A CHRISTMAS MEMORY
One of my favorite memories was going to Grandma and Grandpa George's home out in the country in south Louisiana for the holidays. My mother's parents, Rev. A.D. and Ruth George lived on the George family farm near Independence, Louisiana, next door to his brother, Uncle Herbert. This was the highlight of our lives for we dearly loved going there every chance we could.
Advent is a season of preparing.
Well, we prepared all right. Daddy prepared to go hunting with his friends, promising to be home for Christmas day. Mama, prepared for the rest of us to go to Grandma and Grandpa's. Preparations for trips like this were always stressful on the getting there part for Mama because she was not known as the cool cucumber mother that had all her ducks in a row when stressed. In fact, Mama didn't even have ducks...on occasions like these she had a goose....a loose goose. A totally frazzled goose.
The preparation began the day before the trip by her shooing us away while she packed suitcases and toys for four children. We would have helped but she usually told us it was easier for her to do it herself. “It'd be like trying to herd four free range children through a cattle chute,” she'd bemoan. “I'd rather herd cats!” So off we would roam while Mama packed and loaded the car with the Christmas presents we weren't supposed to know were in the back of the Buick station wagon. The next day, of course, she had to load the car with all the other gear needed for a week or so at Grandma's. Which led to the the task of rounding us up from the four corners of the universe to go to the bathroom, change clothes again, find shoes, sweaters or coats, favorite toys or games before assigning seats where we wouldn't kill each other for the two and a half to three hour drive to Grandma's, depending on how much she had to stop to discipline us. This never worked for we had free roam of the back seat but at least she tried. Before long, the loose goose had emerged with shouts of, “I don't care. Get in the car! Now! Nippy go find your brother!”
Sometimes Mama would have games for us to play, but that resulted in fights over who saw what first, or “I've already found that letter. Mama!! Make them stop!” Becky, of course, kept her head in a book the whole time except to complain. Baby Jane just crawled around on the floor. Bobby and I constantly pestered each other with Mama shouting that she was going to pull over and leave one of us on the road to rot beside some trash barrel if we didn't stop, her free hand swinging around the area of the back seat trying to catch us, while we ducked her grasp making Jane cry.
Since this was before seat belt laws, the most rowdy one had to switch places with whom ever was in the front next to mama which caused a complete new problem as they climbed over each other across the seat, kicking and shoving, while the others wrestled for positions in the back. “Lord, help me,” mama cried, “if I make it through this I'm gonna reserve a room at Central Hospital!”(the local mental hospital) “and they won't blame me a bit!!!”
Yet, in spite of it all, mama always managed to arrive safely with her four heathens still alive and usually singing Christmas songs as we left the highway, maneuvered the long driveway through the woods to the old weather worn converted shotgun house nestled against the trees in the clearing. It felt like arriving in a past century.
Grandma would always have candies and cookies ready the minute we arrived. Grandma loved to bake. There would be every kind of cake, pie, candy or cookie that anyone could want. We looked like a car full of circus clowns as we barreled out of the station wagon shouting all the news we had to share with Grandma and Grandpa. Once everyone was settled we sat out on the back porch or by the fireplace as Grandma gave us taffy to pull. We would gather in pairs and have contests as to who could be the best taffy puller. The adults sat around giving us encouragement or relaxing with a book. The collie dogs were scattered about the room fast asleep ignoring us. If the cousins came there was even more fun. At least for everyone else. The girls were all about Becky's age so they always gathered in the corner plotting evil or revenge. I had no boys my age so I usually was left out. This likely was when I discovered I preferred playing alone. The younger ones were corralled by the adults.
Since Grandma's house had no indoor plumbing, getting ready for bed was a unique experience going to the Outhouse. If it was daylight, the boys would sneak near while the girls were in there and shout “Snake!” or something. If it was getting dark, no one, and I mean no one, wanted to go past all those tall camellia bushes to the far corner of the yard to do their business. We usually had to be accompanied by an adult. After dark, of course we had the chamber pots placed under each bed. And yes, we each had to share emptying them in the morning. Then it was off to bed. We each had a collie to sleep with which was always fun.
The next morning, after we arrived, we got to choose the Christmas tree from the woods. Grandpa would harness the horse with a flat sled, gather all the children and off we'd go like a Currier and Ives Christmas card. You could hear shouts from each other as we let him know who had found the perfect tree. Grandpa would slowly walk around each one, pointing out it's good or bad features before raising a fifteen foot pole to measure the height, eventually deciding on the perfect one. Taking out his saw, he measured a spot on the trunk and had each one of us give one stroke with the saw before finishing the task himself. As we dragged the tree to the sled we all excitedly talked about stringing the popcorn or cranberries, or making paper chains to decorate.
I remember laughter as we took turns playing the old pump organ in the corner and singing Christmas carols as we decorated the tree. Sometimes I would pump and my sister would “play” but the songs never sounded so sweet. Afterwards we listened to Grandpa read the Christmas story from Luke 2.
Our days were spent exploring outdoors or playing on the stairs that led to the attic. Usually we played school and Becky was always the teacher. In the attic we learned to weave rag rugs on a frame that grandma made with nails on each end holding the warp. There was always a trunk to explore as well. It felt like a secret hideout when we were allowed upstairs.
Frequently during the holidays (Thanksgiving or Christmas) Uncle Herbert would be making cane syrup. We would be allowed to help gather the cane from the field, putting it on the flat sled behind the old horse. Sometimes we could skim the impurities off of the top of the boiling syrup, all the while dreaming of the next morning's breakfast when we would enjoy some of that same syrup on our pancakes.
Today we sit in our warm houses with artificial trees or ones from the tree lot but the season is just the same. We read the Christmas story from the Bible and sing carols (without the pump organ) and reminisce of the times when family always gathered and remembered.
Advent is a time for families and church and love. I am thankful we still have the laughter and love in our house.
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