Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Memories and Other Things.

Today is my birthday.

I am so blessed with good wishes from family and friends. This is the ONE morning, I don't mind the early phone calls. Even at my age, it is comforting when my aunt calls and sings, in her best soprano voice, “Happy birthday!”.

She is the last of my family who recollects the day I was born.

My soon to be godfather and cousin, Sam, drove my mom to the hospital on that very stormy and snowy Friday. He had a little two seat coupe'. My father walked to the hospital. Dad would leave for the Army Air Corps in a few weeks, but he was there for my arrival.

Mom and I moved back in with my grandparents after my father left. I can only imagine the chaos an infant caused in a household of adults.

My grandfather worked in a foundry; my grandmother sewed in a shirt factory; my aunts both had jobs and my mom worked in a war plant. How they juggled their schedules to arrange to tend to a baby is beyond me.

My dad and my uncle had to feel like the most popular guys in their units if receiving mail was any standard. Pictures of me went to North Africa and Saipan frequently. When I look back on those pictures, I can't help but wonder when my aunt found time to do anything else but chronicle my every move. The joys of being the only child; only niece, and only grandchild. Of course, that didn't last forever. After the war, my mom and her sisters seem to work overtime to populate the family. In fact, my youngest first cousin is just a few weeks older than my oldest son.

I think one of my favorite stories about this time of year was the Christmas before World War 2 ended.

For the first time, in four years, our family would be together. My dad and my uncle were home. My aunts were both engaged and their soon to be husbands were at the house to celebrate Christmas.

Christmas in any Italian family is a food event that starts immediately after Midnight Mass and continues until late on Christmas Day.

One of my birthday gifts, that year, was a beautiful WHITE velvet dress with a blue sash. My grandmother, a talented seamstress, made it for me and made the identical dress for the doll I would receive for Christmas. But, I'm getting ahead of the story.

That Christmas Eve day was filled with activity. My best friend, playmate, cousin and next door neighbor, Chuck, and I were at loose ends. Chuck was five and the leader of our adventure that day.

Typical of four and five year olds, we were looking for something to do. It was too cold to be outdoors and we had exhausted playing indoor games. No matter which room we wandered in, we seemed to be in the way.

I'm not sure why I had that dress on that late afternoon. Possibly it was because we had company coming for an early supper. Suffice to say, I was dressed in that velvet WHITE dress when Chuck had a brainstorm.

My grandmother's cellar was divided into four rooms. One was a kitchen where she did her canning and used the spare stove for added cooking space on occasions like family get togethers. One was my grandfather's wine cellar. One held the old Maytag wringer washing machine and the other room was the coal cellar.

THAT was our target. What would be more fun than playing king of the hill on a mountain of coal?

Eventually, someone noticed that we were missing. After a quick search of the upstairs they followed our voices to the cellar.

There I was, my WHITE velvet dress AND my curly blonde hair were pitch black!

I'm sure we both gave them the most innocent looks we could mustar at the time. It didn't work.

Chuck was sent home and I was brought to the tub to be scrubbed.

Later that evening my grandfather and I left our stocking for Santa. Every year he and I shared one of his long white winter stockings. Santa would leave a bottle of Genesee Cream Ale and an artichoke for my grandfather and I would get the orange, an artichoke, and the little toys and candy. My grandmother would immediately take the artichokes and prepare them for our Christmas day dinner.

Silly traditions makes memories, I guess.

I woke up on Christmas morning and listened to see if anyone was awake. I shouldn't have been surprised to hear my grandparents talking in the kitchen. But, it was a surprise to also hear the rest of the family already up.

I went downstairs anxious to see what Santa brought. The first order of business was the stocking. I would find that in the kitchen where we had left it the night before.

Grandpa was sitting at the table with the stocking in front of him. He had a very stern look on his face and I knew that something wasn't right.

He reached in and took out his Genesee Cream Ale. He reached in, again, and took out his artichoke.

Then, he pushed the stocking over to me.

I reached in and pulled out a lump of coal. I emptied the stocking on the table. It was filled with coal.

My grandmother, aunts, uncle and my parents stifling a giggle as they looked on. Can you imagine how crushed a four year old could be?

We left for church that morning before opening gifts. I was sure that Santa had totally forgotten me.

My punishment obviously fit the crime.

When we returned from church, we went into the living room to open gifts. One of my presents was the doll, dressed in her pristine WHITE velvet dress. She was sitting at a table and chair set just the right size for tea parties. On that table was my stocking, filled with the goodies that every little kid loves.

That year's gifts were extra special because I was so sure I wouldn't get anything. They also seem to hold the most memories. The life size baby doll would become the model for the myriad of baby sweaters and caps my grandmother would crochet for her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Grandma continued to make my clothes and always made sure that Clarissa, my doll, was dressed to match.

Sadly, much later, my doll was stolen from my grandmother's home while she was in the hospital. It was never recovered.

I was having a tea party at that table and chair set when a phone call came for my grandfather to tell him that President Roosevelt had died. I wandered out of the dining room while my grandfather was on the phone. When I returned, he had gone down cellar (perhaps for a nip out of the wine cellar). I went back to the table to discover that my doll's cookie had a huge bite out of it. Of course, he would never admit that he did it.

This is the time of year I most miss those who have passed. My parents, my aunt and uncles, my best childhood friend, Chuck, my sister, and of course my grandparents.

7 days til Christmas
6 Shopping Days