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

Hope

My holiday wish is hope.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”  ― Shel Silverstein

***

Humanity is capable of such good.  Humanity is capable of flight, capable of putting people on the moon and returning them home again.  We can be so amazing.

I hope we can find our amazing light and shine it throughout the Universe.

Music, art of all types, the application of human creative skill and imagination…mathmatics, science,..we’re problem solvers.

I hope we put our collective minds together, solving more world problems, making life better for all.

Amazing breakthroughs in medicine, evolution in technologies.  Testaments to what humans can do when they embrace a positive goal. 

It is my hope we come together and embrace each other and find a positive goal.

So many people in need.  In a world with so much plenty, so much wasted with so many hurting for necessities.  In a world with so much opulence and wealth, we have people starving or lacking for clean water.  This is despite the verse, “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

I hope we invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to our table.

I have hope we will see the light and channel our amazing abilities toward ending those pestilences that plague us…regardless of who “us” is.

My fondest hope is the “goodwill toward men” we traditionally embrace during the holiday season will continue into and through the new year.

I hope all a Happy Holiday and a Merry Christmas.

I hope all a warm and prosperous New Year.

More than anything I hope for peace and healing to all.

“Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”  ― Shel Silverstein

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The featured image is from the charity, Hope for the Holidays Program, https://charity.lovetoknow.com/Hope_for_the_Holidays

The nativity scene is from Trinity Store https://www.trinitystores.com/artwork/light-world-nativity

Santa Clause and Reindeer are from Pinterest.

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

PINK COCONUT AND OTHER CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

Normally when I can’t run, it is a bad thing. My head, knees or hips won’t let me. Today it was a good thing to quote Martha. My running interfered with where I wanted to be in my head. Usually, I create stories when I run to avoid the pain endured while running. This was not the case today. In my head, I was remembering the “Ghosts’ of Christmases Past.” Consider this a Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday present to you regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not. I don’t think it will offend anyone’s sensibilities and, rest assured, I love all your sensibilities…and idiocrasies. Peace on Earth! We can all agree on that along with good will toward men…and women. I miss my wide-eyed wonderment during the Christmases of my youth. Having to grow up was and is a trap and I have been caught in it for far too long. Hopefully, my memories will help free me from my snare…although considering the alternative….

A most vivid memory is a Christmas Eve trip to Monroe, North Carolina where my family normally shopped. It was just my father and a seven or eight-year-old me. Mom was busy at home preparing for the onslaught of people who would attend our evening celebration and little Stevie was too young to make the trip. This was a type of yearly tradition for my father. He didn’t have to go; all the presents had been wrapped and placed under our tree…or hidden away until Santa Claus made his appearance. My father would go and buy nuts and fruit…maybe a trinket or two. I just think he liked being in the Christmas crowd…and Woolworth’s warm and salted cashews was something he could never pass up.

Had people been raindrops, Monroe would have been awash in a torrential downpour. Usually a small and quiet Southern town, it was bursting with activity. As we made our way toward Woolworth’s and Belk’s on Main Street I remember being maneuvered through a throng that included several panhandlers who we avoided like the plague. We paused in front of the Belk’s storefront to look at the mechanical Christmas scene…or so I thought. Sitting below the storefront Christmas scene was a man near my father’s age. He sat on a pad which was attached to a board with small wheels. The unknown man had lost his legs just below his hips and his pants legs were folded and neatly pinned under him. In his hand was a small tin cup containing new yellow pencils. My father had paused in front of the man with no legs, not the windows. Reaching into his pocket my father withdrew his billfold and placed a ten-dollar bill into the man’s cup. It was a considerable donation for the time. I watched my father’s eyes tear as he bent and accepted the pencil and the man’s tearful “Bless You.” My father took my hand and while looking over his shoulder choked out, “No, bless you and Merry Christmas!” In my mind, it is easy to create a story involving a World War Two veteran who paid the same high price our vets are still paying today.

