Sittin On A Porch

Sittin On A Porch
Our little back porch

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reminescing about the holidays

When my Mother died in August 2001, it left a huge hole in our family.  She was such a light and held on to family and traditions.  Each year she and I would craft an ornament.  She loved art and crafts, but she preferred to watch things being made rather then making them herself.  She was very artistic and had taken a lot of art all through school and college, but was never satisfied with what she made.  So as I grew older she would send me to classes to learn how to make things.  I would work so hard to make whatever the craft was in her favorite colors and once I had given it to her she would already have another craft that I might be interested in learning.  She was not handy with a glue gun.  The last time she used one was on a Thanksgiving.  She and Dad were camping in Venice because one or both of them was to be in the Venice Thanksgiving parade.  Dad was smoking a turkey, most of the family had come to spend the long weekend together.  I had brought everything we needed to make these sweet little soft sculpture angels.  Mother was doing a wonderful job, until she had to glue the head, hair, halo, and wings to the body.  This looked easy, one drop of hot glue and everything miraculously would come together.  Unfortunately as Mother pushed down the hot glue stuck to her finger and she yanked back in pain and pulled the burnt skin completely off her finger.  I grabbed her hand and pushed the finger into the closest glass of water.  Just as I did that I realized that it wasn't water I had pushed her finger into, but instead it was a glass of wine.  The finger flew out of the glass knocking it over spilling wine onto Mother as flames shot out of her eyes, I stuck her finger into a glass of ice water I had now had time to put together.  That was the last time she ever picked up a hot glue gun. 

After that each year as we made our ornaments, I would try and find designs that did not require a hot glue gun.  If something did have to be glued on, she would simply push her chair back from the table, lift her glass of champagne and smile her most charming smile and sweetly point to what she wanted glued, and where she wanted it put and then would say something like, "I do not use glue guns, could you please do this for your mother."  And whichever one of her "daughters" who was closest to her would jump to do her bidding.

Each year we would also make refrigerator cookies, nut bread, Christmas candy such as divinity or fondant or pralines.  We would decorate the house inside and out and always a big tree in the corner.  One year Dad bought a 12 foot tree.  He got a great deal on it, and it was a beautiful tree.  Unfortunately the roof in the living room is not 12 feet tall, and Dad always puts the Christmas tree up on a box so that there would be plenty of room for the presents.  Dad brought everything in, put the tree up and of course it would not fit.  So he cut off the top.  Not to use the top as part of our tree, but so that the lower, fuller part would fit.  When he put the tree up on the box in it's place, the branches went all the way up to the ceiling and it looked like it just went right through the ceiling and was popping out of the top of the house.  Mother did not find it as entertaining as Dad did.  Of course we all got a kick out of running outside and looking to see if we could see the top of the tree sticking out of the roof.

We had so many traditions.  From going to church on Christmas Eve for the candlelight service to driving around looking at the Christmas lights.  We would come home and Mother and the four of us kids would crowd together on the maple couch, the one with the maple leaves carved into the arms, and Mother would read the Christmas story out of a big picture book.  To this day I still remember the page where the shepherds were on the ground holding their arms up in the air and the sky was filled with the heavenly host. I think Dad was putting presents together, he was never there for the reading part. 

After we had finished our hot chocolate Mother would tuck us into our beds, the lights from the Christmas tree still twinkling in our heads.  Our stockings would be hung in a row on the book shelf just outside my parents room.  My Dad's Mother had made each of us a stocking with our names on it.  Each one lovingly made, each different from any other stocking made. 

