Monday, December 24, 2007

Well, I'm supposed to be making pickles right now.

It's a sweet/garlicky concoction that you either love or absolutely hate. Personally, I love them. My Aunti Hazel used to make them every Christmas, and I would eat big scoopfuls at a time. Sometimes, I'd swallow a peppercorn in my haste to munch them all down so I could go get more.

Making those pickles is part of a Christmas traditions list that I want to do every year to make the holiday even more special for Baby Boy. Building that list got me to thinking about all of the Christmases past from my own childhood.

Every year, Mom and Dad would pack us up into the back of the car (we never wore seat belts!) to travel to San Pedro to have Christmas Eve dinner at my grandma's house. Most of Dad's family was there (he had two brothers and a sister) unless one of the siblings was refusing to talk to the other one. (We didn't see one set of cousins for 15 years because my aunt refused to talk to my uncle.) We always arrived late which created tension and Mom would then dance around trying to amuse everyone. Dinner was a pot luck, and my mom always took baked beans. Grandma would place the food on a long counter in the butler's pantry and then the adults would eat in the dining room and the kids were shuffled to the kitchen table. After dinner, Grandma would sit next to the Christmas tree and read a passage out of the Bible. Then we'd open presents. We'd typically stay until midnight and then load all of the gifts into the car for the hour-long drive home. And every year, Dad would have to navigate through "Toolie-Fog" and mom would moan the entire way or beg him to pull over, which he refused to do. (This one evening was the only time during the year that we would see our aunt and uncles and cousins, although we did see our grandma around Easter and Mother's Day too.)

Christmas morning, we would wake up to presents from Santa and stockings filled to the brim with gum and socks and little makeup cases. Breakfast was always the same as any other day: Cold cereal. We never had a real Christmas tree, so Mom would spray bayberry scent all over the room. Dad usually never got Mom anything, and we would sit and watch them argue about money. Twice, in my entire life, I saw my parents kiss, and on both occasions it was on Christmas morning when my dad finally did get my mom a present.

Around noon, we would all jump back into the "Hoo-pee" (Mom's name for the car) and drive down to the beach to spend Christmas evening with my Aunti Hazel. There were always tons of people there - both family and friends who attended every year. Lots of cocktails were poured and we kids got to run amuck around the house. Every year we'd go into the bathroom and play in my aunt's makeup drawer. I can't tell you how many times I walked out of there covered in Dippity-Doo, thanks to my sisters. Dinner always included those special pickles, creamed peas and onions, a big baked ham and string beans. My aunt always had a huge (fake) tree on a table in the middle of the living room - completely flocked with fake snow with huge red and pink glass balls dangling from the branches. The tree skirt was that white "spun" material with glitter - the kind that would cut your fingers if you touched it. (Was that really true or did they just tell me that to keep me from sorting through the presents?) Most of the adults would get drunk and all kinds of accusations and raunchy songs would float through the air. The most memorable time was when my cousin shouted in the kitchen at her husband, "You Slept with a Hooker You Bastard!"...and he turned around and walked out of the house - leaving her stranded. Strangely, no one missed a beat and the party raged on. But I was always a bit embarrassed by that show of drama.

Now that my mom, sister and dad are gone...along with most of my aunts and uncles...I really miss those holiday celebrations. As quirky and dysfunctional as they were, I feel as though something has been lost. Once my Aunti Hazel passed away, we never got together again with that side of the family. On my Dad's side, the same thing happened when my grandma passed on.


And now Husband and I live in Colorado with no family nearby. Which is a huge part of the reason why building some holiday traditions is so high up on my list. They'll be a tad different than the ones that I grew up with...lacking all of that drama...and I hope that they create fond memories for my baby boy one day.