When I was little, we lived with my grandmother (mama's mother).
On Christmas Eve, my aunts and uncles and cousins came to spend the
We made pallets on the floor with piles of quilts, and at least
one year I remember sleeping at the foot of the bed, between the
grownups' feet and the wooden footboard.
Somehow during the night, rolled in layers of quilts, I slid down between the footboard and the mattress, and when I woke up, I couldn't figure out where I was, or how to get out of
the tangle of quilts.
Our house had gas heaters, and I remember Granny B warning us
little girls to be careful standing in front of the heaters in our long
flannel nightgowns, fearing that we would catch on fire.
The warm air would lift our gown tails into the air, like hot air balloons.
On Christmas Eve, we had to wait for Granny B to get home from
work before we could officially start Christmas. She worked at
Skillern's Drugstore, and often didn't get home until 10:30 or later, with
stories of men coming in just before the store closed, to buy a box of
candy for their wives or mamas, or a pipe and tobacco for their daddies.
On Christmas Eve, we opened gifts from each other, but the
presents Santa brought didn't arrive until every last child was in bed
asleep. I always tried to stay awake to hear the sleigh bells, which Uncle
Grady solemnly told us he heard every year when Santa landed on the
One year, Christmas Day came on Sunday, and of course we couldn't miss church, so Santa Claus came early that year. Late Christmas Eve night, my daddy and my uncle Jim took all of us kids to buy fireworks,
and when we got back, Santa had come!
My daddy said he started with our house that year, and that is why he came early.
With so many relatives, and so many children, the floor under
the tree was filled to overflowing with presents on Christmas morning.
Each of us had a stocking, with a whole orange or tangerine that we
didn't have to share, a whole shiny red apple, nuts in the shell, hard
candy, and some kind of toy.
One year we all got paddle balls--paddles with red rubber balls attached by rubber strings. We spent hours trying to hit the balls with the paddles. When the ball came off the string, Daddy or
Aunt Ruth would fix it by pushing a piece of matchstick into the ball
to hold the rubber string in place.
When the elastic wore out, our mamas and daddies collected the paddles so we would stop hitting each other with them, and next time somebody needed a spanking, they would use
the wooden paddle.
More than once, one of us nearly swallowed one of the
little red balls, that were just the right size to go down a little
My aunt Clorine made the best divinity in the whole world,
sweet, rich, creamy,
melting on my tongue like snow flakes.
Aunt Ruth's fudge was
straight out of dreams of sugar plums.
Fruitcake, studded with sweet
pecans and jewels of candied fruit,
mama's chocolate cake with hard icing,
Granny B's chocolate and lemon merengue pies--
I can still taste them in my dreams.