Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Past

I have so many memories of many, many Christmases past.

When I was young and growing up on a rural road, I was blessed to have girlfriends near my age who lived right up the road from me. Carol, Alice and Ginny. We all got into trouble as much as a group of boys!

One of the things we'd do each Christmas is stand in Carol and Alice's kitchen (they are sisters) and on the blackboard next to the phone, we'd write the lyrics out to "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Then we'd random dial a phone number and when the person answered, we'd lay the phone down and start singing all the way through the song! At the end, one of us would pick up the phone and say, "How did you like that?"

Often, we'd hear the telltale buzz of the phone telling us the person had hung up long ago. But sometimes, people would be so pleased and excited and tell us how much they loved our phone-caroling. We all remember how one lady said, "Oh, could you sing that again so my husband can hear it!"

My father would always take me out driving on one or more evenings to see the Christmas decorations in town. I'd look forward to this so much, while we drove with my mother's stepmother ( Freda, who lived alone since Grandpa died) around the city streets, punctuating the warm air inside the old BelAir with "Oooohs" and "Aahhhs" and "Oh, look over there!"

All the neighboring children would always go caroling from house to house on that New Hampshire backroad. One of the older kids must have made up song sheets, and with mittens pinned to coat sleeves and toboggan caps with knitted balls on top, we trudged through the snow up to front doors, knocked and then stood back and began to sing and sing. We'd sing perhaps five songs at each house, and I'd guess we entertained at 15 or so houses!

I can recall, after presents were opened, running up the road with a big stuffed dog or truck-horsetrailer set to show Carol and Alice! They'd show me what they'd receive and we'd play on the floor with the new toys, the woodstove humming nearby while their mother, Martha, cooked a big dinner in the kitchen.

Do you recall those large, plastic faces of Santa that had a cord coming from behind them, and they would light up when plugged in? People would always have them on their houses, and our house was no different. I wonder if those can still be found.

In New Hampshire, it is tradition to put an electric candle on the windowsill in each window of the house, upstairs and down. Many of the houses were so big, colonial homes with many windows and I wondered who went from room to room twice each night, once to plug them in and once to unplug them before bed.

We'd usually go to my mother's father's home for Christmas dinner. When I grew up, dinner was the noon meal and supper was the evening meal. My parents were divorced, but Dad believed in tradition and so he still went up to Grampa's and Freda's for Thanksgiving and Christmas. After Grandpa died, I started dividing the day in half. The morning was spent with Dad, and the afternoon was spent with Mom and her family. It was hard for me to leave Dad alone on Christmas, I hated that part of it, even though I always looked forward to going up to Mom's and seeing what was left under the tree for me!

Oh, Christmas vacation for us kids! We loved to go sliding on Spofford Hill, up the road about a half a mile. We'd pull our steel runnered sleds up the road, with our ice skates' laces knotted and then looped over our necks. We had winter fun ahead that would last all day!

The hilly pasture, covered with deep snow, was wide and long and had a few dips and rises to it. We would slide and slide and slide ... we never called it sledding, we went "sliding." It was "our" hill, no other kids showed up to slide there. I'm not sure we ever asked permission to play there, but thankfully Mr. Spofford whose old farmhouse stood guard at the top of the hill, did not seem to mind.

When we were tired of climbing back up the hill after the red-faced rush of the pull of gravity, we'd tramp over to the little pond of water at the base of the hill. Someone brought a shovel, and we cleaned it off, slipped on our skates and whooshed around with each, girls and boys laughing so hard, getting along, icy cold toes inside tight skates and runny noses.

In certain winters, the conditions were just right for an activity not many could imagine. If we had a cold winter but little snow, the swamps around us would freeze solid, and we could skate for what felt like miles. In and out of trees and bushes, finding trails that looped through the woods, jumping over branches hanging over the ice. I didn't know then that not everyone has experienced such a thing.

One year, my Dad built from scratch a very large, very heavy double-runner sled. He worked for weeks in the garage and when he proudly pulled it out into the snowy driveway, I climbed up a snowbank and snapped a shot of the sled, with my dog, Chico, sitting on it, with my black and white Kodak.

At least once each winter, there'd be an ice storm, a dreaded condition for adults who must worry about power going out from downed lines and treacherous roads. But to us kids, in the school bus with Mr. Kirby at the helm, ice storms held one delicious facet: when the iced birches were bending down over the road, loaded down with crystals from the night before, the bus would approach them and Mr. Kirby would call out, "Get ready!"

We knew what it meant, that he'd crash through the birches and the loud clatter on the steel, uninsulated roof of the bus was thunderous! We'd all duck and scream joyously in our seats, relishing the adrenaline rush of safe danger.

more Christmas memories tomorrow, I hope.

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