In the morning Dad would call down the long hallway where our bedrooms were lined along and we would race in our jammies to the bookshelf and unhook our now bulging stockings. Then pile on to our parents bed and we would up open our stockings.  There was always a tangerine, some chocolate, and then small little things that we needed plus a little toy or game.  There would also be nuts or pickles or olives.  Our own jar to eat as we chose.  After the stockings were enjoyed thoroughly we would parade into the kitchen where we would have large glasses of milk and warm nut bread slathered in butter and bowls of ambrosia that Mother would make.  Dad would be in the living room setting up his 1 zillion watt light board he had put together.  This was an object that looked like a "T" with these blinding brilliant lights.  Then he would give us the cue and in chronological order we would run into the hot blinding light, still in our jammies waving our hands as Dad would yell, "Smile", "wave".  Then blind as three or rather four blind mice, we would grope in the general direction of the tree.  Under the tree would be mounds of wrapped presents, but Santa's presents would always be unwrapped and sitting there just waiting for us to squeal with joy as we each shouted, "That is just what I wanted!"  We did not have a lot of money, but not many people did in the late 50s.  We had other things.  Like long summer days of running barefoot and playing in the river.  Or riding our bikes up to the park or the tennis courts.  But money was in short supply.  We never knew it growing up, and I remember always getting exactly what I had asked Santa for. 

Presents were always opened together as a family.  Each one making or buying a small gift for everyone else in the immediate family, a tradition we still follow.  We would also have friends who might stop in at any time.  Usually my friend Lisa, whom has been the friend I have had the longest, would come over Christmas morning.  Lisa was born in July, I in October.  The story goes that when I was brought home I was put in the crib with Lisa and our first few years of life we were always together and share everything, bottles, lollipops, everything.  She grew up to be a beautiful and talented lawyer, following her family business.  She now has her own firm, so if you ever need the best lawyer, let me know and I will try and get her number for you.  She also has a beautiful daughter, Allie, who looks so much like her mother.

The rest of Christmas day would be filled with family and friends, a big dinner with a standing rib roast with all the fixings.  Dessert would include pumpkin pie, plum pudding, mince meat pie and my favorite, pecan pie.  It was always a happy time filled with presents and lights, love and joy, bells ringing and angels singing, candles and stories, traditions and family.  As Vicki always said, we had an idyllic childhood.  Yes, we had the perfect childhood looking back now.  And we were fortunate at the time to know how lucky we were and to enjoy those endless days of perfection.

I guess it is no wonder that I love Christmas to this day.  I used to feel like I had to do everything, but there are some things I can not do without my mother.  Each year she would take Laurie Jo and Lisa and I to St. Armand's Circle to go Christmas shopping.  And there are other things, that I just don't feel that I have to do.  I pick and choose and those things that I enjoy and have time for, and it varies each year. 

After baking and shopping, wrapping, packaging and mailing I loaded up the toy.  Saturday morning after making a special breakfast for each of the "kids" and then giving the three dogs each a smoked ham bone I turned the car east on I-10 and headed towards home.  That is my dad's house now, my childhood home, where a bedroom is always kept for me.  A bedroom decorated in peach and gray.  Peach flowered wall paper, little touches of my mother and my younger self everywhere.  With peach blossoms painted on the sheers and 1960 era flower stickers in their bright colors still stuck to the blind.  A foot locker painted pale peach with darker peach flowers and ivy leaves. 

I made good time driving south.  I had somehow slipped into the perfect driving window.  It was chilly when I started my drive, but I put the top down and bundled up with a scarf and jacket.  I pulled the scarf up around my ears and drove east to I75 and then turned south heading towards that place I will always think of as my home and the warmer climate I am so much more acclimated to.  In about 4 1/2 hours I was there.  I brought lunch for Dad along with the food for the holiday.  And after almost a dozen trips back and forth I had unloaded the toy being the first to place my presents under the tree.  We do not put our presents under the tree until Christmas eve.  Mostly because our living room is all windows and Dad is still cautious to make sure that people can not look in and then break in for our little cache of booty.

Dad was happy to see me, and after lunch we headed up to Publix because Dad will have to change where he gets his pick up prescriptions.  We met the pharmacists who was very nice and quite patient with Dad and helped with all of his questions.  We picked up the few things he would need later in the week, and for the holiday and headed home where he took a nap and I finished wrapping his presents for him. 

That evening we dressed up, me in my little black velvet dress and Mother's scarlet lined black velvet swing coat, and Dad in his brown silk suit with a butter yellow mock turtle.  We looked good.  Then it was time to pick up Marie, her daughter Rita and Marie's sister Mimi.  We met Rob and JongAe there at Nikki's West.  A couple of years ago we had Christmas Eve dinner there and had a wonderful meal and a delightful time.  The place was packed then, but not so this year.  That should have been a warning to us this year.  We were minus Jessica who was at a children's program at her church where she played Mary.  Tom, Pat and family celebrate Christmas Eve with her precious family and Christmas day with us.  So seven of us.  Not that big of a group, and a very easy going group of people.

