Christmas Memories

I don’t have any book reviews to share that you haven’t already seen, so I’m writing about Christmas memories from my childhood.

My mother was very artistic along with being an organic chemist. I don’t think she ever heard the rule that people are supposed to be right-brain dominant or left-brain dominant.  She loved to paint and draw, sing in the church choir, and act in plays.  She also loved to dance and played several sports, though tennis was her favorite.

One of her favorite activities at Christmas time was decorating the house and especially our annual Christmas tree.  Each year we’d buy a cut tree early in December and stand it in the living room near the fireplace.  We tried to keep it well watered, but we always had a dog who drank for the water reservoir. We would decorate it with handmade ornaments such as jar lids with holiday photos printed on the top.  Not very pretty, but we had proudly made them in school.  We also hung store-bought ornaments that glittered and jingled and graced the tree with delicate ceramic figures.

But rather than string it with electric lights, we would attach small candle holders containing candles that were lit every evening.  More than one visitor to our house would eye those candles with trepidation and sit as close to the front door as was possible.  We never did burn the house down, or even scorch it a little.  And we all thought our tree was the most beautiful of everyone’s.

Every Christmas we would go to the local church turned town government building and watch the community tree be lit for the first time. We’d sing carols, drink mulled cider and play with our friends.  We’d walk back home feeling cherished and safe.  Then we’d pray for snow.

My sister, Anne, and I shared a room that had a window looking over the flat roof of our screened porch.  On Christmas day, Anne and I would check for reindeer hoof marks in the snow.  Of course, the marks made by birds or fallen twigs quickly turned into cloven hoof prints.  With a mother like ours, our imaginations knew no boundaries.

One Christmas holiday time, Anne and I were given tickets to watch a radio play production in Washington, D.C. The production was fascinating to watch and I was enchanted to see how they produced sounds like horses’ hooves clomping on the street, or doors opening.  All the things we now take for granted because of movies and graphics, really were like magic on the radio. In a way, I miss that simplicity. Anyway, when the production was over, we left the theater to find the world blanketed in crisp, silently falling snow.  What a wonderful sight.  All the government buildings were decorated with clumps of snow clinging to the columns and mounding on the roofs.  We caught the bus that headed toward our town. We had to stop at the bus terminal just before the Maryland state line in Chevy Chase.  But the bus to Garrett Park was not running, so we called home to ask what to do. Mother said to take a cab home.  The cab would only take us as far as the neighboring town.  The driver had no intention of trying to make it the very steep and windy Garrett Park Hill. We didn’t mind.  It turned into a beautiful, starry night with little wind and all of us walking toward Garrett Park were in a friendly, boisterous mood—laughing as we trudged along.  The snowy scene was clean and sparkling, cold but not bone chilling and the walking kept us warm.  It was one of the few times in our young years when Anne and I were having fun together.  And I cherish that memory.

Another good memory was when my best friend and I had gone to the midnight service at the Kensington Episcopal church for the Christmas Eve Midnight Service.  My mother was singing in the choir and she warned me and Karen that we should behave ourselves during the service.  And we did until the recessional hymn was being sung.  Our neighbor, Mr. Weaver, was a Deacon in the church and he was at least three sheets to wind.  He was literally swinging from the railings of the back barrier between the pews and the vestibule.  Karen and I tried desperately not to laugh, but to no avail.  Just as my mother past, we were both doubled over in laughter because of Mr. Weaver’s antics. Boy, did I get a scolding.

The last memory I’ll share was after my brother Richard had moved to Florence, Italy, where he still lives with his wife almost 57 years later.  I arranged very carefully, I thought, for him to call on Christmas Day, as part of Mother’s Christmas present.  Of course, things didn’t turn out as planned and the call had not come through by the time Mother wanted my other brother, Bill, to dig her car out so she could go to church.  Bill kept procrastinating until I finally had to explain what we were waiting on.  Turns out it was a good thing, because Mother immediately burst into tears.  She would never have gotten a word out if the call had truly been a surprise.

I’d love to hear some of your memories and I hope you enjoyed mine.

Merry Christmas or Merry Whatever to you all.

Sarah Maury Swan

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