Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Memories of one more Christmas (1995)

Christmas Eve, and we were observing what has become a family tradition.  Everyone has gathered at my sister, Frances's house for food, fun, singing, and exchanging gifts.  Forty-five, I believe, was the total number of people crammed into that small house.

One bedroom held all of our winter coats, gloves, hats, and scarves.  All of the ladies purses were stashed in one closet, on the highest shelf, away from prying children's hands.  The other bedroom served as an expansion tank for periods of overflow, when a portion of that mass of humanity moved around, changing positions.  There were periods, when all the children, who had been exiled to the basement to play and roughhouse, would surge upstairs and all the adults would stand motionless, while they wiggled through toward some unknown destination.

All the food which Frances had prepared or others had brought, was laid out cafeteria style.  We would eat in stages, one small group at a time.  While one group was eating, the other sat or stood and talked.  The noise level has to be experienced to be appreciated or abhorred.  The range for voice communication was approximately two feet if you screamed at the top of your lungs, six inches if you spoke normally.  The scene made you think it was a reunion of secret tellers.  Everybody looked like they were whispering into someone else's ear.

It was an evening of unending miracles.  Somehow we were all fed without any serious injuries.  There were some mashed toes, a fork puncture or two, but thanks to skill and quick thinking, all bleeding was brought under control and no one passed out from loss of blood.

What a madhouse it turned into when it came time to pass out the gifts.  The term pass out is a very accurate usage of language in this instance.  The Christmas tree, which was positioned in one corner of the living room, was all but obscured by the heap of gifts.  Whoever was chosen to perform the task must, out of necessity, have a good arm.  The delivery of some of those packages would have made Terry Bradshaw green with envy.  He had never thrown a pass farther or with more accuracy, while guiding the projectile over, around and through obstructing heads and hands which were trying to intercept those packages in route to their intended destination.  There were invisible hand-offs and nimbly executed laterals but not one single run for yardage, unless it was in a pair of panty-hose.

It was December 24th, but the furnace was turned off and the front door was standing open.  No one could have remained conscious for longer than five minutes without that door being open.  All the oxygen would have been depleted long before that.  Everyone had their empty shopping bags at the ready.  As they received their gifts, they were placed in the shopping bags, and as each bag was filled, someone would shuttle them out the door and into a car trunk.  As soon as the gifts were passed out, those who couldn't take it any longer, would hug and kiss anyone within reach, thank them for their gift and say their good-bye’s on the move.  Slowly, the house had enough room for those remaining to find a corner to stand in.  Some truly fortunate souls actually found a place to SIT!

Despite the constant threat of a fire breaking out in all that crumpled up gift wrapping paper and empty boxes, the evening passed and the house escaped unscathed.  There were times when I imagined I could hear the floor joists moaning under the strain of all that weight and I thought I felt the house quiver a time or two, just momentarily.

Talk about miracles!  As hard as this is to believe, there is only one bathroom in that house.  Need I say anymore?

The evening of musical chairs ceased when someone managed to yell loud enough to get everyone's attention.  It was time to sing Christmas Carols.  We stood in corners, leaned on doorways, and walls.  The children were able to find a place to sit on the floor after all the wrapping paper and boxes had been picked up and stuffed into plastic garbage bags and placed out by the can rack in the side yard.  One after another, the talented members of the family would make their way over to the piano and play their own special selections while everybody sang.

I had waited for this all year.  Our family is so blessed by God, and sadly some of them can't see it.  They think that every family has five or six members who play the piano like these do, and everybody else has a beautiful singing voice.  Some members of the family have voices of solo quality, but the outstanding aspect of this family is the perfection in the blending of the voices.  It sounds like a natural harmony, with no one out of tune or off key.

There is a special kind of reverence noticeable in the voices as they melt into one beautiful choir.  After the traditional carols, we all join in on specially requested Gospel songs we have all learned over the years. 

I would like to think that every family is much like ours but I know that there are many who wish they had what this family has. It breaks my heart sometimes, to see how ungrateful some can be for the blessings that are all around them.  I give God all the thanks I can muster each year that passes by with this family not knowing some terrible tragedy.  How blessed we are!

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