Christmas (Part 1?)

My grandma died last May.
The idea of Christmas without her alive is kind of weird.
I hadn't been to Christmas at her house since I was a kid but still... it's a change to know that she's not kicking around in her house.

The tree that has gone up every single year of my life, with the ornaments in the same places is not up this year.
The Crèches are not out.

The little bungalow where my grandparents lived hasn't been filled with uncles, aunts, and cousins hasn't been filled with the smell of babies, coffee, and cigarettes being smoked on the front porch in years but it's still such a visceral memory that only with my grandmother's dying could it become just that.... a memory.
Until now, it was as alive as me or you.

We used to all crowd into this little house, at some point in the middle of the day. We'd eat a lot of food, the cousins and some of our moms around the kitchen table with the occasional uncle standing up at the kitchen sink or leaning on the refrigerator with a plate in his hand and a political opinion to offer or a few teasing words to a cousin talking about the dumb things that little girls talk about.
Like Cabbage Patch Kids.
The Cabbage Patch Kids were NOT allowed to sit on out laps while we ate although that was likely the only time that the Cabbage Patch Kids were left out of contact with their respective cousin.

In the dining room, some of the uncles and aunts might try to find a spot at the table not already occupied by a tray of Christmas cookies. The table was just laden with cookies - the ones with a Fannie Mae mint disk in the middle and a pecan on the top, Hershey Kiss cookies, cut-out butter cookies, fruit cake, peanut butter cookies... all of them made by my grandma and my mom.

We'd run around trying to get the attention of the youngest aunt, Millie, who was home a lot or the attention of the eldest, Cindy, who was rarely home.

We were a pack of cousins - Alicia, me, Amy, Cindy, and Jeri Ann. There were two that were younger, Jami and Rachel but they didn't figure into the activates for the day unless we needed a baby for some game.

We went to play in the finished attic together, we went to find Mille together, we went to eat together, we went to play in my grandma's room together... we moved as a single unit of five girls despite the crappy little-girl social maneuverings that would sometimes flair up.
Mostly, we made up pretend games and dressed up the babies and the dolls Santa had brought in the morning while we waited for the late afternoon present-event.

I will never, ever, ever forget the Christmas that my sister made one of my cousins laugh so hard while they were playing Connect Four that she peed through her dress.
We all trouped into the bathroom with her when my grandma made her take a bath. I was not kidding that she totally peed, y'all.

We'd sit on the stairs, lined up and listening for our turn to answer questions from any given relative. The stairs were in the dining room and you could see everybody who wasn't in the kitchen from there. It was a good spot for little girls to command attention, even though we'd get yelled at my our grandmother if we got caught running up or down the stairs suspiciously.

When it was time to open presents, we'd mostly sit in the same part of the living room, near the tree. One of my cousins and I sat in the same chair for several years, until we were teenagers and it just didn't work anymore.
We'd take turns opening presents or open them all at the same time so that none of us would be "ahead" of the others.
Our grandmother would have Jeri Ann as her runner, pulling presents out from under the tree, checking the tag, and telling Jeri Ann where to deliver the gift. Even though she was sitting right next to us, right by the tree, Jeri Ann had to pass out the presents.
This was more for my grandma, I think than for Jeri Ann. She must have just gotten into a zone so that even though Alicia was sitting RIGHT THERE, the natural thing to do was to call Jeri Ann over to give Alicia a present.

It was hard to tell whether or not she liked having everyone over or not.
It wasn't like, happy granny in the window; there was no Mrs. Clause vibe per se.
It must have been nice to have everyone in the house though.
I mean, it HAD to have been nice.

She made ornaments for each of us, one per year until we turned 21.
Some years they all matched and some years they were random. My sister and I might get a dormouse in a chimney while another set of sisters might get a kitten in a stocking.
I of course have all of my ornaments and treasure them, the time and love that went into making them.
So much so that I don't put them on my tree. My tree is very, very small and there is no reason to invite the cat to break more stuff then she breaks solely by her gigantic existence in my house. Grace is completely mis-named, I know. She is not a graceful animal at all.
So I am keeping them safe, keeping them close until I have the motivation to have a big tree where they can be hung high away from the cat's black-hearted intention to find new toys.

But I miss them this year because I miss my childhood Christmases this year. I have not missed them in the past and I doubt I'll miss them like this in the future.
Holidays are kind of what you make of them, I think. A new tradition is around any corner. I mean to say that life is ever, ever changing so there's no way to think that a holiday one year will be the same as it was last year or the year before, not for very many years anyway.

But sometimes you get a good run of them, where they are the same enough over several years so as to create a reference point of normal in your psyche.

Of course I know that I'm not going to be moving as a pack with my cousins and eventually going to sleep two-by-two in beds in the attic ever again.

I even know that if I had children, it would be many years before they ran as a pack with any cousins that they have so there's not really even that kind of longing to carry a tradition forward.

No, more it's in my mind because like I said before: It's been many years since I was a child underfoot with all of my cousins and driving our grandma a little crazy, as packs of little girls will do to just about anyone.

It was a good time in life and I wanted to think about it.

I just remembered one grand-motherly story from one Christmas Eve.
Okay, so me and my cousin Alicia were older, like maybe she was in high school and I was in junior high.
We were having this conversation about Santa Clause. Having never really SEEN Santa Clause, we were doing that thing where you start thinking way too hard about something really simple and all of a sudden, it becomes a super-complex thing with infinite possibilities.
We had Santa not only existing but orbing around the planet at that very moment.
It got to the point where we had to open the front door onto the deep quiet of a Midwestern night in the winter where your entire family is in a kitchen a few rooms away.
We had to check, you know?
And our grandma?
Totally snuck up behind us and confirmed that Santa was orbing around but that he was probably still in Kentucky so we needed to check back later.

It was awesome and remains one of my all-time favorite memories, ever.

arizonasarah at 2:53 p.m.

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