Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Memories: The Ghosts of Christmas Past

From time to time I will post Memories, where I describe some facet of my life before MS. I hope you enjoy these digressions.
Growing up, our Christmases were right out of Currier and Ives: cold and snowy weather, traditional holiday treats, family, gifts, mistletoe.  I remember those Decembers fondly and miss them terribly.
In grade school, on the last day before Christmas vacation, a local radio station would record each homeroom class singing a different Christmas carol, often of the religious variety – it was a nonissue in those days. On Christmas Eve, at the appointed time, we would huddle around the radio at home and listen for our song. It was played only once, so you had to be ready.
My parents hosted what they called an Open House on Christmas Eve. To me, it was just a big party that started in the afternoon and lasted until late at night. My mother, a quadriplegic, was universally loved in our town. She had been through so much pain, yet had endured it with uncommon grace and good spirit. I think a major reason we had such a strong turnout each year was because people just wanted to be around Vernice, especially at Christmastime.
The guests would enter our house amid great fanfare. Most would bring something delicious and homemade. But the favorite visitors were the ones who placed a fifth or half-gallon of Jack Daniels under the tree for Dad. My father was a social, happy drinker. I never considered that he had a drinking problem, and looking back I still don’t. In fact, I enjoyed being around Dad when he was into the Jack and water. He was a purist in this regard. If you insisted on soda or some other mixer, you were served Jim Beam, a lesser grade of bourbon.
When I was a young boy the adults would shuffle me off to bed at a decent hour, employing the old adage, “The sooner you get to bed and to sleep, the sooner Santa will come.” But, in fact, although I may have gone to bed I would often lay awake for hours listening to the loud, alcohol-fueled conversations drifting down the hallway from the kitchen and living room. I loved to eavesdrop on the stories that I was otherwise not allowed to hear. Christmas Eve was the most educational day of the year for me.
When I was in high school, and Kim was my girlfriend, there was another aspect of Christmas Eve that worked out very well for us. Danny and Darlene, neighbors from across the street, would come over to the party for a couple of hours. During that time Kim and I would babysit their two sleeping children. Danny and Darlene had a water bed. Enough said?
When I was in college, my brothers and other people my age became the late-night partiers, staying up long after my aging parents. I wonder if Mom and Dad eavesdropped on our loud conversations and became educated about things that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Then one year, out of the blue, my mother told me that there would be no more Christmas Eve open houses for the next seven years. I was incredulous. “Why?” 
My father was a shift foreman at the paper mill. He worked a rotating schedule called the southern swing. They knew that for the next seven Christmas Eves he would be working the 3 PM to 11 PM shift, and so there would be no parties. I was heartbroken. That tradition was my favorite part of Christmas. Sadly, everyone in town moved on and developed new Christmas Eve traditions, and my parents grew old. The Christmas Eve open houses never resumed.
And now having written this piece, I realize how very much I miss my parents, all of my friends and relatives who are no longer with us, and this simpler time in our lives. The ghosts of Christmas past do indeed haunt me. 


  1. Mitch, I loved the parties too, we didn't go to many, but they were fun,I certainly miss your mother, she was an angel. Loved the post, brought back fond memories.


  2. Oh Mitch,
    How absolutely wonderful. I love hearing people's Christmas memories and I especially love reading about your Mom. You have inspired me to go dig out a piece I wrote and post it. I'll send you a copy.
    Have the best of Christmases!

  3. Mitch,

    I love this post! It made me laugh and made me cry. Merry xmas to you and Kim. Maybe Santa will leave you a water bed under your tree.

    Michelle (bestadmom)

  4. Carole, the memories are both painful and wonderful at the same time, aren't they?

    Daphne, I look forward to reading your piece.

    Michelle, that was the intended effect – nearly simultaneous laughing and crying :-)