It was at the dead end of a street. It was a small house jammed with ten kids. My mom could barely lace up the shoe. Yet she worked hard to make this time of year special. My wife has a tinge of sadness when I tell her we would get clothes for Christmas and one toy. I keep forgetting to tell her the other stuff.
Like the mistletoe hung over archway right under the plaster “Last Supper”.
Like the strung popcorn and cranberries that twirled around the tinsel strewn tree.
Like new fireman pajamas.
Like the hand knit stockings with a jingle bell dangling in the middle…twelve of them strung across the sun porch windows…each one with a knitted name.
Like the smell of mince meat pie.
Like the early years heading off to midnight mass.
Like hot cocoa made from real whole milk and sugar and cocoa after being out in the snow so long cotton balls of ice and slush were fused on the bottom of our snow pants.
Like the Ames Brothers and Bing caroling us in the background.
Like the Christmas bells that hung on our back door year round…They sometimes made me think of the magic of Christmas on a hot August night.
Like heading downtown to see the Nativity and being kinda scared of the eight foot shepherd that stared right at me.
Like when we would eat the un-yellow snow.
Like when Bob McDonald, Dennis Shields and I would comb the neighborhood and steal Christmas lights off of the bushes and throw them in the street to explode like firecrackers. (Until we got caught trying to steal some off of a front door frame)
Then there was the waiting. The twelve step waiting. “My name is Jerry and I love Christmas morning.”
Ten kids on twelve steps equal anticipation, impatience, giggling, flatuation, more giggles and squeezing for position on the lowest step. We tried to be quite and yet subconsciously enough noise was generated to rouse the sleeping Santa at the bottom of the steps just to the right. Said Santa just went to sleep a couple of hours ago (But we didn’t appreciate that).
A gurgled “not yet!” would waif itself around the corner…then more sleep breathing.
ZZZZzzzz snarf schoogle smack smack
We could see the colored light seeping around the corner from the living room. Our imaginations would be bouncing off each other like the little white dot that jumped a top of the sing along with Mitch songs on T.V. We knew there would be underwear and socks and pajamas…but what of our “list” would be under the tree. Which present of the urban sprawl under the tree would be ours? No matter the lowest girth of the fern it could not contain the gifts.
And so we sat and she snored.
And so we fidgeted and she took cleansing sighs.
And so we creaked the steps with our buttocks and she swallowed the sugarplum fairy like a hair ball.
I imagine a committee meeting on the landing was held to appoint a scapegoat. Someone had to directly ask the exhausted Merry Marilee if we could descend. Most likely it was Carol. The baby. The spoiled. The cute. The Cindy Lou Who of our who’s who. Surely Mom would be sympathetic to her soft cry for freedom. The stairs that imprisoned us all like Babes in Toyland held us. The rail slats like iron bars on which we would drag our tin cups of impatience cuffed us. Our bodies staggered on risers like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir…yet our voices(begging)didn’t evoke yuletide inspiration per se…more like pleading for parole or pardon.
Then we would hear a rustling and our fidgeting stopped and earwax melted to listen. Out from the North Pole rose an elf in a nightie. Red was her bed head hair as she passed. Her cats eye glasses guiding her one eye to the coffee pot. I could hear her flick open her cigarette lighter and flick her thumb twice. The fridge opened and shut. Cupboards knocked a few times. Then she walked past again to her room to get her robe. I swear I saw her smirk a little and a sleepy twinkle in her eyes. We reverted to silent body language…eyes popping out…hands almost clapping…nudging…touching…scooting.
She once more came out of her den and fetched her coffee and sat in the living room. She had a box seat for the show.
“Alright, you can come see…”
We did see. Not her face glowing, but lights, and sagging stockings, and sleds, and stuffed animals, and candy canes hanging on the branches.
We did see. Not the whole picture of thinking and choosing and remembering sizes.
We did see. Not the exhaustion and sore muscles.
We did see…and now that we have seen from our box seats, we would all call her or stop by her north pole to appreciate the memories. That gift is greater than any on our “list.” Memories of the ambiance of what she created for us. Each memory is a step on which to sit and wonder, like a child, how she did it.