For the next few days, the writers at MCW are taking a few days off (not that writers actually TAKE days off, but we’re pretending to) and leaving you with some of our holiday memories.
Kate Flora: Christmas on the farm was such a busy and special season that it is hard to
choose, but I think one that is amusing and full of fraught holiday dynamics is the year of two Christmas trees. It happened like this–We had a 140 acre farm, with plenty of woods and plenty of trees. Each year, either enmass, or dad alone, would go out and cut and tree. This particular year, dad kept procrastinating. Days turned into weeks until Christmas was almost upon us and there was still no tree. On the last day of school, mom, who was a teacher, gave up on dad and brought home the tree from her school. It happened to be the same day that dad finally went out in the woods and cut one. Suddenly there were TWO trees. What were the children to do? If we set up dad’s tree, mom’s feelings would be hurt. If we picked dad’s tree, how would mom feel? There was only one solution: two Christmas trees. So we set one up on one end of the living room and one on the other. Visitors might have felt it a bit odd, but it was a very Clark family thing to do.
John Clark: With age, comes different perspectives on Christmas. This was the fourth or fifth year Beth and I were involved in the Hartland Childrens Christmas Project. Thanks to sisters Barbara Day and Shirley Humphrey and a dedicated corps of volunteers, over 200 kids in Hartland, Palmyra and St. Albans (plus a few snuck in from Athens and Ripley), will have a better Christmas. Beth and I split duties. On Friday night, I went to the Somerset Middle School to join a big crew (even Chris Littlefield, our town manager lent a hand). The cafeteria was filled with tables and everything from gifts for pets, personal care products, toys, snow suits, games, puzzles, books, stuffed animals, you name it, was sorted and piled. In addition, volunteers had sorted and bagged good used and brand new clothing in bags that were tagged with a code and the ages and sex of the kids in needy families to pick up the following day.
Beth went over the next morning and helped keep order, restock tables and distribute gifts. She stayed to help clean up and put in over four hours. This is a project that gears up every spring and goes until the giving day. For those readers who saw my post about Dudos Redemption center, they had 5 lists people could put their bottle money on as donations. The Childrens Christmas project garnered just over $350 and Joe and Vicki rounded it up to $400.
Lea Wait: So many wonderful Christmases! The first with each of my children … but one special one was my first in Maine, in 1975. I was in my late twenties, divorced, working in downtown New York City, working on my doctorate at NYU at night, and living in
Greenwich Village. The guy I was dating, Bob Thomas, had no Christmas plans: his family was in Venezuela that year. I invited him to come to Maine with me, and he decided that would be an adventure. I had to work until noon Christmas Eve, but he didn’t. He rented a car and picked me and all my Christmas bundles up at my apartment at about 12:30. As we headed north on 7th Avenue, he asked , “Do you think I’ll need gloves in Maine?” I assured him he would, and he double-parked at a pharmacy, ran in, and bought gloves. It started to snow when we were in Connecticut. By Massachusetts several inches were on the ground, and traffic had slowed down. By Maine we were having a heavy storm. We stopped at the Kennebunk rest stop and I called my family to tell them to go ahead with dinner … we were on our way, but we’d be late. We were, but the drive was beautiful. Somewhere along the way Bob told me, for the first time, that he loved me. Christmas morning, before plows were out, we walked up the hill in the snow and looked down at the river. It is still amazing to me that Bob and I now celebrate Christmas together in that same house. It will just be the two of us this year. But it will still be magical.
Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: Every Christmas was memorable when I was a child. I didn’t realize then how special that was. You see, I’m an only child, and I was the only grandchild for one set of grandparents and the only one living nearby for the other. My family wasn’t wealthy, not by a long shot (Daddy worked for the electric company and Mom was a part-time beautician) but they didn’t stint on the presents. Can you say spoil the kid rotten? But I have other fond memories besides the presents. We went to Christmas Eve carol services. The whole (small) family gathered for dinner on Christmas Day. And Mom outdid herself preparing a delicious meal. We may even have used the good china, although I wouldn’t swear to that (subject for a future blog!).
Susan Vaughan: I wish I had photos from my childhood, but my family didn’t take pictures, or if they did, none was preserved. One special Christmas comes to mind. I think I was about eight and had asked for a bicycle. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep, and that Christmas Eve was no exception. From upstairs, I listened and peeked to see what was going on in the living room. My father was opening the big box I’d spied in the garage the day before, and out spilled a blue Schwinn–in parts. Yes, he had to put together the bicycle. I don’t know how long it took because before the process ended, I did give up to the heaviness in my eyelids and fell asleep. The next morning I came downstairs to find a complete Schwinn with a big red bow on the handlebars. That first bike was special because my father spent hours putting it together, but memorable also because that Christmas Eve was the first time I’d ever heard him swear.
Brenda Buchanan: My father had a ritual around my mother’s Christmas gift.
Before his annual Christmas shopping expedition, Dad would poke around in Mom’s closet, both to remind himself what size she wore and seek inspiration about what might make her happiest that particular year. When my sisters and I were teenagers he sometimes enlisted us to help, but mostly he did his own detecting.
On the day of his uptown foray he knocked off work early in the afternoon and showered away the inexorable soot and grime associated with his oil burner service business. Clad in clean pants and shirt, his dark hair parted on the side and the faint scent of Old Spice wafting from his face and neck, he climbed in his truck and took himself to Barney Rosen’s on upper Main Street.
A big man, I’m sure Buck stood out in the ladies department of the clothing store like a partridge in a muster of peacocks. I’m equally sure he wasn’t a bit self-conscious. My dad was among the first wave of soldiers on Omaha Beach on D-Day. It would take a heck of a lot more than a clutch of opinionated salesladies to intimidate him.
An hour or so later he’d return home, a sizeable wrapped gift under his arm, mission accomplished. Under the tree it would go, the subject of as much speculation as our own presents.
On Christmas morning Dad was oblivious to the stack of packages piling up around his feet until my mother held his gift in her hands. Every iota of his attention was trained on her as she untied the ribbon and slowly pulled off the paper. Eventually—and inevitably, because the man had marvelous taste—she’d hold the dress or jacket or sweater up for all to see, her flushed Irish cheeks evidence of her pleasure. “It’s so beautiful,” she’d say. “I love it!”
A private smile would be exchanged across the room, then my father would sit back in his chair and relax, having received the only gift that mattered.
So I’m marrying into a highly matriarchal family—my wife and her siblings raised by their mother; Anne’s grandmother widowed in her thirties, never remarried; aunts galore without benefit of living husbands—and it is the Christmas before we will marry. We are dressed up for Christmas dinner at my future mother-in-law’s house, as was her requirement, and I’m a little apprehensive especially about meeting Anne’s father’s mother, who has a well-cultivated reputation for saying what she means when she thinks of it.
At this time, she is deep into her nineties, and I’d say confined to a wheelchair except that she seems to dominate the chair more than it defines her. She is holding a delicate crystal glass of Dubonnet, which is her tipple, and gesturing to me with a crooked arthritic finger from her place by the fireplace, which is hung with greenery and red ribbon.
“You,” she says. “I hear the two of you are getting married.”
I’m eying the bottle of Macallan 12 on the side table and wondering how long before I can get to it.
“Are you planning on children?”
Feeling like there’s no good place to go with this question, I hem.
“Probably not,” I say, then toughen up. “Actually no. We’ve talked about it.”
She leans her regal head back and looks up at me with the bright fire of her mischievous nature and nails me.
“Good,” she says. “You’ll be rich.”
I laugh every time I think of her, long gone now, and only sometimes wish she were right about that one thing.
Bruce Robert Coffin: Christmas has always held a special place in my heart. My childhood memories of the holiday stay with me even now. I remember how hard my parents and grandparents worked to make the holiday great. I still possess many of the decorations and ornaments that hung on my grandparent’s trees. I was fortunate enough to marry a lady who loves the season as much as I do.
I enjoy so many things about Christmas that it’s difficult to pick only a few to tell you about. I remember listening to Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Johnny Mathis on the record player, for hours as we decorated the tree or wrapped presents. Then flipping the albums when the stack had finished playing and starting again on the B sides. The smell of a freshly cut balsam and the adventure that accompanied tying it to the roof of the Volkswagen and bringing it home. Watching the many television specials. Some of my favorites were and still are the 1951 version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim, a Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the Walton’s Homecoming.
I guess what I love about Christmas the most is connecting with old friends and coworkers, the people I may only see once or twice a year. We exchange greeting cards, emails, texts, and occasionally meet up for a drink or celebratory dinner.
Here’s to making new and lasting memories this holiday season. From our home to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Jen Blood: Christmas has always been a big deal for my family – the kind of thing that my brother and I looked forward to for weeks and months beforehand, mostly because my mom always did everything she could to make it special for us. We didn’t have a lot of resources when I was a kid, especially when I was really little, and so my mom made most of our Christmas decorations – including a giant Santa that she painted herself, and we always hung that on the door leading downstairs. My first Christmas, she saved up to buy me a stuffed bear, which I still have today. She did things like write memory books for my grandparents in lieu of buying gifts, cutting and pasting pictures from magazines along with finger-paint drawings from me and little narratives of our lives together. Now that my grandparents have passed, I’ve inherited those gems, and love going through them.
I was three when my brother came along. That’s when Christmas got really good, because I had a colleague in arms to keep me company those early, early mornings while we waited for 6 a.m. to roll around, when we could officially wake my parents for presents (the 6 o’clock rule was instituted after my brother and I woke them one Christmas morning at just past 4). My favorite part of the whole day was my stocking – which was huge, and chock full of coloring books, crayons, bits and bobbles, chocolate, and – of course – a giant navel orange at the very bottom. Gifts were many and varied, but what I remember most were the ongoing traditions that went with them: decorating the tree; making myself sick on cookie dough every year while we made Christmas sugar cookies; the Christmas cassettes that played around that time every year – the Carpenters, Anne Murray, Alabama, and the Chipmunks… Froot Loops for breakfast Christmas morning (the only time of the year we were allowed to eat them); a big Christmas dinner with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and the inevitable sugar crash that happened at the end of the festivities, when the presents were unwrapped and the house was trashed and my brother and I knew we had another 364 days to wait before we could do it all over again.
This year, there’s a storm bearing down on the coast. The lovely Ben and I will pack up our pup Marji on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas in order to avoid the snow, and head to Rockland – where my mom is hosting the holiday. It’s a potluck instead of a giant hullabaloo that Mom has to cook on her own. The tree is a little bit smaller this year, as is the crowd. Sarah MacLachlan has replaced Anne Murray and The Carpenters on the stereo…but my mom still does a stocking for me every year, and that special feeling of togetherness and shared history remains. I hope that, however and whatever you celebrate, you’re able to spend time making memories with those you love this year, too. Merry Christmas, friends!