Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Joys #6 - My Grandmother's Christmas

One of the greatest gifts I have received (for Christmas or otherwise) is a heavy book which contains "An Autobiographical Diary" written by my grandmother, Mary Elretta Hardin Reagan.  "Mom", as we knew her, was born near Crockett, Arkansas in 1891.  To her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, the volume is "Mom's Book".  The first half is the story of her life, written in great detail and including poetry and the words of songs she enjoyed.  The second half is a journal or diary, written after she and my grandfather had moved from their farm near Kennett, Missouri, into town.  There they opened a grocery store, and Mom recorded her days as she sat behind the counter.

I have been preparing a post about my childhood Christmas, which I will post in a couple of days.  I decided that I also wanted to write about Mom's Christmas.  I recalled that my dad would often go and pick them up and bring them to our house, if they weren't already with other family members.  I wanted Mom's description of her typical Christmas.

As I mentioned, Mom wrote about her early life in great detail.  As read through the entries for her Christmases in the diary section, I found little description.  (I love reading about Christmas in the south as written by Truman Capote or Rick Bragg, or A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, but I knew that Mom would be less eloquent than they, but I had hoped for more detail that she provided.)

Then I got it.  I believe that I got it because I am so apt to get caught up in all the (religious and secular) facets of the Christmas season that I have little time or energy to enjoy and appreciate the basics.  Mom had it distilled down to the essence, as recorded in her journal.

Her Christmas was Christ's birthday.  She only missed church when the weather forbade going out.  It was the reason for Christmas - period.

Her Christmas was family -- all ten children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.   She recorded every family member she saw or heard from on Christmas, or lamented their absence.  Mom often wrote about being "homesick" in her book, even when she was at home.  I believe that home, to her, was having her family around her, and when she hadn't heard from them for a while, she was "homesick for them."  The more of her family she saw on Christmas, the merrier it was.

Her Christmas was food, lots of it, and the opportunity to eat it with those she loved.  She didn't record any individual dishes in her diary, but she did mention how she enjoyed sharing meals with those who lived close by.

Her Christmas wasn't about gifts.  I found only three mentions of specific gifts -- one, a pressure cooker and the other, pitchers for her collection.  I think she enjoyed the pitchers because they meant that the giver had knowledge of and appreciated her collection (which eventually numbered over 300).  It also wasn't about shopping, or holiday parties, or Christmas movies, or Christmas outdoor light displays, or any of the other things that can distract us. 

At first, I was a bit disappointed that Mom didn't record more.  But she was a farm wife and a store keeper, not Dylan Thomas.  Her eloquence was in her simplicity and that is what makes her book precious to me.  Thank you, Mom, for your book, your memories, and the life lessons you probably didn't know you were teaching. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Joys #5 - My Perfectly Imperfect Christmas (and Life)

This morning Tom asked me what I would like for Christmas.  I have received a tablet from my son and a gift certificate for new books for my Kindle from my stepson and his bride-to-be.  I thought that some new books for my Nook would be a fine thing, so we negotiated an amount and I was ready to start shopping.  I had read about a new book called My Perfectly Imperfect House and had added it to my to-read list.  It turned out that it isn't available for the Nook, but I am ordering it in regular format anyway.  Which brings me to the subject of the post.

I believe that we continue to do ourselves a disservice when we demand perfection of ourselves in decorating our homes, living our lives, and preparing or celebrating Christmas.  Most of us know the damage that trying to live the perfect life can do, yet we continue to consider the highest praise to ourselves, our children, our spouses, and others in our lives, "Perfect!"

I'm going to do my part to celebrate the imperfect holidays by coming out of the closet.  I have and will continue to stage photos of our Christmas (which, by-the-way, never seem to meet the standards of some of the lovely photos I see on others' blogs).  I will also edit my posts about memories of Christmases past to leave out anything that would embarrass family or friends.  But just for today, I am offering a glimpse of my perfectly imperfect Christmas through the photograph above.  This is untouched, except for the addition of the Christmas cards, which I brought in from the office.  It is actually a little less of a mess than it was last night, when some of the grocery items were still there.

