Pink Coconut and a Hard Candy Christmas

The Christmas holidays are full of traditions for many, Christians, non-Christians, and those who are unsure. People of different religions and cultures raise and decorate trees, drape their homes in blinking lights, hang stockings, bake gingerbread cookies, and exchange gifts even though they aren’t Christian in their beliefs.  It is a crossover holiday celebrated all over the world by diverse cultures.  Families with diverse backgrounds gather during the holiday seasons to celebrate not only the birth of the Christian Jesus, but also themselves and their own traditions. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to traditions, I have reached an age when it is easier to look back on Christmas than look ahead.  Ahead shows a much shorter road to travel. I find myself somewhat emotional…but in a good way I guess.

As I gathered nature’s Christmas decorations for my bride; grape vine, evergreen garlands, pinecones, birch limbs with golden leaves, and holly berries, I ‘barked’ up a finger.  I cut it and it is barking like a bit dog.  Watching the blood ooze, I was transported down an old dirt road, a pathway home to my past.

My mother was a child who failed to fall into the adult trap when it came to Christmas. Activity swirled for what seemed like weeks as she prepared for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family celebration. Baking was one of my mother’s chores despite working eight hour shifts at the local textile mill.

Fruitcake, fruitcake cookies, yule candy logs, Missouri “no-bake” cookies, pies, and cakes galore, and her very favorite, ambrosia, a dish loaded with pineapple, canned mandarin orange slices or fresh orange sections, miniature marshmallows, and coconut…fresh coconut.

In the days before shredded coconut could be purchased at your local supermarket, it was my father’s responsibility to break open and shred the coconut Momma would use for her ambrosia and coconut cake. He would use a small ball peen hammer to punch a hole in one of the coconut’s eyes so the milk could be drained. The milk would be used in the coconut cake to insure its moistness. 

A larger hammer would break the coconut open and a sharp knife would separate the meat from the husk. If my father were not bleeding by this time he soon would be as his knuckles contacted the hand grater. My Christmas memories always include pink shredded coconut and I smile with the memory.  I  am not a lover of coconut but will eat one coconut containing dessert in memory of him. Hopefully, if it is pink it is due to a maraschino cherry.

As the blood on my finger finally coagulates, I continued to be triggered.  Memories of my mother stringing bubble lights over the tree.  Old timey bubble lights that had to warm up before they began to gurgle.  Billy Vaughn’s saxophones or Percy Faith’s singers are playing in the background.  She hums as someone sings “Oh Little Town in Bethlehem” on the radio.

Watching a fuzzy, black and white TV’s many Christmas specials. There were many but Perry Como and Andy Williams were mandatory. A Christmas Carol and What a Wonderful Life were too. It was a wonderful life….

Hand-made patchwork quilt stockings made by my grandmother, Nannie, adorn the fireplace.  They will eventually be filled with oranges, apples, and nuts…and peppermint swirls.  Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas” is now playing in my head.  I am a bit sad, but I am hopeful too…just like the song.

Christmas is a celebration loaded with emotion and I feel mine ramping out of control despite it being several days in the future. 

Chills chase themselves up my back as I am reminded of a trip to nearby Monroe on a Christmas Eve morning.  It is only my father and me.  I remember the crush of people.  A small town of sixty or so years ago, its entire population must have crowded onto main street.  People scurrying to do last minute shopping, dressed in Christmas finery.

The red and green lights strung from light poles. Being lifted into my father’s arms to see more clearly the Christmas scenes in the original Belk Brothers store window. The man with no legs who sat nearby, a tin cup full of pencils and a small American flag sitting in front of his splayed stumps. The tears in my Father’s eyes as he put a five-dollar bill in the tin cup and offered a salute.  Things you remember that bring tears to your own eyes.

Finally, a short stop at Woolworths and a small bag of warm salted cashews for the trip home from their nut and candy counter.  The cashews were a secret we shared. I can almost taste them…almost.

