One of my favorite holidays is Christmas. Even if I was Jewish or Muslim I would enjoy Christmas. It has nothing to do with religion . . . I just like the feeling and the traditions that make family memories. I read a post from my friend Amy Wigstrom about her mother and her own traditions that she feels might get lost with her mother gone. Religious-wise and age-wise we are far apart, and yet . . . love of family and sharing brings our past memories and present hopes close together.
Traditions change. We stopped having a Christmas tree when we realized that no one had the sniffles. The tree kept falling over and was finally dragged out onto the deck. Everyone breathed easier. However, our son Del, with allergies to trees and pets, doesn’t care. As a father he puts up with it so he can start his own tradition of choosing a Christmas tree and cutting it down. This year his family drove all the way to Shelton just to choose the right tree.
My mom passed away this day 30 days ago and here is what I have learned. Holiday traditions were a result of mom’s thoughtful preparations for our time together. When I finally understood her strategy for Christmas Eve it was a huge revelation. Our childhood Christmas was unlike most of my friend’s experiences. It was “all church all of the time” because my dad was the pastor and my mom did so much music. When I became a mom she confided in me. She would put us three girls in the car just before Christmas Eve services and then she would say, “Oh, I forgot something -some music- so I need to go back into the house.” Mom would go back in and quickly distribute presents under the tree and stocking stuffers into stockings. Santa would miraculously attend to our home while we spent hours upon hours Christmas Eve at church (because Christmas morning was either back at it or exhausting).
What an amazing gift. She had a myriad of expectations that night; sometimes conducting the choir, sometimes playing the organ, sometimes singing and yet, she pulled off the greatest magic keeping her own children in awe of Christmas, often wearing matching clothes that she herself had sewn or frugally pulled off, and mostly we never saw her falter or stress or even get personally miffed by the amount of pressure she was under. Pastor’s wife, church musician, mother of three, and holding down a job. I am absolutely certain that I could not pull off what she was able to do. She gifted me with many of her qualities, but I remain humbled by her strength, resilience, and her selflessness.
Christmas will be very different without mom, but it is always special because of how she approached it. I think this year, her grandchildren will be especially affected by her absence. Mom went to incredible lengths to show each child that she understood them, their likes, their interests, and their fashion style each Christmas. She was always striving to know each of them.
Christmas will be very different but it will continue in her traditions and in her honor to be about family, about God and church family, and about her love of making every holiday special and memorable. Although this is what I have experienced, this is what I have learned in these 30 days of mom’s passing.
My father came from a divorce/great depression/solitary existence. My mother grew up in a more traditional family environment. Although, there was a print of “Christ in the Garden” in our living room, there was no real connection to the church. My mom made friends easily. My father did not. Contact with the church was incidental. I had a child’s illustrated book of the Lord’s Prayer. Don’t know why or when I got it. We had a Christmas tree, presents, and sharing that included the family of my mom’s twin sister. My mom and dad and my aunt and uncle including me had roots in Nevada, Missouri. My cousins and later my sisters, had roots in the Greater Tacoma area.
I think I was given some money to shop for presents, however my mom mentioned once that dad had accused her of doing the shopping rather than letting me do the shopping. The truth was I enjoyed the shopping and the sharing of Christmas. I remember carefully choosing a pheasant motif “old fashion” glass for my dad, because we had a similar set of six. I shopped at Woolworth’s and Payless Drugs downtown on Broadway. I remember creating a manger scene one Christmas from clay, a Christmas card box, and little tiny sample tubes of Avon lipstick as legs for the people and the animals. Nothing says Christmas like a nativity scene with animals and people standing on bright brass legs.
Christmas Day I was the first one up and surveyed the living room tree and presents. I almost always knew what I was getting. As a latchkey kid, before even knowing what a latchkey kid was, I had the run of our home for hours each school day before my parents came home from work. I used the time by investigating secret places and hidy holes. The only time I was surprised, was second grade when my parents gave me a Shetland pony. He was hidden in the garage just off the alley. As my sisters, who came along after I was fifteen, would remind me: “You got a pony!” The Domans always had lots of presents, while the Harringtons, my wife’s family, only a had a few.
Peg and her sister Pat remember a Christmas when their mother only had ten dollars to spend. Peg wanted a world globe. She got a blow-up version that got punctured, but she also received a double-sided game with checkers on one side and Chinese checkers on the other. There were handles (tubes) which contained the marbles. Inside the tin was a box of checkers. She loved the sound of the marbles when she shook it and loved the games. Her sister Pat was one year older and she remembers trimming the tree on Christmas Eve and her father singing to and with everyone. I had never heard of him singing, so this story was a surprise to me. Ike was away quite a bit of the time. The family moved often following their USAF master sergeant around the world, but always returning to Tacoma.
I remember my first Christmas with Peg. We had rented a small studio apartment on North Yakima. I bought her dresses, shoes, jewelery and even a glass piggy bank. She was overwhelmed. Two years later we lived on Long Lake in Kitsap County. We had our first credit card (Montgomery Ward) and bought a beautiful nativity scene. After Christmas we started the three kings on their journey to Bethlehem. We no longer set up the nativity scene and none of the kids wanted the figures, nor the manger.
My dad was like “the old man” in A Christmas Story. Ralphie was disappointed he didn’t get a Red Ryder BB Gun . . . and then his dad points out one overlooked present behind the tree. I have used that trick many times over the years. My favorite trick with my kids was to wrap their presents and label them in code. Each child had a specific three letter code. It drove the kids crazy. The couldn’t sneak open a gift, because they wouldn’t know if it was theirs or not. In the end they made three piles of presents. The boys figured that the largest pile probably belonged to Andrea, our oldest and as a girl, the boss of them. They all guessed wrong. But it was so much fun watching them fuss over the mysterious presents.
I don’t remember Christmas dinners much as a child, but we visited with my aunt and uncle. My mom and my aunt always remained close. My cousin Lindy (Lavinia actually, after my mother), has been a lifelong friend. Family dinners have long been a tradition in my own family, although the sharing has dwindled to just my wife Peggy and me. She grew up Catholic (all our children grew up Catholic . . . (I signed an agreement). Growing up, Peg’s father would prepare bacon sandwiches while her mom and siblings (six of the them over the years) went to Midnight Mass. The family would come home and be welcomed with bacon sandwiches. Bacon sandwiches have remained a part of our Christmas. A good BLT contains the colors of Christmas. For several years we spent the week of Christmas at Ocean Shores. We would get bacon sandwiches “to go” from the Pirates Cove Tavern just down the street from the hotel. We even did this when cousin Lindy and her husband joined us in Ocean Shores from Detroit.
Family members change, Christmas traditions come and go, but love remains.