Monday, December 06, 2010

Spirit of Christmas lives on

(The following was my Undercurrents column for Dec. 14, 2008.)

For 43 years, give or take, my Christmas Eve was spent with — and in the home of — my maternal grandmother, Mazie Massey. My personal definition of the holiday was molded from those experiences and captured in innumerable photos around her Christmas tree.

Christmas Day was for my other grandmother, and in later years we visited my in-laws on that day, too. But Christmas Eve was Grandma Massey’s time.

There were fireworks launched in the field behind the house. Fondue was arranged by Aunt Wendy. Trays of veggies, plates of cookies, bowls of fudge, platters of pie, slices of cake. Homemade fruitcake if you liked that. Pictures of the piles of presents around the tree, as her children, grandchildren, cousins, friends and neighbors came over for the evening. (And in the later years, add spouses and great-grandkids to the roster.)

She had a gift for making children happy, for making each one of them feel like they were special. Every child who came into her house on a Christmas Eve could tell you how she doted on them, held them in her arms and made them feel loved.

The tree was most often covered in red lights, with angels and dolls and little birds throughout. She began collecting “Gone with the Wind” ornaments in recent years, and we bought her a new one just last Christmas.

She insisted on getting a photo of the tree each year. It made her happy to see the mad stack of gifts and the littlest children with their eyes full of wonder and anticipation.

In my childhood and young adult years, Grandma’s house was only a couple of miles away from wherever I was living. For the last 15 years, it’s been a little more of a trip, but we always made it. The first Christmas Eve I lived in Panama City, my car broke down on the way to Grandma’s house, and my Uncle Joe drove all the way to DeFuniak Springs to meet me where the tow truck had left me and take me home to Century.

There were only a few times we didn’t go to Grandma’s for the eve. Once in my childhood, we stayed with my paternal grandmother, and just a couple of years ago, as Grandma’s house was being renovated after it was damaged by Hurricane Dennis, Christmas Eve was at my mother’s house.

We even spent Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house one year when she was off visiting my cousins in Hawaii. A freak cold snap froze the pipes in an old house we lived in, so we carted the presents to her house, and we stayed the night there. I recall putting together toys for my toddling little boy with the help of my sister and brother-in-law.

No one lives in Grandma’s house these days. She left us before the spring came, after a long and difficult illness. Her little Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler ornaments hang on our family tree this year.

We’ll take pictures, and we’ll think of her.

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