We all looked beautiful.  JongAe in a black dress that looked absolutely gorgeous on her.  Rob in a blue suit and very handsome.  Marie in a striking red pant suit and we were a lovely table.  The service was not very good.  Only one person at our table ordered a drink, so she assumed we would not be her big table that night.  I have been a waitress, and all I can say, is that you should not judge the tip by the person, you can never really tell.  She definitely misjudged us.  We ordered a variety of food from steaks to seafood and Italian specialities.  the steaks were over cooked.  The sauce of the Italian duo I ordered, was burned and bitter. I know that is not the server who is cooking the food, but she could not get the plates delivered correctly and together, or what we ordered, so we did not bother to learn her name because of her attitude.  But we laughed and enjoyed the company and ignored the poor service and bad food.  We were just happy to be together for Christmas Eve. 

Dad and I drove home and critiqued the Christmas lights.  Back home where we spent a little time that evening listening to Christmas carols, staring at the tree and reminiscing over Christmases past.  I went to bed dreaming of sugar plums and counting my blessings as Bing Crosby sang in my head.  Because of Christmas falling on a Sunday our timing was all discombobulated.  Trying to negotiate so many people with so many different times was a bit daunting, but everyone tried as hard as they could and we settled that this year instead of being spread out throughout the day, instead we would all come together at 2 and open presents, dinner would be at 3, the pageant at 5.  Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men.  Time is not important on days likes these, and the moments blended together, and it went much later into the evening then we had planned, but we were together and we had fun, and it was Christmas.

I got up around 8 Christmas morning and filled Dad's stocking, carried all the presents that had been wrapped and stored on my bed and placed them under the tree.  I started cleaning the kitchen, pulling out the bags with the decorations for the Christmas table, and going through my check list of the events and any timing needs.  I looked for the meat cookbook that is always on the kitchen island, but it was not there.  No problem,  I would ask Dad when he got up at 10.  And thankfully he did manage to sleep until almost 10.  I knew sneaking in a nap might be hard because of the timing of things, so I wanted him to have as much sleep as he liked so he would not tire out as quickly.  It was going to be a long day.    But what I didn't count on was how long the meat would take to cook.  But as things would be as they should be, Tom and I pulled off the meat and the gravy, maybe not as we had planned, but delicious. 

I made breakfast for Dad, the traditional nut bread, but instead of ambrosia we had perfect sweet, ripe strawberries.  We oohed and aahed at the mountain of presents.  Marie came around 11 and the three of us opened our stockings.  Rob came over and had breakfast with us.  JongAe and Jessica were at Church.  For Christmas we three kids had gone together and bought Dad a new TV.  Rob brought it in and set it up.  I think Dad was happy, but I never thought that it would be another thing that Dad would have to learn how to use.  It is close to how the old TV worked.  That is as much of a problem as it is a help.  It will be harder for him to relearn some of the important little steps.  And just the thought of having to learn something new is so stressful for him.  So he didn't look as happy as we had all hoped.  But now I realize why.  And sure enough he called me today and had changed from TV mode to HDMI.  I have no idea what that is, and really don't need to know.  But there he was stuck.  I know how to fix that on my TV but it is hard to tell him how to fix it with out being able to see the TV.  I called Tom and told him what had happened and he promised to go over to Dad's and fix it for him.

