LOIS HOLT: Celebrating Less Than Traditionally
I love Christmas. And it isn't just the "idea" of Christmas. I say that because I learned a long time ago we tend to remember things the way we want to remember them, not necessarily the way they really were.
But, in this case, it was all so simple.
I was in high school before we had our own house. My father had found some land on Guess Road in Durham County. And he knew a jackleg builder who was a good, hard-working man when he stayed off the bottle. Times were better, and that's when the Christmas party got started.
My grandmother loved to go to Rose's at Northgate Shopping Center. It was new and Rose's was an anchor store. She and her sister, Pearl, could shop all day. And, when Saturday came, they spent the day visiting up and down the aisles. That's when Big Ma started inviting almost everyone she saw to "Luke Riley's Christmas Party."
There were six of us already. Then, there were Aunt Pearl and Uncle George, who picked up Mother's third-cousin, Helen, and her daughter, Nancy. Uncle Carpenter had a family of five. Aunt Annie Laura and her husband, Aubrey, had each other and a Chihuahua named Tinker. Butch was an only child and came over from Roxboro Road with his wife and two boys to be with Aunt Nellie and Uncle Paul. That doesn't count the loners who knocked on the door and asked for Rena.
The house had two stoops, one bathroom, three small bedrooms, an even smaller kitchen and a combination living room-dining room. At the most, it was about 1,200 square feet. The living room was furnished with a red vinyl fold-out couch, a big Lazy Boy-style chair, a sagging wingback chair, two footstools and a $50 piano.
There were six chairs around the dining room table, one on each side of the hutch, and four kitchen chairs. A small bench was under the built-in dressing table in the bathroom. They were all put to use.
A braided rug from Sears Roebuck was on the living room floor and another one was under the dining room table.
My mother got out the $5.98 punch bowl (with matching cups) from Woolworth's. She made a punch that was a combination of frozen pink lemonade and ginger ale. Sliced oranges floated on top of a mushy ice form. She made pimento cheese sandwiches (with the crust trimmed off and the bread cut in little triangles). Red-skin peanuts and colored mints were on each end of the table. Carpenter worked for Coca-Cola and always brought a case of Coke and a cooler of ice.
When Daddy added a back porch to the house, he covered the screen with a heavy, clear plastic after Thanksgiving. On Christmas Eve, we'd leave the kitchen door open, and the men would stand on the porch sipping bourbon and Coke or spiked eggnog until it was time to open gifts. Carpenter sat on one of the footstools and handed them out.
Big Ma and Aunt Pearl carried handbags with a lacy, embroidered handkerchief clipped on one end. They were boxed in threes. My aunts loved Pond's dusting powder. It came with a soft, pink powder puff. Daddy and Uncle George used Old Spice shaving lotion. Uncle Paul and Aubrey needed socks. Butch wanted a Zippo cigarette lighter. Carpenter had the Magnum good looks and liked ties.
The children got candy canes off the tree and underwear. Everyone else got a one-pound Claxton fruit cake or box of chocolate-covered cherries.
When we turned out the lights, my mother's gift was still under the tree. On Christmas Day, she smelled of White Shoulder cologne. It was a luxury. But she was beautiful, and my father did everything he did with her happiness in mind.
If you're wondering about Santa Claus, we didn't talk about him much. After all, it seldom snowed in Durham. And, besides, our house didn't have a chimney.
Lois Holt is a Southern Pines freelance writer. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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