Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Irony In A Day

Early in the morning of the day before Christmas I was in the grocery store. I was in a hurry as it was the last place I wanted to be. Standing by the meat counter I happened to look up. Coming towards me was a man I'd see now and then in various places-in stores or walking down a street. Whenever our paths crossed I'd always say hello but never received a response. Never saw a smile. Never made eye contact. In my mind I'd written him off as ornery. So when I saw him coming down the aisle I turned back around and continued my shopping. I forgot about him until I heard someone say,

"You can always count on needing a few more things before Christmas. You're smart being here early."

It was the ornery man talking to me. It had to be me I thought. I was the only one in sight. I was so shocked I didn't reply. I didn't have to. He kept talking.

"You might think I'm out early getting ready for Christmas dinner. Well I'm not. No Christmas dinner at my place. Hasn't been one in years. I'm a widower. My kids are married. None of them live here. Christmas dinners stopped when my wife died. I'm not really shopping. It just looks like I am. Truth is the walls close in on me sometimes. I have to get out of the house so I go to the stores and walk around. I have to get out of my chair. Too much idle time once my wife died. Retirement isn't what it's cracked out to be. I don't like idle time."

He stopped. He stood there looking at me. He was smiling. Suddenly on that early morning the ornery man was not so ornery. He was lonely. I asked him where he'd worked. He told me downstate. That's where he'd met his wife. He moved back after she passed away. He told me they'd had a good life. Then he told me he wouldn't keep me any longer and wished me a Merry Christmas.

"Merry Christmas to you as well, " I replied.

"I'll probably see you at Walmart sometime, " he mumbled with his back to me, pushing his empty cart up an aisle.

Later that evening, upon urging of my 5-year old granddaughter, I opened a gift she handed me as she stood by my side dressed in her beautiful Christmas dress with the biggest, the most excited Christmas Eve smile ever. Once I pulled away the tissue paper I understood why as a box full of reindeer was waiting for me. She and her mommy had gone to a craft show at her school. That's where she bought the reindeer. I don't think she could have picked out anything else that would have meant so much to me as those beautiful reindeer. You see we have a pretend game we play. She is Melanie Kitten and I am Gra Gra Reindeer. Her imagination sometimes stops me cold. It did that night as had that man I'd assumed was ornery earlier in the day.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Comfort of the Emerald Green Velvet Dress

When I graduated from high school I was clueless as to what I wanted to do. My mother insisted I enroll in a local college for girls run by nuns. It was small. I could live at home while I figured it out. I didn't want to go there but I finally took the step. I was tired of my mother asking, "What are you going to do?"
Turned out it wasn't so bad. There were lots of interesting girls there from all over the place. I never liked high school but soon discovered this was different. Since I lived at home and since I had an older brother who drove a little TR3 and often came and picked me up, I was quite popular. Many of my new found friends took turns staying at my house when weekends rolled around. And some of those weekends included 'Mixers' with fraternities in colleges nearby. This was really lots of fun-especially one Mixer. That's when I met a guy from Niagara Falls. He was quite possibly the cutest guy in the place. He asked me to dance. Not once. Not twice but four times. When the bus came to take them back to their fraternity house, he asked me for my phone number. The next week he called. This was early October. We were still an item straight up to the Holidays. That's when he asked me to a Christmas Ball. I was told it would be a fancy affair. He was wearing a suit and tie. I prayed he'd splash on some English Leather. I'd grown to love his cologne. Most all the girls loved English Leather. Many of us bought small bottles of the stuff and dabbed a bit on favorite stuffed bears. I dabbed mine on a little stuffed puppy I'd had for years.

The event was to be held at a grand hotel in the downtown of where I lived. It was an amazing hotel with a grand front porch where rocking chairs sat ready for rocking in the summertime. It was gloriously decorated. Chandeliers shimmered, resembling something out of an old Hollywood movie. Because of the hotel's elegance I knew my dress had to be elegant as well. But instead of going shopping, I went to my grandmother and asked her to make me a velvet dress. An emerald green velvet dress. I was confident I'd be wearing the most beautiful dress at the Ball. My grandmother was an accomplished seamstress. She'd sewn all her life. Most times she never used a pattern. She'd just sit down at her Singer sewing machine with her tape measure around her neck and straight pins pinned to her house dress and create. That's what she did after I asked her to make me that dress. She created the most beautiful emerald green velvet dress ever made and it only took one fitting. With long sleeves and darts just right, that dress was the perfect dress. I felt like Cinderella-until the very last dance of the evening.

I knew he was going home for Christmas the next  day so I asked him when he was getting back. That's when he told me he wasn't coming back. He was transferring. Even worse, he told me he had a girl friend back home. And they were serious. I don't remember much after that. Tears tend to cloud your eyes especially when you're gasping for breath. We were with another couple. Looking back I'm sure they knew about the girl friend. No one spoke when we pulled into my driveway. Not even my date. I just opened the car door, slammed it shut and never saw him again. Once in my bedroom in complete despair I threw my little dog smelling of English Leather in the basket. I curled up in bed still wearing my emerald green velvet dress and cried. I sobbed so hard that my mother heard me. Peeking in my bedroom, she whispered, "You looked beautiful tonight in that emerald green velvet dress."
After she shut the door, I realized she was saying so much more. I fell asleep in the comfort of that emerald green velvet dress.
Looking back-I can remember every detail of that dress. But I can't even remember that guy's name.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Priceless Little Gift Under Twenty-five Cents

For whatever reason, certain Christmas gifts stand out from others received over the years. Sometimes those remembered the most aren’t necessarily the most expensive. Cars, jewelry, trips. They all cost a pretty penny. But the one gift I remember in particular cost less than a quarter. That’s because it didn’t matter what was wrapped inside. What mattered was it came from my older brother.

