The holidays are in full swing. Our days are spent shopping, baking, and decorating our homes to lend them a festive air. Our minds and hearts are filled with thoughts and love for friends, families and neighbors. We search for the perfect gift, yet everything we find just misses the mark. What to do?
I grew up in a large family. In our early years, Christmas was spent at Aunts Dot and Emily’s house. We began by going over there on Christmas Eve and decorating the Santa Claus tree. It was an artificial tree that was first purchased when my oldest sister Cheryl and my cousin Stephen were young children – back in the early fifties. The ornaments were bits and pieces left over from the Gift tree, (the one where all the wrapped presents were deposited to await Christmas morning), and ones that we children would make in school. The tree was put up on Christmas Eve and decorated by us kids. The excitement was palpable. While we decorated, we could hear the adults talk about Christmas past, and share memories of their own youth.
Christmas morning would bring the gifts from Santa, and shortly after the ribbon and paper would go flying as we tore into the gifts we gave to each other. Each year there were certain decorative boxes that ‘belonged’ to us. We three girls always got underwear in them – and I do not mean the stylish ones, either. These were cotton ‘granny panties’, as we called them. And, without a doubt, we always looked forward to those boxes. As we opened gifts, more of those stories of old were bandied about.
Christmas. Easter. Thanksgiving. Occasional Sunday’s, after church. All of these were spent at Dot and Emily’s. Fourth of July was spent at Aunt Evelyn’s. Occasionally, we would spend the night ‘just for fun’ at either Dot and Emily’s, or a weekend at Aunt Evelyn’s. We traveled a lot with Dot and Emily. And Every. Single. Time. There were the stories. Fun, entertaining, enlightening, sad, tragic. Stories of how the world was at the time, and how they reacted to it. I loved the ones about my grandparents, whom I never got to know. I laughed ‘til I cried at the image of my staunch, shy, and straight-laced Aunt Emily dancing on a table. I could hear the music as I was told about how the ‘boys’ from Barksdale Air Force Base would come to the house, roll up the rug in the living room, and they would dance to Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glen Miller and the Andrew Sisters. I was transported back into a time that was so different from the one I lived in, yet so very familiar. Even today, when I see something from that time period, I hear the faint whispers from those memories.
Are you still in search of the ‘perfect’ gift for Christmas? This just happens to be the ‘perfect’ time to start working on it – for next year. Start with these holidays. Begin to talk to your family, and collect these stories. Write them down. Search your memories for those stories told by family members who have passed, and ask clarification from those who are still with you. Create a gift that will last through the years and will lovingly be handed down through the generations. I never knew my paternal grandmother, but I think of her every time I consider finally cutting my hair. I am 57, and it still hangs down to my waist. My aunts told me of the time when my grandmother was 55, and the girls (Dot, Emily, Evelyn & Elizabeth) talked her into cutting hers. My grandmother died shortly thereafter, and I always wonder if she was pleased with the results or had wished she had left it long.
It may just be a simple story to most, but it is one that keeps my grandmother alive. All of us kids also have stories that we can add to that book. It is one book that, if I had it, I know I would read, over and over again. It would be a history book I wouldn’t mind reading and studying.
It’s time for you and me to get out the notebook and begin recording those stories. You can also ask each family member to write down their favorites – ones they have heard, and ones from memories of their own lives. Type up all the stories, print them out and have them bound, whether by punching holes on the sides and tying the pages up with ribbons, or having it professionally done. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just that all those precious memories are preserved.
What a precious gift to give your family. With just a few type-written pages, you can offer those you love a one of a kind gift straight from your heart. And it is one that will be cherished and passed down for generations to come.