Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Nostalgia

I'm getting as bad as the malls, talking about Christmas when it's not even Halloween yet. But what with the writing and the plane ticket searches for the trip home, I guess I've just got it on the brain.

First, yes, Charleston has had White Christmases...at least one that I can recall. Sometimes it's 70 degrees, which is a little unsettling, but somehow it's always sunny and crisp and lovely. My parents have lived in the same pink three-storey house since I was three years old, so every Christmas that I can remember (save one) was in that house. When we were little, after setting out the cookies and bourbon for Santa, my sister would let me sleep in the bed with her and read me The Night Before Christmas. The book was my grandmother's, so the pictures were very old fashioned and Dickensonian, with ruffly nightcaps and funny hairdo's. And we'd lay our stockings at the foot of the bed, one with Snoopy and the other my mom made out of felt, that looked like a high heeled boot complete with sequins and rickrack (Mom must think Santa likes burlesque). And waking up in the morning, those stockings looked like someone with a case of the dropsy was wearing them, they were so full of little goodies. Those were mainly fancy soaps and toiletries, with a clementine in the toe.

Then we'd creep downstairs...it was always very cold, because the third floor had no heat and was remarkably drafty (gusty even). And we could never see what was at the bottom, because Daddy always cut a 25-foot marsh cedar tree and stuck it straight up the middle of the spiral staircase. You'd have to go to the landing between the second and third floor to put on the star. After Hurricane Hugo, there weren't anymore cedar trees that tall, so now they have a 9-ft tree in the living room, but it's just as beautiful. Still, those tall trees were the envy of all our classmates, and my mom is the queen of tree decoration. We have about 20 boxes of ornaments, some ancient and decrepit, some with working parts and ships in bottles and ones that my sister and I made. And she puts on garlands with ARTISTRY, so they loop and arch just so. And when everything is on, we cover the entire thing in antique tinsel, which is the devil to pick off afterwards, but looks just like ice when the white lights are on. It always looked like a fairy tree. So we'd creep around the tree at the bottom and see the veritable sea of wrapping paper and presents, sometimes a bicycle, once a pair of stilts, and I think one year there was a puppy, but that was for my sister, so I don't remember.

The one year we weren't at home for Christmas was after Hugo, because the house wasn't liveable. And rather than put up a tree in our dinky little temporary home in a friend's carriage house (far too small for a family that needed sulking room), we went to Boone, NC to learn to ski (ha) and build snowmen (Daddy and my Uncle Ricky made an anatomically correct snow-woman with cranberry nipples and a bottle of Jack Daniels...the mothers were not impressed) and go sledding. The main thing I remember about that one is all of us waiting downstairs for my grandmother to finish fixing her hair...and when you're 12 and 17 (me and my sister) and 8 and 5 (my cousins), this seems like a damnable waste of time. And when she finally did come down, in a foul and martyred temper, she said, "You didn't need to wait for me. I'll be dead soon." The silence was palpable, as all of us, grownups and children alike, tried to figure out what in the name of God she was talking about. It's a family joke now that when one of us is feeling ill used, we say, "Don't worry about me. I'll just go eat at Shoney's for Thanksgiving. Two pies for 49 cents." Sometimes we just shorten to it, "Two pies for 49," and roll our eyes.

We always pull out the stops for Christmas dinner too, with stuffed goose and forty sides and mom makes a dacquoise, which is chocolate hazelnut ganache with layers of almond meringue and almond buttercream. It takes Mom hours, but everyone really loves it. She also conveniently forgets what a pain it is every year when she's agreeing to it. And the whole extended family comes, and drinks Rum Punch and gets very jolly. Who knows where we'll be, since we have several families to please this year. How in the world do you organize that without hurting anyone's feelings?

8 comments:

Fubsy said...

Is it the giant pink house downtown on E. Bay Street on the way to the battery?

Matt said...

**pensive and heavy sigh** May I adopt your memories of Christmases past?

Jemima said...

Fubsy, sadly, that house on the Battery is not mine. Although, you know, they've repainted that one a particularly virulent shade of pink. Ours is like Mellow Pepto Bismol Glow rather than Bermuda Rave Pink. AND they have a lot of tiny yappy dogs with red eyes. Still, that's a pretty awesome house.

Horrible Warning said...

Wow, you're making me misty for Christmas at my pink house. No, really, I did grow up in a pink house, but it was in the LA suburbs and only one story. With one bathroom. But Christmas was still fun, with a real tree and tons of baking.

Wait, it still is fun. Now I have 2 year old Chipmunk to share it with, too.

Damn, and it's not even Halloween yet.

Marcheline said...

I've had family all over the place for years now - the answer is, you keep having holiday parties until you've partied with EVERYONE! It's not the date that matters, it's the togetherness.... and if more families means more parties, how can that be a bad thing?

- M

Wordnerd said...

Just spread the holiday out! Shouldn't be too hard for someone that loves the holidays! I have fond memories of family Christmases too.

I also have several family members that may be directly related to your grandmother.

Jen said...

I'm not sure there's a truly diplomatic way to make everyone happy when you live far away and can't visit everyone. I'm working on that right now... New Jersey, or Vermont? Who do I love more? I won't answer that...

barbie2be said...

i wish i had these kinds of christmas memories. my parents were both alcoholics so christmas (and most other holidays) usually involved everyone fighting and me ending up in my room crying. :(