Two o'clock Christmas Daay found all of us crowded together in Dad's living room and I ran back and forth handing out packages, all lovingly wrapped.  Back and forth as the piles of ripped wrapping paper piled up and the sound of ooohs and aahhs as presents were shown around.  Even now as a grown up I love unwrapping the gifts.  Red and green, silver, gold with bells and ribbons, candy canes and bows.  And what wonderful thoughtful presents I received.  I think this year has to be one of the best years ever in getting presents that I completely loved.  Every single gift was perfect.  Rob, JongAe and Jessica gave me the biography of Gerald Durrell, my still favorite author.  I have only read the first page of the introduction, but I have already more then once pressed the book to my breast in dramatic joy.  Something I learned from my mother.  Sometimes words just bring such heart ripping joy that you must dramatically press the book to your breast.  And there is a look and a sigh that comes as the love of the words you have just read bubble up from your deepest part and just burst out of your upturned face and you feel the light.  The light of the greatest gift that human kind has given to itself, the story.  Whether told out loud or written down, when told well, the words of the story dance and weave and fill our eyes and ears and minds and heart and sweep us up in the emotion and journey and we travel along the road until the final word.  And sometimes that final word is achingly perfect, and other times that last word, just leaves us wanting more.  Ah, big dramatic press of the book towards me and my eyes glaze over and I sigh.  I can not wait until I can start reading this book.  In those short paragraphs, I could tell that this biographer understood the same Gerry Durrell I see in my mind.  This amazing Naturalist who ranks right up there with the big names, Darwin, E.O.Wilson.  There is a quote about him that goes something like,  you know it has been a good day when you have helped save a species from extinction.  Yep, Gerry Durrell.  I will start the autobiography as soon as I finish reading the third of the Corfu trilogy, Garden of the Gods.  I am enjoying my trip back to Corfu, and do not look forward to the end of this journey of stories.  But if he ends this book like he has all the other Durrell books I have read.  I will dramatically press the book to my breast, my eyes will glaze over and I will sigh.  But know that I have his autobiography to start.  Oh joy.  And thank you Ms Moon for introducing me to this naturalist through one of her bloggers who sent you his book, My Family and Other Animals.  Thank you Rob, JongAe and Jessica.

And Tom, Pat, Nathaniel and Christopher gave me the first two books of the Riordan new series.  He is Christopher's favorite author.  He is best known for his Percy and the Lightening Thief. series.  They gave me that complete set for my birthday.  I love reading the authors my kids love.  I was able to do that with Nathaniel also.  It is magical and introduces you to sometimes a whole new world.  Other times it takes you back to what were classic in my youth. 

So many wonderful Christmas presents from my precious family.  Dad gave me a rooster statue for my yard art, a laptop desk, a drill bit set, yard lights, kitchen things and a gray hoodie jacket.  Marie an Rita gave me a glow in the dark yard globe.  Gifts from their hearts to mine.  Each perfect and just what I wanted.  I loved them all, from the silly little stocking stuffers through the yard art, books and clothes.  I am a grown woman, yes, I know it does not sound like that as I gush over my presents.  But the moment was perfect and so clear as I sat on the steps into the kitchen, next to the Christmas tree.  A little separated from the rest of the family as they had already opened all their presents.  They were looking and laughing and oohing and aahing each others present.  For that moment, I had a clear view of their joy and love, the sparkles in their eyes, laughter on their lips.  I looked at each one as I opened the present they had picked out for me.  Each so thoughtful and special between the two of us.  A nephew's favorite author, a book from a brother to a sister, always special in our family.  Gifts saying I know you.  I know you love your chickens your gardens.  Yes, it was like watching a movie I was in.  As I opened each present and then looked out to those who had taken their time, love and money and bought it for me.  How very special.  How very very special.  And to have that moment so clear in my head.  special.

The covered dishes were brought together, the table set with loving hands.  "Peace on Earth" was what the center piece said.  My heart was filled with peace as I stirred the gravy with Tom, mashed potatoes, moved my hands in unison with all the hands there.  Preparing the feast, the traditional dinner updated as the generations grow and change.  The table filled with chocolate Santa's and chocolate bells, candy canes and wind up toys, activity books, crayons and red, green and white flowers.  All of us kids eat faster then Dad, so I fill the table with treats and activities so no one gets anxious to leave while Dad finishes his dinner.  Instead we play games and talk and laugh.  Dad eats his dinner, surrounded by children and grand children.  A loud, boistrous, Christmas cracker pulling, wind up toys spinning family. 