Something has triggered a memory of splitting wood on a Christmas Eve morning and delivering it with my cousin…a cousin who has now transitioned to his heavenly rewards. Maybe it is because I am standing in a corpse of hemlocks with the sharp aroma of evergreens.

We delivered our pickup load to an old former plantation house, the old Nesbitt place, a bit rundown at the time but decorated with greens and reds with candles twinkling in every window. The lady of the house took us on an impromptu tour of the downstairs, decorated for the Christmas season, a tree in every room.

Later, I remember sitting in his pickup after unloading the wood, drinking a PBR, counting my half of the money and thinking how adult I was. Adultism is a disease to be avoided at all costs…especially at Christmastime. Now instead of the money, or beer, I think of him and the old plantation home. I think of Christmas trees, their star tipped tops pressing near ceilings in every room.

We gather now at my daughters.  A new generation, a new tradition.  It is one I’m not quite comfortable with. Ten of us will gather this year, Covid-19 protocols will be observed but so will the wonder of a four-year-old and a seven-year-old as they open their gifts from their Popi and Grandmommy and uncle and aunt.   It will be different, and I hope face coverings are not to become a tradition like the pink coconut became.

Whatever you culture, however you celebrate the holidays, I wish you a Happy Holiday and a Merry Christmas.  I hope your Christmas Season will be loaded with wonderful memories as will the coming year…memories of Christmas past and of Christmas future. Take the time to enjoy your Christmas present while you enjoy Dolly and the ladies from the “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

From the movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”

Don Miller writes on various subjects “that bother him so.” https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0iqIBEnIxXiIoowO7bX6UV-1RY03y2ts7HHF-RYE46dSMt-hvZ_5AsCHs

Christmas Wishes

 

“If wishes and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”

Not the exact quote from “Dandy” Don Meredith of Dallas Cowboy and Monday Night Football fame but the original “If ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas” does not quite fit.  Unfortunately, the “wish in one hand, pee in the other and see which one fills up the fastest” seems to better exemplify my feelings at this moment.

I remind myself this is my “blue” time of the year.  “I’ll have a bah-looooo Christmasssssss without you” …without the sun.  Shortened days lead to increased depression…at least the after solstice the days will begin to lengthen and spring will soon be here…yeah…right!  Did you hear Elvis’s voice in your head as you read the quote?  I did as I wrote it.

I have memories of Christmases past that do not include “sugar plum fairies”  or being “snug in (my) bed.”   I remember candy and nuts in handsome, handmade, patchwork stockings…”hung by the chimney with care” or handed out by my grandmother to her five grandchildren.  Pencils and pens, pocket notebooks, a pocket New Testament and citrus fruits joined unshelled mixed nuts along with peppermint and butter mint candies.  My grandmother was quite the practical gift giver having lived in a time where fruit or a handmade doll for Christmas might be the norm.  She made many of her gifts; patchwork quilts, hand stitched with needle and thread, or small strips of lace tatted into bookmarks.  I wish she still filled those stockings with memories…or made those quilts.

My father often made a trip to the small town of Monroe, North Carolina, on Christmas Eve morning.  A twenty-mile drive, he took me with him, probably to keep us both out of my mother’s hair as she prepared to receive guests that evening.  I remember the “busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style”, the crush of people scurrying to finish their last-minute shopping, holding his hand to keep from being lost in the rush.

Pausing to watch the mechanical Christmas scene in the Belk Brothers storefront before seeing a legless man sitting on a type of mechanic’s creeper selling pencils. I remember the tears in my father’s eyes as he bought a pencil…for five dollars.  Stopping here and there, finally at Woolworth’s Five and Dime for a bag of warm cashew nuts that we hurried to eat before they cooled. I don’t know where to get warmed cashews anymore and wish I didn’t tear up thinking about them.

