Left with a lot, and I mean a lot, of time to pass, awaiting the resumption of a normal life, one is left with several possibilities. The world of daytime television is a vast cultural wasteland. Once you catch up on the episodes of “Gunsmoke” you missed back in its heyday, there is not much left. Similarly Facebook, with its deep secrets of people’s mundane lives, how far it is to work, how long they are stuck in traffic, etc., along with zillions of picture of kids and animals doing “cutesy” things, is something one can only enjoy in small doses.
The radio offers some escape with Christmas music, but they tend to drive that into the ground with one on top of the other. The older songs, like “White Christmas,” “Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” “Rudolph” and others, do stir memories of times and Christmases gone by. It is in that reverie that I have spent a great deal of time in the past 10 days.
My earliest and strongest recollection of Christmas involves the smell of cedar and the taste of walnuts. Trees of any kind were a rarity in the barren landscape of west Texas, thus our Christmas tree involved going to the mountains. We called them mountains, but they barely qualified as a string of high hills. But cedar trees grew there and that was the source of the first Christmas tree I remember. Decorated with a sparse few glass ornaments, some colored rope and lots of icicles, it was magical to a towheaded boy just over 3 years old, trying exuberantly to interest his baby brother, 14 months younger.
We had no electricity, thus that Christmases did not include a lighted tree. But, Daddy, at some point prior to the following Christmas, traded a stolen hog for a Delco generator. He wired our house so that each room, all three of them, was lighted with a single light bulb.
So, Christmas 1940 found our cedar Christmas tree ablaze with eight colored lights. I remember lying on my stomach on the floor, in the darkened room, and soaking up the wondrous spectacle. Unfortunately, fuel for the Delco cost money, a scarcity, so the electricity ended around eight each night and we reverted to coal oil lamps until bedtime.
Grandpa and Grandma could be counted on to show up with apples, oranges, walnuts, pecans and other assorted nuts, as well as home-baked pastry. Grandpa never tired of cracking and shelling the nuts for the delight of his two young grandsons, on whom he doted. Such treats as fruit and nuts were rare indeed in our bleak world and will always be a part of my Christmas memories.
My wife pointed out to me that in relating my memories of Christmas, I rarely, if ever, mention gifts. That is because, aside from a toy and a much needed article of homemade clothing, both of which Santa left under the tree on Christmas Eve night, gift exchanging, though done, was not a big part of what Christmas meant to our family. Mostly, Christmas was family, friends, goodwill and shared wishes for better times.
I confess the only toy that I can actually remember was a wind-up train with three cars and a caboose that Santa left when I was 4. It was years later I learned it had originally shot sparks out the smokestack. However, Daddy and my uncle wore that out before I ever saw the train.
Perhaps I am fortunate to have grown up when I did, in a financially strapped family during a dim time in our history, but all the obligatory gift exchanging, the obscene amount of money spent on junk and fads each year, are very far removed from Christmas to me.
Nowadays, my Christmas means having my family safe and well cared for, Christmas cards from old friends and family, Christmas Eve Mass at St. Ann’s and my one holdover Texas tradition, tamales and margaritas after mass as we await the arrival of Christmas Day.
Pete Borden is a retired masonry contractor in east Cobb.