We grew up in a house sitting alongside a lane surrounded by other houses mostly occupied by young families like ours. Because the street was on a bit of a hill, whenever a blizzard closed the schools, we’d all be sliding down the street on toboggans and sleds. Even though there was no fireplace, our home was the perfect location for Santa to visit once our father went to the attic and carried down a cardboard imitation. We’d get so excited as pretend flames started back up again when batteries were in place. On Christmas Eve we’d tape our stockings to the cardboard mantle after leaving milk and cookies for Santa who’d fill the stockings to the point of overflowing.
My brother had the bedroom at the top of the stairs. Mine was in the back. It was all about location on Christmas morning. He’d beat me down stairs every year. Then wait impatiently for me to follow. A few times he’d get under the register leading up into my room and make loud noises. It always worked.
One Christmas he didn’t wait. He came right up and got me. After our parents had their coffee in hand we were allowed to dig into our stockings. Our mother wrapped every little gift stuffed inside so it took a while to get down to the toe. Once we did, we were allowed to open one present from Santa. Then we’d have to wait while breakfast was served before diving into the pile of gifts awaiting us.

This one particular Christmas was no exception. Wrapping paper went flying as surprises were discovered in that house by the lane. It was after the gifts had been opened that my brother came over to me with a smile. I remember as if it was yesterday. I was sitting on the floor trying to get a doll with two braids out of its package when he handed me a very small gift wrapped in red tissue paper with my name on it printed in pencil. I could tell he was excited. He told me he’d wrapped it after I went to bed and hid it under his pillow. I became excited too. Not because it was another gift. Rather, because it was from my big brother.

Seconds later I was holding a 5-stick pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum. He’d bought it at the little grocery at the end of the lane. He knew it was my favorite kind.Gifts remembered and treasured forever come straight from the heart. My brother’s heart was full that Christmas-as was mine.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Gooey, Filled With Love, Strawberry Jam Tarts

Simple things sometimes come with memories of a time-a person-a moment-even simple things like Jam Tarts.
After filling her pie plates with crusts kneaded to the right consistency, my grandmother would gather the leftover dough and shape it into small balls. Then she'd take her wooden rolling pin and roll the balls out one at a time. When all the little balls were flat on the flour-covered counter, she would fill them with her homemade strawberry jam, fold the edges into the center and put the tarts in the oven of her woodstove. Anticipation would mount as the sweet aroma of jam and cinnamon blending into the dough filled the kitchen-the dining room-every room of that farmhouse.
Once the jam tarts were pulled out of the oven, cold milk was poured into tall glasses. Then piping hot strawberry jam tarts were enjoyed. It didn't matter what time it was or if it was a sweltering summer day. They were enjoyed as much as any fine dessert from any fine bakery. Of course if it was Christmas time, they seemed to taste even better. Their aroma mingling with the scent of a tree in the front parlor-with snow swirling and joy prevailing-heightened the season of Santa and gifts and family gathering.
Those little tarts served in that country kitchen were mouth-watering delicious. There were no preservatives or food colorings. Just Crisco. Just so bursting with flavor. So filled with love by a woman with hair pulled up in a bun. Her hands worn, strong. Her house dress neat, covered by an apron. Her shoes black and tied up the front. Her smile as warm as sunshine. Her wit always near. Her arms all embracing-making you feel as if you were all that mattered. To my grandmother, you were. That's why she made her hot, gooey, filled with love strawberry jam tarts. She knew how much they were enjoyed. And she came from a generation where nothing went to waste. Not even small bits of pie dough.

Simple is priceless. Simple comes easy-like a breeze through the trees. Like an embrace of a grandmother dressed in a house dress covered by an apron.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Magic Atop the Christmas Mantel

Growing up there were a few decorations I'd anticipate their return for yet another Christmas season. I loved the angel chimes. Once white candles were lit underneath little brass angels, the angels would move around and around and as they moved they'd strike little brass bells. The little bells would then respond with a most beautiful sound. The angel chimes always sat in the middle of the dining room table.

In the home where I grew up before moving to the country, we had a cardboard fireplace. My brother and I would eagerly await our father carrying the fireplace down the back stairs in sections from the attic. We'd watch as he'd put it back together and place it in the second room of the double living room where it sat every year. The pretend yule logs would 'burn' whenever they were plugged in. Santa always knew where to find our stockings on Christmas Eve. Once we moved to the country, that cardboard fireplace disappeared. Our new home had a fireplace complete with a pine mantel. Our stockings were never too heavy for that mantel. It was so much stronger than the cardboard. And you didn't have to plug it in.

Of all the traditional decorations my mother put out every year, it was a plastic Santa and a plastic Snowman that resonated in me the fact that  Santa was really coming! They weren't anything fancy. They were probably Made In China. My mother probably bought them at Woolworths or Newberry's. They might have been the 'must have decorations' back then as my grandmother had the exact same plastic Santa and plastic Snowman. She'd put them on a windowsill in the front parlor of the farmhouse next to a piano. It was a perfect setting. White, billowing curtains pulled back with white matching ties looked like snowdrifts to me. At night when they were plugged in, the Santa and the Snowman added holiday shades to those pure white snowdrifts.

My mother kept our plastic Santa and plastic Snowman on the mantel of the cardboard fireplace. When we moved to the country, those two decorations were the focus on top the pine mantel. She'd add boughs from the Christmas tree once the tree was brought inside, trimmed, and put in place.  She'd add tinsel and small, round gold balls wrapped around picks-the sort of decorations you'd find in a fancy centerpiece. The mantel always looked the same. Magnificent. Once the stockings were hung, it looked even more magnificent. And when the plastic Santa and plastic Snowman were plugged in-the Magic of Christmas was everywhere!