by C. Jeanette Tyson
This morning I gazed into the crystalline blue sky, heard sleigh bells ring and swore.
The catalogs are coming twenty at a time in the regular mailbox. Electronically Iím being hounded by those eerily personal messages
designed to make you feel guilty about keeping those credit card
numbers to yourself: Jeanette, where did you go!? Hereís a coupon if
youíll just come back. (Oh, right, what was I thinking, send that goose
down quilt and a lime green parka to Texas right away. What the hell,
throw in a muff, too).
Amid the plastic pumpkins coming down
and the plastic snowmen going up,
itís not holiday spirit that fills me but the slightly nauseous
sensation of being not only late, but disorganized, unimaginative,
uncaring and tight with a dime to boot.
On November 1, I was talking on the phone to a friend who had carols
playing in the background. He loves Christmas, he says, and wants to
make the season last as long as he can. Shoot me now.
Where did I put my joie de Christmas?
Call me crazy but when Christmas starts before mama sneaks the last
KitKat out of the Halloween take, I just feel like Iím already late for
another deadline. That makes me a little pissy because the other
deadlines-I-get-paid-to-make generally increase around this time of
year, too. Judging by the proliferation of articles about holiday
blues, I must not be the only one.
The answer, weíre told, is to get simple. Iíd be all for that except
that the world, or my current world, doesnít seem to work that way.
Families scatter like men after Thanksgiving dinner. Friends who once
shared an important part of your life live half a continent away. Jobs
meant for two people are being done by one grateful, exhausted person.
Keeping on top of the childrenís social schedules can keep you from
having one of your own. Itís all a holiday buzz-kill.
Ok, I can surrender to UPS overnight delivery. I can buy plane tickets
in July. Cards can go out for New Yearís instead and I can even curb
the spending spree. But that doesnít completely ease the feeling that
something is amiss.
All I want for Christmas is to be a kid again. No, this doesnít mean I
want to push particularly intriguing presents up against the tree stand
so I can get the tape wet, lift it and see whatís inside. Címon, like
you never did that.
When I was growing up, there was no question what we would do for the
holidays. Christmas Eve was spent with my maternal grandmother.
Christmas Day we made the pilgrimage to my great-grandmotherís house.
Family trekked in from all over the state. They arrived with Tupperware
containers filled with green bean casserole and coconut cake. There
were dishes of sweet potatoes and plates of deviled eggs and homemade
pickles. My Aunt Gertrude supplied turkeys and ham; who knows how many
days she spent getting ready. The table groaned with food, the kitchen
counters held the overflow. Around eighty people showed up one year;
whether this number grew or not, I donít remember.
We ate, plates on knees, sprawled on and off chairs inside and out, in
the porch swing, on concrete steps. As much food as there was, there
was always room for Carolís fudge, so intensely melt-in-your-mouth
delicious that she cut it into miniature cubes, whether to lower the
risk of overpowering the taste buds or just in the hope that everyone
would be able to have some, I donít know. Carol is now in her late 50ís
and if sheís ever divulged the recipe, I donít want to know. The
mystery was part of the allure.
After lunch, we gathered in the living room, as many as could fit
anyway. My great-grandmother sat alone on the Victorian sofa. She would
wear a special dress, maybe blue, and a white sweater. Her long, white
hair would be pulled back in a neat bun. With her rough, arthritic
hands, she would pat the seat next to her, call us to join her. One by
one, the family would present her with gifts.
Every year I gave her a long, narrow box of thin mints and a square box
of chocolate-covered cherries. I would not let my father rest until he
drove me into town, to the drugstore, so we could buy them. Often this
didnít happen until Christmas Eve, late in the afternoon. I wrapped
them so carefully, choosing the most beautiful bow I could find. I
signed my name large on the card so she would know it was me, out of
all the grandkids and great-grandkids, whoíd brought her such
delicacies. Maybe I was five or six. I didnít pay for the candy, at
first, but then I did, when my entire Christmas budget was ten dollars
or maybe twenty. It was a point of honor, to take care of my granny.
And every year she opened these mints and chocolate-covered cherries as
if they were rare jewels. She would put them by her bedside, she said,
and eat one every day. Often she would let me sit there beside her
while she opened other gifts. It was like sitting in the radiance of
Itís not as if I spent a lot of time with Granny or knew her well. I
followed her, sometimes, to the greenhouse. Her hands shook. I
remember, once, going into her bedroom and watching her take down her
hair, being surprised that it reached to her waist, a white cascade,
and that she brushed it with a silver-handled brush. It was an intimate
moment that hinted at all the things I did not know, at a whole life
that had already been lived and that I didnít know enough even to
Chocolate-covered cherries. I canít see a box without thinking of
Granny. Interestingly, I canít remember that she gave me anything at
all. Probably she slipped a quarter into my hand, or maybe a little
hairpin or something sheíd found. Maybe my aunt bought something and
signed Grannyís name to it. Probably my aunt started freaking out about
Christmas sometime around Halloween, too, but as a child I was
insulated from all that.
My great-grandmother lived to be 95; I was in college when she died.
People scattered immediately, off to visit the long-neglected other
side of their families for Christmas.
Maybe we all endure this crazy holiday ramp-up hoping it will distill
into that moment of pure giving joy.
Maybe that GAP gift card really will be a box of chocolate-covered
C. Jeanette Tyson (freelance writer and mom to Jackson and Maddy)
is AustinMama.com's beloved Foodie. Her award-winning advertising and
branding work can be seen at thethinkkitchen.com.