Christmas Just Keeps Changing

I admit my memory is just not as sharp as it used to be. I like to think it’s because there is too much information clogging my brain and sometimes the auto clean-up throws away unused thoughts to make room for new information. I don’t get to choose which ones end up in the trash.

Since Christmas is such a big part of our lives, I just cannot remember every single one. So I am going to do the best at recalling what happened after the second change in our celebration of this favorite holiday of so many. (See Evolution of a Holiday) Anyone from the family who reads this is welcome to chime in with their own thoughts.

After the family got too large and it became too difficult bundling up all the small children and babies to visit each other, the adults decided it was time to dial it down. Somewhere during the early sixties, Uncle Rich’s family moved to Illinois for a few years, so they were easily “dumped” from the holiday visitation schedule. That left four families, and I am wondering if Grandma’s brothers just did their own thing and maybe celebrated with their wives’ families. So the main celebration  for us became just two families—us and Aunt Marian’s family.

I have vague memories visiting Aunt Marian and Uncle Tony’s house in Boonton Township, who, like us, fell victim to the tacky aluminum Christmas tree. These trees were modern, very trendy, and easily stored. There was no worry about the need to constantly keep them watered, and they had the very cool ability to change colors thanks to a revolving color wheel placed near the foot of the tree. Charlie Brown did not approve! If you are interested, they can still be purchased on Amazon or Ebay.

After Aunt Marian moved two blocks down the street from us with my grandmother in 1967, I remember visiting that house at Christmas. The silver tree was gone in both homes, eventually replaced by the more realistic-looking artificial green tree.

Sometime in the seventies, we began going to my cousin Nancy’s house for dessert after we opened our presents and had our early dinner of some kind of pasta—lasagna or baked ziti. We never did a turkey or ham, probably because all five of us would eat Italian food and Grandma could make it ahead of time.

There was always a ton of Christmas cookies, which is a tradition that I continued for years. Now I usually resort to something like Pillsbury slice and bake chocolate chip cookies, which frankly taste as good as my own, but I admit that does not come close to the variety and volume of my past. (I have been considering baking M&M cookies with Bryce this year.)

We probably moved the party to Nancy’s house as her family began to grow and it was a lot easier for her than packing up all of her children. Still, with thirteen children between the two families, and now marriages and another generation of children being born, it was inevitable that another change would evolve once again.

When this photo was taken in 1979, there were at least twenty-five people in just two families. Dad even made it to some of these celebrations. (The cousin explosion continues!)

Aunt Marian & Uncle Tony Holding Jamie, Christina, Jennifer
Aunt Marian & Uncle Tony Holding
           Jamie, Christina, Jennifer


Evolution of a Holiday

I guess Casey inherited her dislike of change from me, at least when it comes to the holidays. Although I am surprised that I have enjoyed moving around so much—living in 5 states—I don’t like all the changes in my holiday celebrations. Can’t I just choose a point in time and freeze it? So I thought that if I review the evolution of Christmas through my life, maybe I will feel better.

When I was very young, Grandma and Grandpa would take me to see Santa in Morristown. In the center of town was “The Green,” or Morristown’s answer to Central Park. Santa had an annex to the North Pole there, complete with elves and the biggest wooden rocking horses you ever saw. I loved going to visit Santa there.

I do not believe any of my siblings went to that Santa Land. I believe they visited Santa at another satellite house located in Grace Lord Park in Boonton. (Change #1) Every year, his house magically appeared there, and that is where we visited him sometime after Aunt Ar was born.

We had no special Christmas Eve traditional meals or any Christmas traditions for that matter. All that I recall is that we were given a time when we were permitted to come downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought us. Grandma and Grandpa were not strict, but that was one rule you just didn’t break—except for one particular Christmas. I was the culprit.