One Christmas dinner I had put brass bells on the table for everyone.  Corie Lynne, my middle brother, Mark's daughter had just understood what Clarence, the angel in Its A Wonderful LIfe had said in the movie about bells ringing and angels getting their wings.  We all sat there for a moment before we each grabbed up a bell and started madly ringing them.  Our laughter joining the sweet tones of the bells we all looked out the bay window.  I think we each thought that for sure with that many bells ringing we should be able to fill the sky with heavenly hosts.  And in our hearts and our laughter, and the traditions from our entire lives, we knew that somewhere there were a lot of angels with bright new wings.  We could see them in our minds eye as clearly as if they had really been there. 

This Christmas night, after dinner we piled once again into the living room.  Now, Heidi, Nathaniel's girlfriend had joined us, so more the merrier to squish onto the maple couch.  The same one that has been the center of our Christmas celebrations my entire life.  For me, that couch is as important to Christmas as the decorated tree lovingly surrounded with presents. 

Here are a few photos of our family and the pageant.  You will notice the theme was a Florida Christmas, so we all wore hibiscus printed Santa hats.

Rob, Me, Dad and Tom

Heidi, Nathaniel, Christopher, Pat and Tom

JongAe, Jessica and Rob

Dad or as we call him, Santa
The Miller family, with Mother's picture in the middle

Rob, Our illustrious Master Of Ceremony

Nathaniel on the French horn playing O Holy Night

Christopher on his harmonica playing Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Jessica with Jingle Bells on the Key board

The Rockette's:  Heidi, Pat, Jessica, JongAe and Kathleen

Tom read A visit from St. Nick, and did a wonderful job!

Dad and the rooster he bought me.

I stayed Christmas night and then helped Dad with things around the house the next day.  More time to share together, to do things for each other.  Then I got in my toy, the top down on a sunny, balmy 80 degree day and headed north.  My precious toy loaded down with my wonderful presents.  And a bench that Dad keeps tripping over and every time he walked past.  He keeps telling me to take it home.  So, I finally moved things and carried the bench out and put it in my back seat. 

It was finally time I had to go.  I wore my new gray jacket and the ride was beautiful until I reached Gainesville.  By this point it was almost dark having not left Dad's until after 3.  I put the top up, buttoned up the jacket and pulled back on the ribbon of black that would deliver me to this home.  The traffic on the south bound interstate was stalled from Palmetto all the way to my exit to take I10.  The north bond traffic was full, but we travelled the speed limit most of the time, and I made it home in 5 hours.  Not bad at all for a holiday weekend. 

As I pulled up to the gate and got out to open the chain I heard a crashing and a thrashing in the woods right behind me.  I spun around ready to hop into the car if it was a bear.  But from all the noise and chaos out popped Henry running full bent towards me.  We pulled into the yard and the chorus of Harry, Bob and Ednarose sang out in their dog voices, "Mom is home!  Mom is home!!"  Bella Luna and Stella Bella came out of their spots and rubbed against my legs, "welcome home!!!"  and as much as Palmetto will always be my home.  The place where I come from.  This is my home now.  This is the place where when I come home my "kids" wait.  My family clusters around me, snuggles with me at night and wakes with joy in the morning to find me there to make their breakfast, to rub their ears, to give them a lap to curl up on.  Someone to call, "here chicken, chicken, chickens!"  And this is just some of my Christmas.  There were quick visits with friends, phone calls, texts and messages to and from dear ones.  There was more then I could ever put to words.  And yet, throughout the year, and into the next Christmas, moments will come back to me.  Sweet precious moments of why I love Christmas. 

And this coming week will hopefully be filled with getting to see a few more friends before the end of the year.  And then Sioux will be here for the New Year and new beginnings.  I think what I learned this weekend, is that what I thought of as so much loss this past year.  Wasn't really loss at all.  I didn't loose any of those precious beloved ones.  They are still with me in my daily life, bringing a moment of joy or sweet melancholy, but they are still so much a part of me.  For this coming year, I hope that I can see not loss, but instead appreciation for having them in my life.  And to remember, like this holiday, that everyone was there.  Even those whose faces did not appear around the table.  They were there in our hearts. 
And that is only one of the miracles of the season.
and family
and the presents were wonderful too!

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