The little lights were found with some old Christmas decorations.  I thought I needed them for a particular drab location in the house.  I asked Tom to buy some batteries and he did, but the lights are so old (marked down, according to the pricetag, to $6.95 about twenty years ago) that they go from dim to dark the further down the string you go.  I'm tossing them, and that drab location will remain drab.

I'm also tossing the little trees next to the lights.  They look like they've been through an Oklahoma tornado.  Maybe they have been; we found them with the lights.

Next to the trees are two cans of room spray, in Christmas scents.  I like to use candles and natural greens for their aroma.  There are very few natural greens in my yard and I haven't had time to go collecting in other places.  I'm not sure where those other places are; I picked up some pinecones one year at rest stops when we driving from Memphis to Oklahoma but I'm not sure that was legal.  I would like to have some greenery and pinecones for the bowl in the center of the table.  Anyway, natural scents and candle aromas are nice, but sometimes you just need a spray!

The box of candy next to the spray is for my dad.  My husband bought it, even though I am planning to make peanut butter fudge for my dad.  Tom says that dad likes the storebought candy and I'm not going to take that personally.  By the way, we're giving my brother-in-law and his companion two potatoes and two sweet potatoes for Christmas.  Maybe I'll explain that later.

In the back are the ingredients for chicken tortilla soup that I'm making for Christmas Day.  I gave up on Christmas dinner years ago, because we couldn't get everybody together at one time.  This year, I'm doing soups.  This one is a no-brainer, which I will need.  We are also having desserts.  I got one relatively complicated recipe (for me) from a high school classmate who is a wonderful cook.  She has already answered a couple of questions for me, such as "How do I keep the cake from sticking to the bundt pan?"  (Answer:  let it cool before you try to remove it.)  Thanks, Helen!

Next to the soup ingredients is a box of green tea.  I'm trying to drink more tea and water and less Diet Coke.  Notice that the box is unopened.  I have had two glasses of eggnog and three Diet Cokes since the tea was purchased.

Now for the Christmas cards.  You'll note that there are two boxes of cards and a list of names.  Some of the names are checked off and some aren't.  If you don't get a card from me, assume that you made it to the list, but not to those checked off.  I tried to get those out of town mailed first, so if you don't get a card, it's just that I ran out of time.  Or stamps.  Or money.

Hope you have a Perfectly Imperfect Merry Christmas!  If you have a Perfect Christmas, I don't want to hear about it.  (Just kidding -- I'll just clean up my own description to leave out the imperfect parts, just for you!)



Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Joys #4 - Holiday Guest Room

I always enjoy decorating our guest room at Christmas; the curtains and bedding are already red and white, so I just add a few Christmas pieces and I'm done.  It's ready for family and friends, and extra guests are welcome in the other rooms decorated for the season.  (That means air mattresses in other other Christmasy rooms, since we only  have one guest room.  Our guests are always very gracious with their humble accommodations; we haven't had a complaint yet!)

These handmade wooden Santas were Christmas gifts from my daughter, additions to my Santa Claus collection.  The smaller one is displayed with some antique spools.

I had been looking for a red and white pillow for the bed, when I found this one in the Coldwater Creek catalog.  The reindeer on the pillow is company for the plush one on the bed.  He is many years old and used to be very fragrant, but has lost his scent.

Hope you are blessed with Christmas guests, or provide that blessing for your loved ones!


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Joys #3 - Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell has brought us images of American Christmases from the past.  They are very special to me, since so many were depictions of Christmas during the 1950's and 60's -- my childhood -- as featured in another staple in our home, The Saturday Evening Post.

These two favorites are part of my collection of Christmas books.  The one on the right was originally a Christmas gift to my stepmother, Jo Ann, who passed away last November.  It was given back to me as a keepsake and a reminder that we both loved Christmas and Norman Rockwell.   It contains Christmas stories, carols, poems and recollections, all illustrated by Rockwell.