My mother spent weeks decorating for Christmas and preparing for our Christmas Eve gathering of family at my grandmothers, later at our home.  A huge tree in a small living room sat in the corner between the picture window and fireplace.  Silver tinsel over white plastic icicles and bubbling lights.  The bubble lights…they don’t seem to make them like hers anymore…real glass, not those plastic things.

I intently watched them, their gurgling heralding sweet ambrosia, Missouri cookies, chocolate covered cherries and the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning.  Sneaking around the corner of my bedroom to see if Santa Claus had left my Schwinn Tornado, wondering how he got it down the chimney.  I wish I could hear the gurgle of those bubble lights again.

Some wishes still come true.  My life with Linda Gail has fostered more memories.  She truly is Ms. Peter Pan dressed as Santa’s helper, never having quite grown up.  We don’t exchange gifts anymore, just cards.  What do you give people who found everything with each other?  Like my grandmother, sometimes I try to make memories for my bride.  Primitive art in the form of birdhouses or grapevine wreaths, an arbor made from broken mountain laurel.  Hollowed out trees, broken limbs and rusting tin repurposed.

I just chuckled remembering a rock I gave her one Christmas.  It wasn’t a diamond, just a rock she “found interesting” from as far back in the woods as we could be and still be in South Carolina.  “Sure would be nice if we could bring this home.  It would look nice in front of the fireplace.”  The heavy “boulder” sits in front of the fireplace reminding me of its punishing trip from the woods.  Punishing for me, not the rock.  The pain was worth the smile on her face when she unwrapped it on Christmas morning.  I wish for more memories giving me chuckles of joy.

Ashley joining us on Christmas Eve as the circle of life made us the eldest family members and the purveyor of Christmas memories.  No, not true.  Linda Gail is the purveyor of Christmas memories…trying to make them special…for Ashley and her brood and for my brother Steve and wife Rebecca…or anyone who shows up.  Just like our parents.

Years ago, there was always a poignant trip home late in the night to return Ashley to her mother.  A slow ride in a red VW bug or as she got older shifting the gears in my old FJ 40…larger hand on a smaller hand, running through the gears. running through the night.  A bittersweet ride in quiet darkness lit by Christmas lights…showing the way home.  I miss those special times, Ashley trying hard not to nod off while I just smiled.  A wish and a memory in the back of my mind.  Memories…just warm memories…just warm wishes.

My Christmas wish is for new memories.  Tonight we gather at Ashley’s and Justin’s to accommodate the two monkeys that are our grandbabies.  We are still joined by brother Steve and his wife, Rebecca.  Francis, Linda’s stepmother comes too.

I know Linda has her own Christmas wishes and memories.  Memories of her parents, like mine, now gone, and of a family in faraway Texas.  Memories of the first Christmas we spent in our little piece of heaven.  Memories memorialized in pictures; a childlike Ashley, her beautiful dark-haired great-grandmother she was too young know and the elf of a man who was Linda Gail’s father, a man I miss as much as my own dad.  More memories and wishes…for Linda and me.

The monkeys are two-year-old Nolan and five-year-old Miller.  They grow so fast.  They will be excited…on a normal day, they are wide open.  Wide open yet clingy to their parents until they adjust to the company.  Good parents, loving parents, just as I would have wished.  The babies’ clinginess will ebb as soon as Santa’s elf in the form of Grandmommy Linda begins to pass out gifts.  I’m sure Nolan will enjoy the boxes as much as his treasure trove.

I worry my Christmas wish for the world is too extreme.  I wish we truly embraced “peace on earth and good will toward all”.  I wish we might enfold the unattainable for a millennium instead of a few hours on Christmas Eve or Day.  Love thy neighbor both near and far, known and unknown, and live and let live.  Put the divisiveness away for good…beat swords into plowshares.  A hand extended in friendship and grasped with a grin on our faces.  Jesus preached it, we should embrace it.  It is my greatest wish.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to all.  May all of your Christmas wishes come true.

The image is of Nolan and Miller Kate and this year’s Christmas tree.

Looking for more musings?  https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM