Once in awhile Christmas doesn't disappoint. Expectations meet actual events. Until I had children, 1961 was my favorite Christmas. Fifty years ago almost. It seems like yesterday, since my memory bank is running on empty.
My elderly grandparents were there. Despite their generally cantankerous ways, I actually liked having them around. Perhaps they seemed more congenial at the time, because their appearance during a holiday was especially rare, since they didn't like to travel the 700 miles from Delaware to Chicago at their advanced ages. Wait a minute.
We interrupt this narrative to do the math. O Holy Crap -- to paraphrase the Christmas song -- in 1961, my grandmother was 66, a year younger than I am now. My grandfather was 76. They seemed ancient at the time. Heck, they looked ancient. At some point I have to stop being in denial. Just not today.
Even though they eventually endured a nearly 70-year marriage, it wasn't what you could call a good one. But when push came to shove, they could hold it together for the sake of the grandchildren, particularly during a holiday. Or two weeks at the beach in August. Fortunately, I don't have a bad marriage to deal with during the holidays, its own kind of Christmas blessing.
You'd never guess back then, watching my kindly old grandpa reading the newspaper, dressed in a crisp white shirt and freshly pressed suit pants for dinner, that he'd once held his wife and family hostage, terrifying my mother and her two sisters. He came home drunk with a loaded shotgun and threatened to kill them all, for reasons no one remembers, until my mother managed to talk him out of it. I have always wondered how that night affected the rest of her life. I know it must have. I just don't know how.
Christmas in 1961 was also my first time home from college after leaving in September. Maybe the holidays seemed more sparkly and fun because of that. I'd spent Thanksgiving in New Jersey with my roommate's family. After turkey and dressing, I'd taken the bus to New York to be with my boyfriend, who was finishing up his last year at Dartmouth. And making plans to have his way with me.
For Christmas my mom always baked several kinds of Christmas cookies, which she usually kept organized in the freezer. We used to take them out and let them thaw, but, over time, that gave way to preferring to eat them frozen. The pre-microwave era, don't you know. At that time of my life, I was still able to enjoy excess food with impunity and without longing for a Zantac. Meanwhile, the tree was up, the house was decorated with fresh pine boughs, and every room smelled wonderful.
For good or bad, because our lives didn't intersect that much, I have no memories of my younger brother and sister from that year. Or my father. They were peripheral, like music in an elevator. My mother was the heart and soul of our family. She was the centerpiece of my life. In 1961, she let me contribute to the holiday decorations by creating stained glass windows, using black tape and colored cellophane. No really, it didn't look like a fourth grade art project. The rest of my dance card was full, since I also had two boyfriends to spend alternate days and nights with.
When my children arrived, Christmas was even more fun, obviously. Watching the excitement unfold through a child's eyes produces a kind of joy that cannot be exaggerated. At one time I had Super 8 movies of my daughters' delight as they ran into the living room on Christmas morning. They were almost four and not quite eighteen months. That wonderment lasted for many Christmases.
Now they're on the far side of their thirties. And for some reason, this Christmas has been more memory inducing than others. Perhaps because we had such a wonderful, untraditional Christmas dinner at my older daughter's house -- absolutely perfect beef tenderloin instead of the old standby, turkey. Roasted, not mashed potatoes. Stuffed tomatoes. No cranberry sauce. Not to mention, I didn't have to cook. The table was lovely, covered in a beautiful black and gold tablecloth with gold chargers, gold candles, black and gold napkins with gold napkins rings, and a bouquet of bright red roses in the center.
Maybe because I didn't know if she'd ever get here from London's snowy airports, my younger daughter's eventual arrival seemed more auspicious than usual, after her three day delay. Now, thanks to more snow, she's not sure if she'll get to NY for New Year's. Her plane from here was cancelled. Her husband's plane from London has been cancelled. Bad for her, but good for me. I also don't know when I will see her and my son-in-law next, since they're moving to Hong Kong for her job. So every minute seems to have meaning. From baking cookies, to opening presents, to dinner out, to just hanging around, playing with the dogs. Yep, so far this has been a good one.