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Christmas means just one word to me

Can you describe what Christmas means to you in one word? What would that word be?

Jesus?

Manger?

Presents?

Tree?

Snow?

All good answers, but for me the word is family, pure and simple.

Each and every December, as we inch ever closer to the big holiday, I start to reminisce. And as I do my mind is quickly filled with fond, warm memories of the season.

One of those memories is of the Christmas tree. Now I don’t know where you get yours n perhaps at one of the mega-stores that starts putting them out some time around August, or maybe you pull it out of the attic n but we just had to walk to the end of our street, maybe 150 yards, to find ours.

Every Christmas for as long as I can remember, or at least for the 15 or so years I lived on that street, there was a man who would set up a tree lot. And not only did he have trees, he brought his own little tree-lot house, replete with a pot-bellied stove.

My friends and I would spend hours on end hanging out at that lot, helping the man carry trees to customers’ cars and just sitting in the little wooden house in front of that stove.

Of course the time was the 50s and we didn’t worry about strange men and little boys back then.

In fact, since I was born in 1951, I can truly relate to the movie A Christmas Carol n you know, the one where Ralphie wants a Red Rider BB gun but all the adults tell him that he’ll shoot his eye out?

Another fond memory for me is Christmas eve. It meant two things n we went to church as a family and we were allowed to open one present before being sent off to bed.

My family, although we were never what one might consider poor, never had a car. Well, I say never, but there was a time very early on in my life that we did have one for a short time. But I was too young to recall.

For the most part there was no car so we walked every place n my dad to work, my brothers and sisters and I to school. And we walked, as a family, to church, about 10 minutes from our house.

I can still see us, holding our parents’ hands, and walking down Market Street to St. Paul’s Methodist Church.

Following the service was one of the highlights of the season n the time we were allowed to pick and open a present the night before Christmas.

I always had a hard time choosing the one I wanted to open first. Did I want to leave the big one for the next day or open it early and sort of let the air our of my Christmas Day balloon?

As best as I can remember I chose smaller ones on Christmas Eve n which usually ended up being underwear or some other wonderful find sent to me by my Aunt Ruth. It’s funny. Today I appreciate receiving new underwear, and even ask for it sometimes.

But that is now, and I am a bit older.

Christmas Day always began early for the Grant children n even for me, who would never get up for school or any other formal function on time. And we always had to wait for our parents to wake up before we could venture downstairs.

Once the old folks were up, we didn’t get too far down the staircase before we were directed to halt. You see, every Christmas my mother had to have a photo of her five offspring, all sitting in order of age from oldest to youngest, and beside the respective stocking hanging on the banister.

OK, with that done, it was off to the living room. While holiday music was being played on the console stereo my siblings and I dug into the packages like a pack of hungry wolves. And then we hit the stockings.

Before long it was over. It never seemed to last long enough for me.

The next memory for me, and perhaps the most important, had two parts n my mother spending the entire day preparing the holiday meal and then all of us sitting at the dining room table and eating it.

With five children my parents decided to have two tables n one, a picnic-type in the kitchen for everyday meals, and the other a more elegant one in the dining room. That latter table was reserved for special occasions, in particular Christmas dinner. And it was also my mother’s sewing table most days of the year.

As I think about my mother cooking, and mixing, and stirring and baking n remember, this was a time when you couldn’t buy an already-prepared holiday meal at the local grocery n I can still smell it all. And I can hear my mother singing as she worked.

When it was done it was a most magnificent sight to see. That turkey was huge, and the outside was a golden brown. And I knew, without a doubt, that it was going to be moist and tender inside.

And just like the confidence I had in knowing what the bird would taste like, I knew the mashed potatoes would be fluffy, the gravy out of this world, the cranberry sauce cold and jiggly, and the pies n oh, those pies n would be as sweet as the woman who had baked them.

Yes, when I think of Christmas, I think of words such as Jesus, manger, presents, tree and snow. But most of all, when I think of Christmas, I think of family. And no present that I can think of will ever be better than that, and my memories.

Douglas Grant is the managing editor of the Suffolk News-Herald. Contact him at doug.grant@suffolknewsherald.com