I remember tip toeing down those very steep stairs and peaking around the corner into the living room. The unwrapped presents were all under the tree (Santa never bothered to wrap our presents!), and next to the tree were Grandma and Grandpa. How could that be? Their explanation, which to this day I believe, was that they were fast asleep when suddenly, “from out on the lawn there arose such a clatter.” Naturally, “they sprang from their beds to see what was the matter,” and there in our living room were presents galore. Of course, I believed them. My parents would never lie.

One Christmas, Aunt El and Uncle Mart (perhaps Uncle Dave too) got up early, but they knew they could not venture downstairs. So they passed the time playing a board game in the bathtub until the anointed time arrived.

During the week when we were on our Christmas vacation, we would all take turns visiting the houses of our cousins so we could check out the loot that Santa brought to them. Grandma said that usually someone would mess up the plans by getting sick, but I guess we still hit as many houses as possible.

As the years passed, and our extended family grew, we stopped visiting every aunt, uncle and cousin. So that was change #2.  I think the logistics just got too hard. A new tradition was born and we all survived.

Then we started to grow up, get married, and now began to add the in-laws. Stay tuned for more.

Christmas- 19 Kids and 13 Adults
Christmas 1959

Surrogate Big Sister

I never had a big sister, but growing up, I always looked to my cousin Nancy as my surrogate big sister. I remember watching her when she was in high school.  As a kid, I wanted to be like her.  When their family moved to Cornelia Street, just two blocks from our house, I was happy that they were all so close to us.

She had a poster of Joe Namath, who played for the New York Jets, on her bedroom wall.  That was the beginning of my interest in football, although I admit not so much until I moved to the South and Kelly went to a big football school.

Nancy and her husband Charlie moved into the beautiful house with the scary driveway on Boonton Avenue.  That driveway ranked up there with driving up Main Street in the learning-to-drive world, because I had to drive to their house as part of my driver’s education class.

When Jennifer was born, I thought Nancy had the perfect life. To a kid eight years her junior, I wanted to someday have what she had—a nice house and beautiful children.

When I started dating Daddy, I remember talking to her and my cousin Janice about him because I had some doubts.  I don’t remember the exact conversations, but they convinced me to give him a chance, which was obviously good advice.

Dad and I still talk about babysitting for Christina when she was just three months old.  That day, Nancy gave her corn for the first time and it did not agree with her.  We placed her in her swing, which seemed to soothe her and helped us get through the evening until she and Charlie got home.

When we got married, they let us use their park-like backyard for our photographs.  That setting was the go-to spot for so many wedding photos.

But two of you don’t need a surrogate big sister. Only Kelly and I never had a big sister. I am thinking that Kelly, as the biggest cousin of our family, probably does not have a surrogate. Uh oh. We need to find you one. It’s never too late.

Never Mix Rocks and Spoons

When Bryce was born, Mark mentioned that he and his brother visited the orthopedic doctor almost as much as their pediatrician. As active boys, broken bones and stitches was apparently routine for their mom. Watching Bryce romp around the house and yard, I understand. He loves to dive head first off our bed, sofas and chairs, and when he runs at full speed, it is frequently with his eyes not pointed in the direction he is headed. As a result, his legs are full of many cuts and bruises because of being a human bull. There is so much to do, so he must run from one activity to the next. He has not been to a hospital for any stiches yet, but my crystal ball sees that in his future. It’s in his genes, from both his father’s family and his mother’s side. Uncle Mart also had the frequent flyer card at the local hospital.

But guess what, girls? I also paid a visit to the hospital which was not caused by an illness. My trip occurred in 1958—sometime between my second and third birthday. I was playing outside with my cousin, Alan. It started so innocently and involved rocks and a spoon.

Alan discovered that he could vault a rock through the air with aid of a flexible spoon. People say timing is everything, which was precisely the case on that particular playdate. Alan launched the rock at the exact moment that I executed a big, happy, wide-mouthed laugh. The outcome of this toddler physics experiment was my first trip to the hospital for an X-Ray. The doctor told Grandma that the rock did not enter my lungs so I would survive. The lessons learned here is to never underestimate the creativity of small children and to always keep plastic soups hidden from then. They can be quite dangerous!