Missing the Ghosts of Christmas Past

In this crazy, hard-scrabble and difficult world, we need to embrace every good, lovely, wonderful, warm, happy memory we can manage to stuff into our human, cranial computers! So, enjoy my loving gratitude to God and loving memory of:  Grandma/Grandpa Finazzi – the makers of childhood Christmas dreams come true. I hope this will cause you to relive happy memories and plan to make the newest ones for this fast-approaching, special family time. 

Setting:

Christmas Eve on Clunie Street, Saginaw, Michigan: THE house to be in on the night before Christmas. It’s cold and maybe a foot of snow on the ground. Dark early. The white sided house with the charcoal gray trim; third on the left from the corner. Big picture window in the living room, through which a lit Christmas tree is visible through the sheer curtains. 

There is a ball of artificial mistletoe hanging from the archway between the living room and kitchen. Grandma does her very best to make sure everyone kisses her under it. 

On the gas stove, you would notice the reasons for the permeation of a mouth-watering aroma–a tall, cylindrical-shaped pot (for spaghetti noodles) and a large, round kettle (for THE sauce), which would have been simmering, already, for a few hours, infusing the tomato paste and water with garlic salt, onion salt, parsley, basil, etc. (sorry, secret family recipe requires I go no further) I was in about 2nd grade before I realized that not everyone had spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas dinner. When a classmate said they were having ham for Christmas, it blew my little mind! How could they?! Also on the stove, a very large frying pan, over which Grandpa would be browning the meatballs and homemade Italian sausage, while Grandma checked to be sure all the grandkids had a little present of some sort, as well as the traditional set of new winter pajamas. This was the late 60s and psychedelic patterned sleepwear was in! 

The five children and the grandchildren would begin arriving soon after dark, until the house seemed to be on the verge of bursting with laughing, joking, adults and excited, happy children who were trying to ‘casually’ search for their names under that tree with the plle of presents exceeding the perimeter of the tree by about a couple feet. It just may be my age, but I do not recall any usual loud arguments among all those kids – not even siblings! We talked about school and Christmas vacation plans, the holiday TV specials, and whatever else occupies young minds at such a blissful time–mostly trying to guess what those packages possibly could be holding. We might skate in the basement for a little while, if we could tear ourselves way from the sight of that tree–or until ordered by our parents to proceed to the basement. 

Sometimes, I helped Grandma wrap the gifts for the ‘little kids’. I remember not-so-casually mentioning, one year, that I had seen the gift my mother had bought for Grandma. Grandma could neither keep a secret, nor let you keep one, either, if it involved her! She exhaled a tiny gasp and said, “Tell me!” Now I suddenly was a bit frightened, thinking my mother definitely would NOT be happy if I spilled the beans, and I made such a confession to Grandma. She simply replied, “I won’t tell her, it’ll be our secret. Go ahead, tell me what it is.” That was enough arm twisting to convince me to divulge the concealment. I now have that tiny, silver-plated piano keepsake box that plays Lara’s Theme from Dr. Zhivago, given to me on a visit to Grandma decades later, after my Mom had passed from this world. Touching it and listening to that beautiful, even if it is a little tinny, tune never fails to bring back this memory, along with a tiny, wistful smile to my lips. 

The sauce is declared thick enough and the meatballs have been simmering in it for some time. Grandma comes to the living room (or stands at the top of the basement stairs) and says we should wash our hands because she’s putting the noodles into the boiling pot of water. Grandpa and one of the uncles go out to the garage and retrieve two saw horses and a long length of plywood, over which two old tablecloths will be arranged while we children juggle ourselves on the couch or pull up a folding chair. The adults will sit around the kitchen table with the leaves inserted. Maybe great-Uncle Joe (Santa) and Aunt Shirley will be joining us, as they sometimes did. There never seemed to be lack of room in that modest-sized ranch-style home on Christmas Eve. 