In the small rural community where I lived, most of our activities revolved around our school and our churches. Christmas was no different. Church Christmas plays featured shepherds in bathrobes with towels wrapped around their heads, angels with coat hanger halos and wings covered in Christmas tinsel and Wise Men with homemade crowns. A Betsy Wetsy Doll starred as baby Jesus. Taken straight from the Gospels, the story of the birth was read and acted out. Familiar Christmas hymns were sung by the congregation or choir with “Joy to the World” bringing the play to a close. Downstairs in the fellowship hall, Christmas cookies and cakes waited to be shared as the children waited impatiently to see a secular Santa Claus who looked and sounded a lot like my Uncle James. In later years, there would be Aunt Joyce’s Christmas Cantatas, my favorite being the one including “Jubilate, jubilate, King of kings he’s born today” performed by the combined choirs of my church, Belair, and Osceola.

In my day (Doesn’t that sound old?), in my day Christmas break began with a half-day celebration of Christmas at school. Classes had drawn names and presents were traded as we sat around a freshly cut donated evergreen tree decorated with ornaments made from construction paper. It would seem socks were the gifts of choice. Our teacher began our sugar high with decorated sugar cookies in the shape of reindeers, stars or elves. For their trouble, our teachers received small ornaments, many handmade pastries and desserts, and, of course, socks. A concert featuring the band and chorus would close the day and, if you were not in the Christmas spirit by then, you had no pulse.

At home, there was a fresh cut cedar tree with multi-colored bubble lights that had to warm up before they began to bubble. White plastic ice cycles hanging with very fragile glass ornaments all covered with tinsel. My mother pausing to listen to “Stille Niche” or playing Billy Vaughn’s “Christmas Carols” ad nauseum. Sorry. I never learned to play the saxophone as well as Billy and his band. A robot that smoked, sparked and reversed path when it met an obstruction. A model of a twenty-mule team borax wagon. My first full-sized bicycle, a red and white Schwinn Phantom, arrived the same Christmas as a freak ice storm. Can you imagine the pain of waiting to get outside? It was almost as bad as the wait for Santa. Lying in bed hoping I had been just good enough not to be getting a bag of coal. A plastic Thompson Sub-Machine gun so I could pretend to be Vic Morrow pretending to be Sgt. Saunders in “Combat.” My grandmother’s gifts, a patchwork quilt Christmas stocking she had made filled with butter mints and peppermint along with healthier fruits and nuts. There were the more practical pocket notebooks, pencils, and pens, too. “These are a few of my favorite things…”

After my mother’s death, I found the first gift I had given her that I had picked out and paid for with the sweat of my brow. A cheap, red and green, cut glass Christmas tree broach from Woolworth’s. I guess she must have liked it. There was always one evening anticipating the arrival of church carolers and another to drive through the community looking at Christmas lights. Perhaps there would be a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” A much simpler time.

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 family celebration. Baking was one of my mother’s chores. Fruitcake, fruitcake cookies, yule candy logs, Missouri “no-bake” cookies, pies and cakes galore and her very favorite ambrosia. 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 Mom 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. A larger hammer would break the coconut open and a sharp knife would separate the meat from the husk. If my father was not bleeding by this time he soon would be as his knuckles contacted the hand grater. My Christmas memories always include pink shredded coconut. It also may be why I don’t like coconut desserts very much although I will eat one dessert in memory of him. Hopefully, it won’t be pink.

My wife and I have attempted to continue the Christmas Eve tradition, short of pink coconut. I enjoy having my brother and daughter and their families…despite the pain of getting ready. I could never do for my brother what our family did for us but I hope he understands that I try and hope my daughter’s memories are as rich as mine. If her memories are warm, it is due, in most part, to the influence of my wife, Linda Gail, a little elf who never fell into the trap of growing up but whose own memories include recent losses of and distance from family. Being from a blended-family I always had to return Ashley to her mother late on Christmas Eve. It was bitter-sweet. Bitter for obvious reasons but there was something sweet about our trip home. It is a time of private sharing between the two of us, a special time that I cherish and miss. To accommodate the red-headed little monkey, Miller Kate, along with her new brother Nolan, we have moved Christmas Eve to Ashley’s and Justin’s. My wife says it is temporary. She likes to oversee our memories.

I wish anyone reading this a Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Dattatreya Jayanti, Mawlid an-Nabi or any other celebrations I have missed. For true “Peace on Earth,” I wish to embrace our diversity, each for each other. That is my wish as we close 2017 and enter 2018. May 2018 be the year of “Understanding” and a step toward “Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men!” Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a happy and productive New Year!

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf