Christmas Memories

Written December 15, 2003

Early 1960’s — Our family had an aluminum artificial Christmas tree that we used every year. Dad, being an electronics hobbyist, built a color wheel that cast alternating red, yellow, green and blue light on the tree at regular intervals. It was very pretty.

Christmas time was Tom & Jerry time. Mom and Dad made their own Tom & Jerry mix; I think it was four eggs and a cup and a half of powdered sugar, or something like that. Put two heaping tablespoons of the mix into a coffee mug, then add boiling water to fill the mug. Sprinkle a dash of nutmeg on top, add a shot of brandy[1] if desired, and that was it. Of course, we children didn’t get the brandy, so ours was more like a piping hot eggnog. But it was delicious!

1969 — I was eleven years old that year (oops, now you know my age; just do the math). All was well until 6 a.m. on Christmas morning, when I awoke from a sound sleep and straightway vomited all over my bedroom floor! Mom said later that I was probably too excited, but come on — I had been asleep! Is that possible? Maybe so; I don’t know for sure. The rest of the holiday went off just fine.

1972 — This was the year Mom decided to make Christmas candy, which she normally seldom did. She made several varieties, including a brown sugar fudge called penuche. I ate lots of it.

Midway through the afternoon on Christmas Day, several members of our family began to get sick. By the following morning, I was so ill myself that I had lost the entire contents of my stomach. I couldn’t keep anything down at all, nor could I walk across the floor without becoming queasy and faint. It was the dreaded “stomach flu,” and it took us down for about three days.

1976 — My sister had pancreas surgery two days before Christmas, so our family called off the gift exchange that year in her honor. On Christmas morning, Dad and I sat and watched the only thing on TV: school choir performances on video tape. It was festive and fun! This was one of the sweetest Christmas holidays I can remember.

1981 — My wife, Wendi, and I began dating in October; we spent Christmas at my brother’s house. That afternoon, we took a long walk in the snow in 10° (Fahrenheit) weather. I proposed to her on a highway during our walk. She graciously accepted.

1982 — The year Wendi and I were married. Wendi was just recovering from a bout with pneumonia. The weather was unseasonably warm in Wisconsin; it was 55° with clouds and a bit of fog on Christmas Eve. Children were playing baseball at Fourth Ward Park in Janesville at 5 p.m. as we were out for a walk.

That year we borrowed Mom and Dad’s old aluminum Christmas tree, which was quite dilapidated by now. The only gift we could afford for each other was a $20 Toastmaster® waffle iron; the gift was from both of us to each other. We are still using it to this day.

We baked some cookies and bought a bit of fruit to make small Christmas baskets for our family. On Christmas Day, it was sunny and 58°, and the grass was green. Boy, did we feel stupid, singing Christmas carols at the back door of Mom and Dad’s house, presenting their basket! It looked and felt like springtime.

The following year, it was 25° below zero on Christmas morning. My brother had to pick us up in his van to go to Mom and Dad’s because our car wouldn’t start. This is Wisconsin; go figure!

1990 — Joe was just less than two years old. Wendi and I took him to McDonald’s, where we bought a couple of those famous eggnog milkshakes. Wendi gave a little of it to Joe, and he wanted more. “More nog,” he would say. “More nog, Mommy.” I swear, he drank at least half of that milkshake!

Joe was fascinated by the Christmas lights and decorations around town that year. We tried to get him to say “Christmas lights,” but the best he could do, sounded something like “Princess ights.” Occasionally he would excitedly point at the lights and say “the lights,” but it came out as “ah ights!” It was very cute. Of course his speech improved before the following year.

1996 — A friend graciously offered the three of us a trip to Jamaica as a Christmas present. The trip would take place right over Christmas. I tried to get a vacation that week from work but lacked one day of vacation, which I volunteered to take without pay. Guess what? they wouldn’t let me take it!

“Go ahead,” I told Wendi and Joe. “You may not get a chance for a trip like that for a long time, if ever at all.” They agreed and went and had a great time, except for missing me. I missed them too. On Christmas Eve, I ordered a small pizza from Jim’s Pizzeria here in Janesville. I sat home and ate the pizza, listening to a Christmas tape entitled Dr. Elmo’s Twisted Christmas (the tape includes the famous Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer). One song, entitled Here’s to the Lonely, reduced me to tears.

On Christmas morning, I phoned Wendi and Joe in Jamaica, and we talked for several minutes. It was sweet. I even recorded the conversation on tape so we could keep it.

2003 — This was the year we bought the house. Oh, but Christmas isn’t here yet! We’ll have to wait and see what this year brings. Come back after Christmas, and I’ll tell you about it.