Back in the middle of October, we were walking through one of those big warehouse-type stores where they had crammed as many future garage sale items as they could into the cavernous space, when we came upon some Christmas trees and wreaths and a bunch of six-feet tall Santa statues. “Oh lord,” KM said. “Not already.”
I have always loved the season, but not that early, when all the leaves are still in the trees or when you can still wear shorts on the golf course or when your football team is already 2-5.
I come by the love honestly, a gift from the women in my family, specifically my mom and grandmother, who both loved Christmas each year with the wonder of a child, and always made it magical for me and my brothers.
When KM came into my life, back in 1975, I started spending Christmas Eve with her large family at her mom’s house, near North Hills Country Club, where she and her nine siblings were raised. KM started getting nieces and nephews when she was still riding her bicycle and first going steady down the road at Immaculate Conception School, where the nuns would keep a sharp lookout for any early-hormone nonsense.
Her family’s Christmas celebration was much different from ours. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at her house that first Christmas Eve was how far away I had to park. Then, when I got inside there was a loud greeting by a pack of children, who quickly lost interest in me when they saw I wasn’t Santa. I was quickly handed a beer by one of the sisters or sisters in law, and even though KM and I had been going out since the 4th of July, her brothers gave me a look that silently conveyed the message, “Watch yourself buddy, we could easily kill you.” I tried to look unintimidated and chugged from the beer can, which was a Miller Lite, the preference in those early days, before the brother-in-law from West Memphis, who had married the oldest sister, began distributing Coors.
Things were different at my house, where my grandfather’s puritan demeanor made him always seem like he was 75, during each of the 38 years I knew him. There were no beer cans on the premises when he visited. One year, Mom was brave and tried to slip some Evan Williams into her eggnog bowl, but the first word out of my grandfather’s mouth after he tasted it was, “Spiked!”
Back at KM’s Catholic melee, we were enjoying the clan’s favorite dessert of lattice cherry pie, which I’ve never become partial to over the years. Next came the opening of gifts, which was planned every Thanksgiving with the traditional drawing of names. When you have 20 adults, it only made sense. Last came the battle of the Christmas Carols, which included the never-ending 12 Days of Christmas.
We all headed out around 9:30, with me planning to meet KM and her mom back at IC for Midnight Mass. I hadn’t even made it to the country club when it started snowing. By the time I made it the three miles to my house, the streets were covered and the night sky was filled with white flakes. An hour later my brothers and I were pulling our old rusty Flexible Flyer sleds from under the house and zipping down the hill.
It didn’t seem long before Mom was yelling at me from the doorway about Midnight Mass. “Dang,” I thought as I walked in the house and asked her if she really wanted me driving in these conditions.
“Not really,” came the answer I was hoping for. So I called KM and told her the truth. Maybe not the best decision for our first Christmas Eve together, but how often does it snow on that night? Anyway, it was finally forgotten 14 years later when I missed her brother’s wedding to go to the Arkansas-Texas football game, a decision which is still remembered in some family circles.
Merry Christmas to all.