Christmas Long Ago


Thanksgiving Almost 50 Years Ago

This year for Christmas, I’ve been fascinated with decorations.  I want to look at them, photograph them, and just enjoy them.  I was browsing the Williams-Sonoma catalog and found a lovely set of Christmas plates and started drooling.  I wanted those plates!  It didn’t make sense.  We don’t have parties or entertain.  We go to our daughter’s house every holiday.  But those plates just called to me.

I did go and look at them, touch them, and considered buying at least two sets to use this month.  And remembered a conversation with my aunt when we were listing what we wanted from Grandma’s estate:

I want those plates, I said.

She laughed and said, all you guys do.  

Can I get them?

No, I’m her daughter.  I’m taking them.

My aunt was never that direct.  She never ever pulled the “because I said so” card.  But honestly, it was the only way to be fair about Grandma’s Christmas plates and her regular every day plates with the red apples on them.  Because every single one of us cousins wanted those plates.

That was what I wanted with those plates at Williams Sonoma.  It wasn’t the plates, it was the comfort and memory of holidays past.  It was remembering my grandmother and great-aunt cooking huge lavish meals and my grandfather coming in at the end to carve the meat and show off the meal “he prepared”.  It was sitting around the children’s table, eating, and tormenting each other, trying to stay out of my great-aunt’s notice that we were getting too rowdy.

Grandpa getting ready to carve up the meat at Christmas

Grandpa getting ready to carve up the meat at Christmas

It was opening up a big pile of presents, going to each other’s house, and being polite to relatives from the other side of the family who spent the holidays with my grandparents.  It was being loved by family and extended family, playing with my cousins until we were overtired and when I got older, having other adults to talk to when I needed advice or wanted another opinion.

I didn’t buy those plates.  They weren’t really what I wanted.  What I wanted was to enjoy the memories of those who are gone, but not forgotten.

From left:  my daughter, nephew, and cousin's daughter with my grandmother and great-aunt.

From left: my daughter, nephew, and cousin’s daughter with my grandmother and great-aunt.

I know these memories are a child’s idealized version of what happened each time we got together with the relatives.  But they are my memories, they are good memories, and I enjoy them.

They aren’t my only memories from the holidays.  My sister and I have many memories of the holidays where we are the adults and our own children were small.  Now, my daughter and her husband are making their new traditions.  Her Dad and I are part of the passing of the guard and the new memories to come.

Enjoy your family and friends before they are gone. Nothing — not money, power, or fame — can replace your family and friends or bring them back once they are gone. You probably have delusions of immortality right now — that’s natural. At least consider that while you may be immortal, those around you are not.
– Guy Kawasaki

[Key to the pictures at the top:

Top picture – my cousin, grandmother, and aunt (Grandma’s daughter).  My grandmother has been gone twenty years already.  My cousin and aunt live far from me but stay in touch.

Middle picture – my other aunt, my cousin’s other grandparents, my grandfather, grandmother, and mother.  My other aunt is still alive and healthy, but my uncle died five years ago.  My cousin’s other grandparents have been gone nearly as long as Grandma.  Grandpa is gone nearly forty years.  My mother is still alive and in good health.

Bottom picture – my great-aunt feeding my cousin who had Down’s Syndrome.  Both are gone many years.]