First Christmas (from Lisa Wingate)

Here’s hoping that all of you enjoyed a wonderful Christmas day, and that along with the holiday treats and activities, came the sweet moments that linger long in the memory. We’re talking about favorite Christmas memories this week on the porch.

One of my favorite Christmas memories is from my first year as a mom. Late in night, I caught my grandmother with the baby out of his crib (when I asked her about it later, she claimed that he had been fussing–hadn’t I heard him?). They were sitting alone in the living room, and she was telling him a story. I stood at the end of the hall just out of sight, and listened as she shared this story of her childhood Christmas memories:

Oh, the best times of my life were at Christmas, when my family gathered together. In those days, they came in box sleighs hooked behind their good farm horses, hooves crunching dully on the packed snow. We were poor folk, and we had no autos, but those old-time cars were of little use in the snow. We children would sit by the hour on those Christmas Eves, listening for harness bells to bring our loved ones to us. There was barely enough space for the five of us at that eight-paned window on the front porch. I had five brothers and sisters, you know, and many more aunts, uncles, and cousins. You never knew any of them. They were gone long before you came, and I am the last.

These days, families are spread like cottonwood fluff, but back then! Back then, we were all together–so many that we filled the floor when we laid our pallets beneath the claws of the big, black stove. And dutifully, we children fought for sleep against the ticking and striking of the mantel clock that came from the old country. You see, there it is on your mother’s mantel. She doesn’t wind the chimes, but, oh, like a drum, it once struck in my ear–One–“Santa won’t come.” Two–“Until you sleep.” Three–“Gifts won’t come.” Four–“Gifts won’t come.” Yes, it rang in my ear, and in the ears of my children, and their children, and now for you.

On Christmas morn, that clock called us to our bright Christmas tree, a humble product of our forest, hung with such things as we could find or make. In my day, Christmas did not come from a shop. It came from our land and our hands. What fun we children had going on the sleigh for tree choosing! And carefully, with much discussion, we considered every tree along the path. The horses shook their shaggy manes and rattled their bells, and snorted smoke from their nostrils, impatient for their warm stable. But we would not be hurried. Youth is never hurried.

But listen to me. I go on like an old lady, remembering. What fine Christmastimes I had in my own little home, when I held the hand of my lover and watched my children hang their tree with ribbons, and bows, and strings of chokecherries. And I clipped the candles to the branches, lit the wicks with a twig from the fire, and watched them burn… back before electric tree lights… before anyone I ever knew had died.

Years have mellowed my joy in Christmas, as in all things. The packages, the tree, the fire, all carry memories to me–reminders that I am the last. Looking at them, I relive, remember, regret. And an ache blossoms in my breast that I am no longer young. But you… you in my arms are my blanket when my grief lies naked like a babe in the cold night. You are my youth, my sleigh bells, my nose pressed to the frosty window. You are me, repeated, sleeping unaware of the ticking and striking of the clock.

Each Christmas, in those quiet moments at the end of the evening, when the house is dark and the tree lights are twinkling, I remember listening from the hallway as my grandmother rocked her first great-grandchild and shared her Christmas memories. As I’ve watched that baby grow into a boy, and then a teenager, and now a young man, I’ve come to understand that story on so many levels, and I suspect that there are levels yet to come.

For me, that memory is a reminder that life is always moving, always passing. The time to enjoy, to appreciate, to love the people and the moments of Christmas-present isn’t ten years from now, or twenty, or fifty, in hindsight. It’s now–right now, with all the wrapping-paper mess, and the big, stinky teenage shoes left in the living room when company arrives, and the mini Frisbee golf tournament in which I was horribly outmatched, and the gingerbread house with all the candies mysteriously picked off.

It’s been a good Christmas. A Christmas to remember. The best kind of Christmas of all.

;o) Lisa


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  1. Sharon says

    Lisa, What a special memory of your grandmother with your newborn son and reliving Christmas past.And a great reminder that we are making memories today and should remember the best parts of all of our Christmases. This is a good day to write down the special moments from Christmas 2011…in the scrapbook, in the photo album, in an email to friends, in a special Christmas journal, in the baby books and whereever memories will live on…

  2. Lisa Wingate says

    What a great idea, Sharon! Writing down this Christmas's memories in a journal or scrapbook would be a wonderful way to save some of those special moments that might end up being forgotten. How sweet it would be to go back and reread that journal over the years ;o)

  3. Anonymous says

    The things your grandmother talked about reminded me of my dad's stories. Thanks for sharing the memories. My dad grew up on a farm in Wisconsin.

  4. Rachel Hauck says

    What a touching story, Lisa! I love your grandma!

    I love your memories too! Big stinky teenage boy shoes and all!


  5. Shellie Tomlinson says

    Sometimes grandmothers hear the baby crying when no one else does. It's a special pitch. You know, like our canine friends and dog whistles! :)

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