Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Hope You Like My Gift

My family doesn't go in much for traditions at Christmas, or any other time really. The holidays are typically fraught with phone calls over who is doing what and where. Organized efforts are never met with resistance, but never expected either.
My family of origin, plus cat Liesl, 1984.
This used to drive me nutty, especially when polite inquiries into others' holiday plans are answered beginning: "Well, we always...."
I am the one who typically answers such questions this way: "We are doing something different this year...."
This year is traditional in its non-traditional way. Kevin and I will spend Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day alone together. I can't speak for him, but for me, this is just perfect. We have or will catch up with all our other family and friends over the coming weeks. But these two days are just for us. We made plans for an early church service and dinner reservations at the local Italian restaurant. He came home with a stack of dvds from the library ("Bravehart" and "Heaven's Gate" among them). I'm going to attempt to make butternut squash soup for the first time. We will take turns walking the dog in the bitter cold. We will exchange small gifts and stocking stuffers.
I can't remember a Christmas I have so looked forward to since I was 10.
Perhaps the greatest gift of all will be the time to reflect on all of my Christmases past. I will think of those no longer with us. I will remember the shots of imported German brandy my Grandfather Edward poured for his very under-aged granddaughters. I will recall the beautiful hand-knit sweaters and walnut torte my Omi crafted. I will remember their foreign conversations, my dad translating everything he thought would be interesting. And I will remember the ride back from Chicago to the suburbs sometimes ending with a stop at White Castles.
I will remember my dad raving about Aunt Jean's cooking. I will remember her and Uncle Ronnie's and the 7-foot tall white, rotating Christmas tree with a colored spotlight beaming up to it from the floor. We opened gifts underneath that tree, one year listening to Uncle Ronnie's new favorite album: Elton John's "Goodbye Yellowbrick Road." And I will remember my cousin Judi taking me upstairs to her impossibly groovy attic bedroom for a glimpse into her world of a popular teen girl.
I will remember my Grandpa Bernie dancing an Irish jig. I will remember my Grandma Cogan's free-flowing martinis, crazy outfits, and "dizzy blonde" stories.
I will remember Kevin's brother Patrick's garlic mashed potatoes, his washing all the dishes, and rough-housing with his six nephews and one lucky niece.
And as it has been now for the past six Christmases, the memories of my Dad at Christmas will be overwhelming. I will cry when I remember how much he claimed to hate Christmas and openly mocked "the little baby Jesus," drank too much, and always, always opened every gift from me and said: "You shouldn't get me a gift. Being with you and my family is all I need."

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