Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Memories

I love Christmas.  I love everything about Christmas, from the decorations, to the music, to the spirit itself.  Everything seems better at Christmas.  We all have our favorite Christmas memories, so here are a few of mine.

My first church Christmas pageant.  I'm not sure how old I was,  and I don't remember much about that day.  I was chosen to be Mary, and my cousin, Kevin, was Joseph.  For most of the program, he and I got to sit in a homemade stable, complete with doll-baby Jesus in a homemade manger, and lots and lots of REAL hay.  It was awesome.  Nobody suspected anything.  Until our duet.  Kevin and I sang "Away in a Manger."  I'd been kind of itchy for most of the program and didn't think anything of it.  But the look on my aunt's face told me something wasn't right.  I'd apparently broken out in hives.  We found out that day that I'm allergic to hay.

I still believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.  The spirit of giving to others.  But I'll never forget the night I figured out Santa himself wasn't real.  My bedroom that I shared with my sister was right off the living room.  I heard noises late that night, and quietly got out of bed, hoping that I'd catch a glimpse of Santa himself.  Instead, I saw my aunt and uncle putting presents under the tree.  I just figured they were putting some more out before the next morning, and got back in bed.  The next day, however, I put 2 and 2 together.  The presents they had laid out after we went to bed said "From Santa" on them.  I don't remember a conversation about this revelation, but I don't remember being terribly disappointed either.  It's like, I knew something the other kids didn't.  I figured out the mystery!

My fondest memory of Christmas is family.  I come from a huge family.  My grandmother was one of 6 children, and she had 7 children with my grandfather.  Most of her family lived nearby, and most of her kids did as well.  We'd all gather at great-aunt's and uncle's houses, and at my grandmother's house as well.  Now my uncle's family also had gatherings as well, so we were always at somebody's house.  There was lots of food and laughter, presents and LOVE.  The coolest thing ever was the bag my uncle's mother made for all the grandkids.  She got everyone a huge red santa bag, and decorated them with our names on them.  When we went to open presents at their house, we just put all of our presents in our santa bag.  It was so cool.  One of my other favorite memories was going to my great-aunt Kathleen's house.  I remember the food was in the kitchen, the men were in the den watching a game of some sort, and the women were in the dining room chatting.  There were so many kids, we just ran around and I remember torturing my cousin Jeff in his room.  It was always so much fun.

The Christmas I moved to South Carolina.  It was crazy.  Right before I moved, my church had a Christmas party where we went caroling around the neighborhood.  It was so much fun, but it was sooooo cold!  It was the last night I got to spend with the entire youth group before I moved.  I'm so glad I still keep in touch with most of them.  Those are lifetime friendships that I cherish.

The Christmas that my aunt and uncle got my grandmother's ring fixed.  My grandmother had given me a beautiful pearl and diamond ring right before she died in August of 1998.  I only wore it on special occasions.  Usually that meant to a choir performance, or to a speech meet.  I was a member of the speech and debate team in high school.  At one speech meet, I noticed the pearl was gone.  I was heartbroken.  I had no idea how to go about getting a new pearl, or how much one would cost.  I took it home, and my aunt offered to keep it in her jewelry box for me.  I handed it over, and didn't think about it again until it got closer to Christmas.  My grandfather had called and asked about the ring. I guess he didn't realize grandma had given it to me.  And I started to panic, because the pearl was missing.  How would I ever explain that to him.  My aunt told me not to worry about it, that it would be fine.  But I wasn't convinced.  I remember my anxiety because he was coming for Christmas.  When he got there, he asked to see the ring, and when we went to get it out of my aunt's jewelry box, it was missing!  I about had a heart attack.  The pearl missing was one thing, but now the whole thing was gone!!  At that moment, I just wanted to cry.  On Christmas morning, we all gathered around the tree.  No present really mattered to me.  I would have given an arm and a leg to have my ring back.  My uncle called my name and handed me a little present and I took it and sat down.  I started opening it, and it was a ring box.  My heart skipped a beat.  NO. WAY.  Sure enough, the ring was inside - pearl and all.

Our first Christmas together.  It does not even feel like the first Christmas we spent together was 10 years ago!  We had very little money.  And the one thing I wanted the most that Christmas was a toaster.  I begged for a toaster.  We got each other a few things, wrapped them, and then put them under the tree.  Now, if you know me, you know I am not a patient person, and I hate surprises.  HATE them.  So while Chip was at work, I peeked at my wrapped gifts. One of them was, of course, a toaster.  So a few days later, we were watching tv, and a husband gave his wife an appliance for a birthday present.  And I started a tirade.  "Well that's just dumb.  You should never, ever, EVER give your wife an appliance as a gift, even if she asks for it.  It's just RUDE."  (insert evil grin)  I've never seen him squirm so much!  It wasn't until after Christmas that I told him I knew about the gift, hahaha!  Don't worry - he got me back.  A few years later, he got me a Dooney & Bourke purse for Christmas.  And knowing how I like to peek, he hid it at my friends house.  And I begged, and begged and BEGGED for my present.  So he said one day that he'd go get it, if for no other reason than to shut me up.  He left and came back with a big box.  I was SO excited.  I tore the paper off, and opened the box was clothes.  Not just any clothes, but my kids clothes that I'd left at my friends house.  That were still dirty.  Yeah, you probably think that's funny.  It's been a few years, and I'm not there yet.  It's still a painful memory.  Laugh it up.

