Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Book Of Me, Written by Me, Part 4

This is my entry prompted by The Book of Me, Written By You project created by Julie Goucher of the Anglers Rest blog. The concept: a series of blogging and writing prompts that help family historians capture their own memories and write about themselvesGo to for more information.

This week's assignment:

Prompt 4 - Favorite Season

Do you have one?
A Happy Memory or association

Close your eyes and imagine your favorite season – write down what you see, feel, hear.

Another difficult assignment...mixed feelings on this one.

When I was a child, I always enjoyed the holidays--especially Christmas.  I loved the anticipation of my grandpa coming over to spend time with us.  We lived in the suburbs of Chicago, and Grandpa still had his apartment in the city.  He would either take the train, or my dad would drive in to get him, and whenever he arrived, he was loaded down with packages, all carefully gift-wrapped, and hand-picked by him, for me, my brother and sister. This was unlike my grandmother, who sent a check each year and had my mother get us something...usually cheap.

Grandpa worked for the CTA -- Chicago Transit Authority -- and had his office in the Merchandise Mart.  This is where many of the major department stores bought their clothing lines.  Grandpa would get sample clothes for me, and I had some amazing dresses and outfits that were made so well, they were handed down to my sister, 7 years younger than me.

Modeling a stylish outfit from Grandpa, cir. 1965
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

It wasn't really about the gifts, though.  It was about Grandpa.  He would help my parents on Christmas Eve, making sure Santa's gifts were assembled properly and the cookies we'd left were eaten.  One year, there was an especially difficult assembly of Barbie's Model Runway that Santa had left for me, a project which required Grandpa and Dad working into the wee hours of the night.  Yet, no matter how tired he was, Grandpa was there, watching us open our gifts, playing our new games with us, and always expressing his admiration for our new outfits.  He was infinitely patient, unconditionally loving, and definitely had the most profound positive influence on my childhood.  I lost him when I was 12, and I can still cry as I remember getting the news that he was gone.  

For many years, we had an aluminum Christmas tree.  It was turquoise, with white satin ornaments.  Once the 60's were over, we finally got a traditional, although still artificial tree.  I took the top of the turquoise tree and set it up in my bedroom.  I would string lights on the walls of my room, make construction paper chains, and hang candy canes all over.

My best friend, Carol, and I would switch off spending the night at each other's house on December 23rd every year.  We'd go to bed saying, "Happy Eve Before Christmas Eve," and then wake in the morning to say, "Happy Christmas Eve."  We shared many a happy holiday, and to this day, we make a point to keep up the tradition of recognizing the "Eve Before Christmas Eve," coming up on our 48th time this year, no matter how many miles separate us.  She was one of the only friends my parents would allow to spend the night at our house.

Once Grandpa was gone, the fun of the holidays began to wane for our family.  My father's alcoholism worsened, and with it, the mood swings, violent outbursts and physical abuse escalated.   I don't remember what started it, but we had a fight during the holiday season, and he destroyed the turquoise tree.  I remember cutting my hands on the aluminum strands as I tried to wrestle it away from him.  I was probably about 13.  But, on the other hand, I do have fond memories of my father taking me out on Christmas Eve to shop for my mother.  As I said, it was truly a mixed bag at our house.

Once the three of us reached adulthood, Christmas became one of the few times we got together as a family, and the mood had became strained.  My daughter later told me that my demeanor changed as we prepared to gather with my family, becoming tense and definitely not reflecting the joy of the season.  I know this is common with many families, but it was a particularly stressful time for me.

One good tradition we have as adults comes from my brother, Tommy.  (I'm the only one who still calls him that, but hey, I'm the big sister and I can get away with it!)  Ever the entertainer, Tommy made up an original game for the family to play each Christmas we got together.  It would vary from our own version of the "Newlywed Game," to a test of trivia modeled after "Jeopardy," and one year where he simply made a tape of funny scenes from movies, and the last one able to get through without laughing out loud won.  (I laughed first, so I was the loser that year.)  Tommy put weeks of effort into these games, showing tremendous creativity, and then serving as the emcee who had us all laughing.  It is the most positive thing I can say about Christmases with my family once I was an adult, but I thank God for it.  My sister became the heir apparent to Scrooge, eventually outlawing the exchange of gifts and the playing of games, and finally banning our presence.  (Don't ask why...I've never figured it out.)   I made a vow to change that for my family, and I think I can honestly say I have.

Now, I still like the holidays, but I celebrate with my husband, my daughter, my brother and his wife, and good friends that I choose as family.  I like to decorate the house, bake things that are not good for the waistline, sing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs, and wrap presents.  I like the smells of holiday foods, driving around to look at light displays, and lighting candles with scents like evergreen and cinnamon.  I like how people seem friendlier during the season, and I love it when there's a cold snap and I'm able to wear something warm and festive.  Last year, we actually had over a foot of snow here in Central Arkansas on Christmas Day--a beautiful, rare gift from Mother Nature.

My backyard in Conway, Arkansas, Christmas 2012
Copyright © 2013 Linda O'Donnell All Rights Reserved

Although my daughter is grown, I still get joy from finding just the right gift for her, and if I am able, surprising my husband with something he'd never expect me to think of (usually a techie gadget of some type).  It's also a time to miss those who have passed on, or who live far away, but I choose to count my blessings, which are many, especially at Christmastime.  After all, I have a husband who adores me, a beautiful daughter, an amazing brother and sister-in-law, and wonderful friends.  Celebrating the birth of my Savior with the ones I's the most wonderful time of the year!


Dedicated to the memory of my beloved Grandpa
Carl Johnson (1903 - 1970)

1 comment:

  1. You have expressed this really well, and the mix of emotions is apparent. Christmas can be a very tough time for many of us; it is how we find the joy that counts. For those who believe, the birth of the Saviour is, I'm sure, what helps us to cope with the good and the bad things that are thrown at us in life.