The aunts would each have brought a favorite dish to pass and we would choose what we liked, but only after polishing off the spaghetti and meatballs. Grandma usually would have punch for the grandkids, making us think we were getting a treat, rather than the ho-hum, usual milk to drink. Hawaiian punch, specifically. We would, finally, wolf down our dessert of choice and then sit very expectantly, with almost can’t-take-it-anymore anticipation – gazes transfixed on that mountain of gifts. You most likely never saw such a suddenly well-behaved, quiet, huge group of children! 

Grandma would pronounce that the kids were all done eating and it was TIME. THE time. The one that we wondered about even on the ride over. Time…to…open the gifts!! Grandpa and the uncle would dismantle the makeshift table but leave the chairs. Then would come the question that never really needed answering, “Who’s going to play Santa Claus and hand out the presents?” We all knew it would be Grandpa, of course! He would put on his brown framed bifocals. For some reason, my nose now tingles as I recall this holiday scene, and I can feel tears just starting to threaten. I never saw my grandfather laugh and smile so much as he did while distributing that Christmas Eve loot. We would come forth, as our names were called, and try not to knock down the smaller ones behind us. When each one became old enough to begin to recognize written names, Grandpa would choose a ‘helper’ to read the tags. 

The living room would become a writhing, shrieking, happy mass of children and torn wrapping paper. You can imagine, maybe, if you are able to envision up to 18 grandkids of assorted ages and sizes. One grandchild would be born and grow up out of state in the Pacific Northwest, so cousin Nikki has to share in my readers’ imaginings. Picture Eight is Enough on steroids! The adults would be smiling and nodding at their own children’s displaying of the brand-new treasures and saying, “You’re welcome,” to the nieces and nephews, who (mostly) remembered to shout their appreciation. What a rollicking, lively, beauteous, crowd we were! So thrilled and grateful for the simplest things in life. No one thought about prices or practicality. One of my all-time favorites would come from my now late Aunt Geri:  An Easy Bake Oven! I would make my first apple pie under that light bulb and present it to my teacher, after vacation had ended. She was so gracious about it, even though it stuck to the pan because I had forgotten to grease it. 

The aunts would shag Grandma and Grandpa out of the kitchen and clean up the dishes, counters, stove, and table. The leftovers would be shared. 

We still would be marvelously happy and talking on the ride home. First thing upon arrival – change into those new PJs! We were allowed to play with the new toys for just a short while before bedtime. We fell asleep with full, joyful, child hearts, smiling at the fun, not only of presents, but of family and food, too. 

I wish you a beautiful Christmas, wherever you may be, with family and friends. May you make new memories and hold them close to your hearts. Maybe consider a little spaghetti and meatballs on your menu? 😉 

Grown up Christmas Eve is just not quite the same, yet, oh those lovely, precious memories do never fail to flood back and wash over me…as if there really were a Spirit of Christmas Past…hmmm…

The very best of Merry Christmases to:  Aunt Ellen; Maria; Marla; Skeeter; Nikki; Jimmy; Tommy; Patti; Gerianne; Kimmie; Teddy; Aunt Shirley; Buddy; Ton-ia; Darek Pooh Bear; Aunt Peg; Kelly; Skippy; Billy; and Christopher. 

Loving Memory:  Grandma and Grandpa; Uncle Joe and Aunt Shirley; Uncle Mick; Aunt Geri; Mom and Michelle. We never forget you, nor fail to miss you. 

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~ by saginawrobin on December 11, 2013.

5 Responses to “Missing the Ghosts of Christmas Past”

  1. Memories… makes you wonder if other families had such good ones as we did.

    • I remember Grandma commenting, just a year or two before she passed: “I guess we gave our grandkids something good to remember.” No, not just a ‘little’ something good…beyond awesome! It made no difference that those little gifts were inexpensive and nothing that would impress anyone in today’s world. It was the thoughtfulness and the BELONGING that mattered most. Thanks for reading! I sure hope all the Grandmas and Grandpas out there do their best, whatever that may be, as did ours.

  2. Reblogged this on N0Dak Bud's Blog.

  3. Hi bud i lived down the road from u and your sister it was a real cool story i remember those times.

    • Hi, Michelle! I’m Bud’s older cousin, Robin. Used to babysit them when they were very young. I’ll make sure Bud knows you read the story, if he doesn’t already. Thanks for the nice comment!

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