Oh this list could go on and on.  I love that I am making new memories with my kids.  I can't wait to hear their stories one day!  What's your favorite Christmas memory?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ghost Stories

I knew this was going to happen.  I don't know if it's writer's block, but I have started two blogs this week and haven't been able to finish.  Some days there are so many thoughts swirling around my head that I don't know where to begin.  It's a smogasbord  of random thoughts.  I really need a friend, someone to vent to or just tell all these random thoughts.  But alas, I guess starting and not finishing blogs will have to do for now.  

So this blog is going to be a little on the heavy side.  I find it easier to open up when I'm writing.  It's a good thing I type fast because I have a lot of thoughts for this blog.  Lately I have really been missing some people in my life.  

First is my grandmother.  I swear, I never believed in ghosts until after she died.  I know with all of my being that she is near me.  I have had two experiences that confirm that for me.  The first happened right after Brenna was born.  She had only been gone a few years then, and I missed everyone in my family, since I was up in Alaska by myself with Chip.  It was a rough first month, and I can remember truly missing my grandmother.  I had hoped she'd get to see my children, play with them as she had with me, and teach them all the silly songs she'd taught us as kids.  I missed her so much the first few months after I had Brenna, and I guess I can't really explain why.  One night, I awoke to something.  I'm not sure if it was a sound, or a feeling, but I awoke, startled.  Chip was asleep, Brenna was (finally) asleep, but I had woken up for some reason.  Not finding anything out of the ordinary, I laid back down.  And then it hit me - the scent of my grandmother's perfume.  I hadn't smelled it in years, but it was so distinctive.  It was so strong, that I got up to try and find the source.  No luck.  I didn't have anything of hers that had a scent on it, just a picture or two.  I remember thinking, "Do you see her, grandma?  Isn't she beautiful?"  And then I passed right out, and slept soundly.  

The second incident happened here.  When we first got all of our stuff, I took out a framed picture I have of my grandmother and I in her clown makeup.  She used to work with the kids at the Catholic school, and one of the things she liked to do with them is dress up like a clown.  She had a wig, and all the makeup.  When I was home for Christmas in 2004 when Chip was deployed, my aunt had two pictures framed in one frame; one of my grandmother in full clown getup and one with me in the same thing.  When I unwrapped the frame when we got here, the glass was cracked down the middle.  It was not going to be an easy fix, since the frame was specially made; it was going to have to go to a frame shop and thus was going to have to wait.  I put it up in our closet, waiting for some extra money to fix it.  That was over a year ago.  Last month, I was cleaning out my closet for no particular reason other than it was driving me nuts having so much junk in there.  I picked up the frame, a little heartbroken that it still wasn't fixed.  But when I picked it up and looked at it, the glass was fine!  I asked my husband about it and he swears he didn't have it fixed (and with the amount of dust on it, I believe him."  It's now hanging in my living room.  

My grandmother was more than just a grandmother to me.  I lived with her and my grandfather for several years before she started getting sick.  I always wish I'd been there to say goodbye, but I know that she was gone before her body finally died.  I don't know if this is real or not, but I believe that when someone dies, their spirit looks down on you and knows the things you do and the things you say, if that makes any sense.  So even though I didn't get to say it to her, I know she knows I love her and I know she can see me now and all of my kids.  I just wish they'd gotten to know her.  To sit at her feet and hear her play the piano and sing.  Or to sit and hear her play the church organ.  I wish she could read them Cinderella like she did with me.  I look at all of my cousins and the 20+ great-grandchildren she would have so enjoyed doting on and playing with.  I know she can see us all, but it's not the same.  I just miss her.  Some days more than others. But I love seeing her smiling in her clown makeup every day!

The other person I really miss is my good friend Archie.  Most of you know, in high school I was a peer counselor, and worked closely with Archie for the whole 4 years of high school.  He became a surrogate grandfather to me, and I know I was special to him as well.  When he died last year, it was the first time I'd lost someone that close to me since my grandmother died.  I was heartbroken.  He could have met my kids, but we just never made it home.  I was lucky that I was able to visit with him a few months before he died.  And about a month before he got sick, I kept thinking, "I need to call him."  And I never got around to it.  I can't tell you how many times I've kicked myself for that.  I guess the thing with Archie is, he believed in me.  Not because he had to, but because he could see the me that I always wanted to be and encouraged me to find that person in me.  He always told me how proud he was of me.  I miss hearing that.  I really hope that everyone has at least one person in their life that tells them they're proud of them.  It's important to hear that.  I didn't really realize that until he was gone.  No matter what I did - and I made some pretty bad decisions that affected him and one of his ministries - he still would tell me that he was proud of me and he loved me.  When I didn't think I could face the world after some big mistakes, he stood by me, and didn't judge me, he just loved me.  Archie was an incredible man.  Even now, when I have a decision to make, I think, what would Archie say about this?  Sort of like, WWJD....but on a less official scale.  The first anniversary of his death came and went, but I honestly think about him daily.  

Another ghost story for you, before I sign off.  When I was working with Archie in high school, my aunt and uncle that I lived with had an old VW Rabbit convertible, like an '80 or '81.  When we had it, it was white.  When they decided to sell it, Archie was chomping at the bit to buy it from my aunt.  After he bought it, he painted it candy apple red and it look amazing.  (It always made me wonder why WE never painted it.)  A few weeks ago, I was coming home from somewhere, and it's winter in Washington, so it's been raining for what seems like forever.  But on this day, on the way home, I saw a patch of blue sky.  I turned to look into the sun (Hello, vitamin D!) and as I did, a little read VW Rabbit - Candy apple RED! - zoomed past me.  I smiled.   Hi, Archie.