine, then swirls it about the glass, then sniffs it again, then you pour it on the floor and roll about in it until you've got a good buzz.
Okay, wine doesn't work like that, but for some reason most members of the feline persuasion won't just sniff it, lick it, and eat it. No, they have to roll around in it, get it everywhere, for that (apparently) is the only way to get the full effect from catnip. Truth be told, not all cats enjoy catnip. My Mom's two cats get no kick from it at all. Barely pay any attention to it. Now our current members of the feline staff here at Chez Sarge do indeed enjoy catnip. Though in truth, Sasha is a bit of a mean drunk, she gets bombed and wants to pick a fight with her sister Anya, who just wants to snooze after a bit o' the nip.
But Tommy back in the day would get his buzz on then go sleep it off. At least until the turkey was ready.
After all was put away, and after we'd hauled all our gifts up to our rooms, it was time to get washed up and dressed for breakfast and the furthering of the day's activities. Though as boys we should have been content to stay unwashed and in our PJs all day, we consented to all this "getting ready" stuff because Act II of Christmas Day would come fairly quickly. For around noon the grandparents, all four of them, would show up bearing, you guessed it, more presents.
We were a bit more sedate when opening the presents from our grandparents. For one thing we were more awake and the initial rush of Christmas Morn was past. For another thing, our grandparents made a point of spoiling us the year round, so gifts from them, while always special, were more the norm than the exception. There was some youthful anticipation though because as the paternal and maternal grandparents lived in different towns in New Hampshire, and they almost never synchronized their watches to arrive on target at the same time, one set would show up first, more presents would go under the tree, then my brothers and I would bounce from window to window to see if the other set of grandparents were coming up the street yet. All to the tune of my Dad yelling at us to "Settle down!" If our paternal grandparents showed up first, Dad's "settle downs" would be accompanied by our Scottish grandmother saying, "It's alright Bobby, it's Christmas, they're a wee bit excited is all."
Eventually the other grandparents would show, there would be more presents and then food. Lots and lots of food. Food enough to feed a small army, food enough that even with everyone taking home leftovers, Mom wouldn't have to cook for a couple of days after Christmas.
And when all the grandparents went home, and as the sun settled below the snow covered hills, my brothers and I would set up a new game at the foot of my parents bed, where there was this really neat and old-fashioned woven rug. We would play the new game while dining on turkey sandwiches, pickles, olives, and stuffed celery. It was a blast. I remember it so well.
Playing a game Christmas Day? It's something we still do when we're with our kids at Christmas, they inherited the tradition. I have a number of stories about those games which I shall have to tell you. Especially the great Monopoly Controversy of '04 (I think it was). Let's just say this, The Nuke is fiercely competitive when it comes to Monopoly. (Well, in anything for that matter.) She and her uncle The Musician almost "had words" that year. My brother restrained himself, though he did mention to me privately that The Nuke had swindled him on a deal concerning Park Avenue.
Could be. The Nuke seldom takes prisoners...
* Proverbs 13:24 Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (NIV)