Friday, November 28, 2014
TALES FROM THE BAYOU: Wrapping Up Christmas
Since this is the last installment of my TALES FROM THE BAYOU series, I thought I would give everyone a hodge podge mixture of different Christmas traditions and memories I have growing up in the swamps of southern Louisiana.
Soon after Thanksgiving Mother would shift the living room furniture around to make way for the annual trip to our ancestral lands to bring home a fresh cut Christmas tree. The entire family would hike deep into the woods until my father would select the perfect tree and proceed to chop it down. Back home Mother would hammer the metal base onto the bottom and then let us kids loose to decorate.
There was no money for fancy tree finery but we still managed to fill the tree with old glass and felt ornaments, colored paper chains, strands of silver tinsel, and garland made from popcorn and cranberries. I can remember sitting on our living room floor just waiting with needle and thread while Mother popped mounds of popcorn and someone else collected the cranberries from the bush outside our house.
Next came the canned snow Mother would frost the windows with which really got me into the spirit of Christmas. While the temperatures in southern Louisiana could get occasionally into the teens, very rarely did it snow that far south. Even the pretense of the powdery stuff would send my Christmas spirits soaring.
In one corner stood a rather large Santa and Rudolph which I loved to play with, despite the heavy vinyl smell emanating from the pair. The wind up church had an honored spot near the television but one of my favorite holiday items Mother made each year was the Christmas scene she made out of tiny plastic trees and poinsettias pushed into a styrofoam base. I thought that scene so creative I continued the tradition for many years even after I had moved out of my parent's house.
Then came the baking. By the time I was an early teenager, my older brother and sister were both in the Navy and Mother would faithfully stuff a care package for each of them with Christmas cookies covered in royal icing, chocolate and peanut butter fudge, homemade fruitcake and some divinity that was never my favorite. Janet and I were lucky to get to nibble on the "mistakes" of Mother's baking because only the best was good enough for family members serving their country.
Oh how the memories come flooding back when I think about those Christmases long ago. Flashes to last a life time like the year I got a five pound peppermint stick along with a hammer to chip pieces off to eat; my first bicycle I wrecked on Christmas Day; the first toy I ever remember receiving when I was 2 1/2 years old (a toy frog that would jump whenever you pumped the long yellow bulb handle); the year my brother waited until my parents were asleep and then proceeded to unwrap all our presents so we could know what we got before carefully rewrapping them; my father threatening to shoot Santa Claus with his old shotgun he kept in the closet; ribbon candy & Whitman Samplers; knowing I would always be able to find an apple, orange, and a handful of nuts in my stocking; singing Christmas carols with my sister; getting to open one present on Christmas Eve and praying my choice wasn't socks or underwear.
The list could go on and on. Each memory is so sharp in my mind that all I have to do is close my eyes. I can almost imagine myself back in time to that house on McMurtry Street when life was hard but memories sweet growing up on the bayou...