We have such rich, wonderful remembrances, and I'm so glad we can carry them on year after year. Tradition has another smile-inducing run-of-season, then again will go into the closet with all the decorations, to rest and wait another year for sharing old memories, old recipes, old tales and new, as traditions are honored, created, and carried on in family after family. We never fail, for example, to quote DS #1 at five, as he named off the characters in our tiny plastic manger scene---Mother loved to get him to say it, and she almost tired him out that Christmas with repetitions.
He’d been in Kindergarten since September, and the two maiden ladies, Miss Linna and Miss Cordy Woods, (whose parents surely didn’t look ahead to that nickname) held the classes in their home, had taught Mother as well, when she was in high school, and then my sister in Kindergarten. The two ladies were staunch Pentecostals, and the songs they taught the children were hymns---none of that Sesame Street stuff for them. The kids learned the good ole foot-patting shape-notes songs, straight out of the Broadman and the all-day-singin’ books---I’ll Meet You in the Morning, Rock of Ages, Bye and Bye. And they learned all the books of the Bible, and could recite them faster than they could count.
Long passages of Scripture took the place of Nursery Rhymes, and learning to read meant memorizing text and verse. They studied the Nativity Story from Luke, and all the pupils knew it by heart. Mother would point to a little figure, frozen in place beneath the made-in-Taiwan housetop with the odd-shaped angel. DS would dutifully say “That’s Joseph” or “That’s Baby Jesus,” right on cue. Then would come the finger-touch to the top of Mary’s head. “That’s Mary,” he’d say, and Mother, trying to stifle a bubble of laughter, would ask, “And what’s Mary’s LAST name?”
“Broughtforth,” was always the earnest answer, and we’d all have to hide our giggles behind our hands.
Our tree went up right after Thanksgiving, the upstairs one, what we call my "Victorian Tree," a big round one to the top of the windows, pink gauzy angel on top, and all decorated in burgundy, silver, gold, pink, white, and many ornaments, old and new. Lots of the decorations have come from thrift shops, the crackly old boxes signaling long use and numerous holidays; the shine is gone in places, the paint a bit chipped, the lace on the doilies a bit careworn, but that tree SHINES.
Daughter Caro chose it year before last, one of the lights-on-already ones, and we decorate it together, with a cloth over the glass of the coffeetable for laying out the hundreds of ornaments, bows, angels, golden apples, swans, blown glass spheres and hearts and bells, the kugels and the ropes of pearl beading, all taking their places, with white silk roses and bunches of burgundy-something-flowers stuck into gaps and filling all the spaces around that top-to-bottom spiral of gold-edged satin ribbon.
And now as I type, the screen reflects the glimmer of the "downstairs" tree---a small version on the buffet, perhaps a yard tall, and totally covered with HUGE ornaments---silver, gold, white and clear. I would never have thought to put such large icicles and balls and bows on such a small tree, but the effect is magical. A white-robed Santa stands waiting beside, tiny satin-wrapped presents in each hand, and his icicles glistening in the lamplight. A silver-clad angel of unfathomable age smiles down on the diners.
And the foot-tall old yellow Santa stands atop the small china cabinet, as he has for the past five years or so, since we rescued him from the 25-cent bin at Goodwill. He stands grinning, his tightly-rounded little cheeks shining, one booted foot aloft in a pudgy Captain Morgan pose, as his entire being shows his years of being companion to a heavy smoker. His beard, hair, white fur trim---all have taken on the jaundiced tinge of an over-ripe banana; he's grimly, smilingly ugly, and we love him.
That's the way of the South, I suppose. Our oddities and our eccentricities, our crazy uncles, our drama-driven aunts, and our slapdash-mannered kin are not hidden away from prying eyes. We trot them right out, set them up in the parlor, and introduce them proudly to all callers.
And our own “Santa”---smiling, silver-bearded Chris---begins wearing his Santa hat a week or so before Christmas. Today was the first day, and he came home saying that he’d gotten a lot of smiles and greetings along his travels.
Books and magazines and television shows and whole symposia have long purveyed great treatises on “How to Choose the Right Mate,” and the criteria run from age to wealth to taste in wine. What those books oughta tell you is how to project what kind of Grandparent that guy would be---that one thing would give a complete view of his character, his sense of humor, his kindness, his patience, his staying the course---all requirements for being a good mate.
I DO love being married to a man who so KNOWS WHO HE IS that he will wear a silly hat all over town just because it makes children smile.