Ghosts of Christmas past
Yes I’m guilty.
This will be my 73nd Christmas and yes, I am one of those who gets all warm and fuzzy around Christmas time.
People measure their lives in different ways. Birthdays are the most obvious of course but some count Summers at the shore, Septembers, first snow falls or their 5th golden retriever.
I guess I measure my life in Christmases.
Christmas as a child with grandma and my parents. Two Christmases in the Army in Eritrea. Traveling home from London via Pittsburgh (cause it was the only flight) for Christmas and making it late on Christmas Eve. Joyfully heading to the Cairo airport to fly home for Christmas. Christmas with my wife. Christmas with my wife and children. Christmas without my wife.
She loved Christmas. Work kept us away from extended family for Christmas during the years our children were growing up. Christmas for us meant spending time together with our two daughters.
We made our own “traditions.”
We always had a real tree. The four of us went to pick it out (usually with much argument), carted it home, sawed off an inch or two at the base and placed it in a trash can in the yard, filled with water for a good drink.
Next day daddy would install it in its place and string the lights. Then daddy would take to his chair with a Dewars and water and a fine cigar to watch his girls trim the tree.
I watched while I counted my blessings. I still have all the sawed off tree bases. My wife marked each one with the year it gave us Christmas. They still smell of pine.
When they were very young we put the girls to bed on Christmas Eve and had ourselves our annual Christmas Eve dinner alone – just the two of us. Antipasto, shrimp scampi, mozzarella and tomato salad, risotto, a nice wine, pastry and espresso
Christmas candle from Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
In the dining room! On this very glass table. Candles, Rosenthal China, Waterford crystal, good silver and our finest table linens.
On the table our Christmas candle which I brought home from Bethlehem and which was lit only during Christmas Eve dinner. I have had it now for decades. Playing softly in the background was “The Christmas Revels”. The original. After dinner, glass of wine in hand, it was time to assemble those goodies we bought for the kiddies and to place our gifts for each other under the tree. No opening until Christmas morning!
There were always lots of presents. Times were good for us. When I was a child my father was a “hod carrier”, a common laborer at a construction site. Christmas for the children of immigrant working people was a new jacket or shoes during good times. I was doing well in school and one Christmas my parents bought me my own encyclopedia. The volumes were packed in a cardboard box wrapped in twine with a wooden handle. My mother carried it from Hecht’s Department Store in Manhattan on the subway all the way to Brooklyn and then several blocks to our third floor apartment. Seems I had mentioned how nice it would be not to have to go to the library for every assignment. I know my parents sacrificed a great deal for those books and I treasured them.
I last saw my widower father at Christmas 1972. My wife and I were expecting our first child and we told Dad at dinner on Christmas Eve. He was so happy. It was to be his first grandchild. In January I received a call from my brother Nick that poppa had died suddenly. He was 56.
The baby, Daniel Jason, died as well in June,
I have fond memories of my last Christmas with my dad. We had had our differences but we made our peace.
As the girls got older they joined us for dinner. First the older then finally the younger. They would go with me to the fish market on Christmas Eve day each year to buy the shrimp; “cleaned, de-veined and butter-flyed”. We had our dinner together while our music played, the Christmas candle burned and the tree lights twinkled. We laughed and talked long into those cold winter nights.
My girls and their husbands still get together with me on Christmas. They grew up just like their mother. I will see them again this year. The bases cut from those long ago Christmas trees marked with each year of their youth will emit the familiar pine. We live near extended family again and will spend the holiday with in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews. My kids are in their own life stage of Christmas – where I was 35 years ago. The “old timers” have passed away and it is now my turn to be one of the “old timers”.
“Through the years we all will be together, if the Fates allow…….”
Over the years my wife had amassed the largest collection of Christmas music of anyone I know; music played only in December.
When she passed in 2004 our youngest daughter “borrowed” my copy of “TheChristmas Revels”. I told her to keep it and got myself a brand new copy.
It remained wrapped for years. I couldn’t open it.
Last Christmas it was time to open it.
It’s playing now.
Best wishes and peace to all of us this Christmas….
An excerpt from “Toritto’s Blog – a Memoir of a Life in Posts“