Memories of Long-Ago Christmases
Watching some old home movies recently brought back a rush of Christmas memories. They were a little jerky and the color was not all that good, but were still a joy to watch.
They began with a shot of my then 12-year-old son, Doug, hanging a wreath on the mailbox in front of our Connecticut house. Then, as if on cue, it began to snow - fat, white flakes that could have come from a Hollywood special-effects department. Our long-haired German shepherd, Bruni, jumped into the air as she caught flakes of her own.
Then, the movies showed pictures of my 9-year-old daughter, Laura, and my wife, June, as we embarked on our Christmas tree safari.
We climbed into our Ford Country Squire (in those days, all Connecticut wives had a wood-grained Country Squire) and drove slowly through the charming village of New Canaan (which always seemed to have a white-steepled church on every corner) across the line to New York's Westchester County and the little town of Pound Ridge.
There, we knew, we could find the perfect balsam. More pictures of the nursery's petting zoo, as our children got up close and personal with sheep, goats and a real llama.
Finally, we chose the tree - a taller-than-our ceiling beauty which we could trim to size. More pictures of me spraying artificial snow and placing our F.A.O. Schwartz angel on top. At last it was trimmed, adding (as we always did) that year's new ornament.
The film is interrupted by our annual argument as to whether tinsel was needed (I always contended it was), and we all glowed in the splendor of this year's Tannenbaum. Throughout it all, our beloved Bruni contributed her help by continually getting in the way. We didn't care.
On Christmas Eve, we all went caroling. I'm not sure who was home to hear our voices, since the entire neighborhood joined in. Then everybody filed back to our house for hot chocolate for the kids and the world's unsurpassed eggnog (I'll send the recipe to any who will pay $100,000) for the grownups. I can only apologize for foisting cups of pure cholesterol on friends, who must have taken up Lipitor in later life.
I know I've told this story before, but for many years this eggnog party was the highlight of our year. As we moved, old neighborhoods followed us and joined with friends in the new one. What a wonderful mixed bag of people we hosted. I remember one year when the town plumber was joined by an Oscar-winning actress and a black opera star who had just returned from singing at La Scala.
The local paper's editor and a young teacher discussed the world; a doctor and the town tax collector compared favorite stories of children. Theoretically, the party ended at 9. But sometimes in the wee small hours of the morning, we'd discover guests squirreled away in corners of the den. It was our favorite Christmas tradition.
The movie picked up again on Christmas day with a mountain of presents for all, including our German shepherd and birds who flocked to the feeder.
This was Christmas. Loving memories. That was long ago. Today's Christmas in the Jefferys house is a miniature version of the one in the film. The tree has shrunk to a 4-foot height, pre-lit and artificial, but then I have also shrunk.
The children are grown and fully in command of their own Christmases. Bruni is long gone but forever remembered.
What has not changed is the spirit of the holiday. June still strings lights and garlands in and outside the house, and carols permeate our home. It is still a time to reach out to old friends, and we are fortunate that our families still live close enough to share the holiday. Most important, we still recognize Christmas for what it really is: a celebration of a birthday.
As this day approaches, we wish you a wondrous Christmas.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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