The other, smaller book on the left is a collection of more than seventy of Rockwell's holiday paintings.  The buildings in the foreground are also featured on the book's cover, part of Main Street, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the artist maintained his studio. 

Here's hoping that your holidays are as peaceful and magical as those portrayed in Norman Rockwell's work!


Monday, December 5, 2011

Christmas Joys #2 - Church Christmas Pageants

I have always loved Christmas presentations of all kinds.  I have participated in many myself, and have enjoyed the experience of being part of a living Christmas tree, and in the background as accompaniment to the Christmas story.  My favorites are the children's programs and my own children have provided some of the most interesting memories.  There is a certain level of stress involved before your own child takes the stage.  Hoping that the angel wings will stay put, the halo won't get caught in the scenery, and your husband's bathrobe won't provide the perfect opportunity for tripping can put you in a state of hypervigilance.  My own nervous tendencies have probably contributed to the pageant mishaps in our family.

Two cases in point:

The angel wings were lovely and attached as instructed.  The halo was attached to the headband.  The child truly looked like an angel.  She was ready to perform and I left her in the backstage area, confident that everything would go well.  Her sister's Sunday School class sang their sweet songs and I knew that the next group would do equally well.  The angels entered from the right.  My child was not among them.  I was in the middle section of seats and fought the temptation to climb over those in front of me to find out what was wrong.  Then, there she was -- running onto the stage and taking her place.  I didn't have to ask what had delayed her; part of her white angel robe was tucked into her panties.  The group's performance was -- well, angelic.  And so was she.

Another time involved a peppy song which was emphasized by enthusiastic clapping of hands.  Delightful!  But why was my child clapping by holding one hand open and bringing the other down in a vertical motion instead of the sideways clapping of the other children?  And why was she watching her hands carefully with each clap instead of keeping her eyes on the choir director or searching for her parents?  It was as if she were trying to kill a bug that had landed in her hand.  At least she wasn't picking her nose, I reasoned.  Then it came to me.  She had a loose tooth that she had been wiggling all day.  It was still in her mouth when we left the house.  The tooth was in her hand and she didn't want to lose it!  The up and down clapping was insurance that the tooth fairy would come. 

These stories are illustrative of my own joy in children's pageants now that my children are grown.  I can enjoy the performances of my grandchildren and the young members of our church without worrying about what could go wrong, while having the hard-won wisdom of knowing that those little incidents make the our Christmas Joys even more "perfectly imperfect."

May you have some happy pageant experiences this year!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Joys #1 - Sweet Little Jesus Boy

I'm beginning my Christmas Joys this year with a song. I first heard "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" at a high school Christmas music program 50 years ago.  I had enjoyed the seasonal selections sung by the various choral groups and ensembles and was probably thumbing the program to see what was coming next.  I heard her voice -- softly, sweetly, hauntingly beautiful -- as if she were singing a lullaby.  My attention shifted and I was there with her and the child to whom she was singing, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy."

As I write this, I am struggling to explain the effect this song had on me then, as it does today.  It stopped me in my tracks in the middle of the Christmas season when, even 50 years ago, so much was going on -- holiday concerts, shopping, parties, music, anticipation, stress -- all the good and not-so-good about that time of year.  Margaret Green's beautiful voice stopped me and her words spoke to me, "Sweet Little Jesus Boy; We made you be born in a manger; Sweet Little Holy Child, We didn't know who you was."

Today, hearing those words brings me back to the real meaning of Christmas -- not just to the manger scene, where the baby Jesus was born, but to the cross where he died:  "You done told us how, we is a tryin'!  Master, you done show'd us how, even when you was dyin'".

That's the point that this song helps me remember, to celebrate Christmas and to be thankful for that Sweet Little Jesus Boy, but that even during this season I'm going to fall short: "Just seems like we can't do right; look how we treated you."  But I know that the greatest gift he gave us is forgiveness, for all of our lives.  All we have to do is ask, and accept.

To provide a musical link, I listened to several artists' versons of  "Sweet Little Jesus Boy".   I was led back to Mahalia Jackson's.  I hope you enjoy it.



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