There is a lot to be said for living in the home in which you grew up. Everything is familiar; every creaky floorboard, every squeaky stair tread. You know which windows rattle when the wind blows. There is a feeling of comfort and warmth and safety that can’t be equaled anywhere else.
Of course your home is full of memories. You meet yourself at every turn – different ages, different eras. The furniture in the living room is in the same basic position that it was in fifty years ago. I realized the other day that I was sitting in the same spot watching the same episode of “I Love Lucy” – only fifty years later. It was a thought-provoking awakening. Either I was a total loser, or very lucky. I still haven’t decided which. Two nights ago I was watching “Petticoat Junction” reruns, and I could have sworn I smelled stuffed peppers – the meal my Mom made every Monday night. I actually would not have been surprised to hear her call me to set the table. I was saddened when I realized that wasn’t going to happen.
The holidays are especially rife with nostalgia. As Christmas approaches I am reminded every year of one particular Christmas – the Christmas of 1966.
That was a turbulent time in history in many ways, and a lot of local boys were spending their holidays in the jungles of Vietnam. But I was eight years old and full of the excitement of the holidays and having my sister, Beverly, home from the hospital.
Bev was sixteen years old and very much the big sister of our family of three girls. She was the best big sister – she was always willing to play games with me (and she didn’t let me win – or at least not so that it was obvious), I could tell her ALL my secrets, and my Barbie dolls had a full wardrobe that she sewed for them at our new Singer sewing machine! She never made me feel like the pest that I probably was. Even at eight, I appreciated that. She was also a genius at designing and drawing her own paper dolls and I had shoe boxes full of them!
Beverly was not just MY favorite… she was our middle sister, Allison’s, favorite as well. They were at Girl Scouts together, in CYO together, and in high school together since they were only two years apart. And she was definitely Mom and Dad’s favorite – the eldest, so dependable, and the sweetest and most even-tempered person on the planet. Everyone loved her and no envy was possible. It was her divine right to be loved by everyone – she deserved it, although she never saw it and wouldn’t have believed it.
So here we were, Christmas Eve of 1966 and beginning our celebration. Christmas Eve for my family was tree trimming day for as long as I could remember. The cookies were baked, the gifts wrapped, and my letter had been delivered to Santa. I had begun that year’s list with my usual “St. Bernard Puppy” that topped my list every year until I was 29. (I never did get that St. Bernard, but who knows? Maybe Santa will bring him at some point).
Beverly, on the other hand, just had three things she wanted. First on her list was that she be asked to her prom. She was now a junior in high school and she was concerned that, because she was out of school so much, she wouldn’t have a date to the prom. Even I knew this was ridiculous. As I said, everyone loved her. Literally. Especially the boy that had given her a Valentine’s card every year since fourth grade. I knew that someone would find a way to ask her, even if she didn’t know that. And I was mildly interested in the pretty dress she would wear and the possibility of me playing dress-up in it after the event.
Second for Bev was that she receive her class ring. Those rings had been ordered at the beginning of the year, and she was eagerly anticipating the arrival of her size four ring. They weren’t due in for a little while, but the anticipation was getting to her!! Anyone who has had a high school ring, knows the excitement of its arrival and the thrill of wearing it.
Last, but not least, Beverly wanted a white Christmas. She wanted snow. We had had a few flurries, but she had been in the hospital at the time and had not had the bed by the window. So the snow on the ground when she got home already was “used” – dirty from tires, plowed out of the street, tracked with footprints. Bev wanted fresh snow, Christmas snow. The kind that only falls on Christmas Eve.
Well the weathermen had put the kibosh on that with their forecast of unseasonably warm weather and clear skies. But I sympathized completely so I wished for snow too, as did our entire family.
All things considered, it is incredible to me in hindsight that her wishes were so few. Beverly had been in and out of hospitals for months with increasing frequency. On her last trip home, a wheelchair came with her. I could tell she HATED it, but in no time at all she had accepted it and was whizzing around the house with her pug, Tiffy, in her lap – ears flying and tongue lolling (his, not hers). I only heard her question once why God was doing this to her. I wondered myself at the time, but being a child, could not come up with an answer. The words “bone marrow” and “transfusion” had become commonplace around the house, but I had yet to hear the word “Leukemia”, and wouldn’t have understood it…… and I never would have connected it with my big sister.
Back to Christmas Eve….. Dad had the tree in the stand, and had only scraped the ceiling a little bit when he stood the tree up and belatedly realized that he hadn’t trimmed enough off the top. At least the Christmas tree top hadn’t broken this year. The lights were lit, and the wax angel from Germany was on the tree. Dad’s job was finished. He disappeared to the kitchen to concoct his secret obligatory eggnog (another Christmas tradition, although I’m not sure that any of us actually LIKED it). Mom had the hors d’oeuvres ready. Tiffy was in his chair in the front room next to the tree so he could reach the candy canes on the bottom of the tree and the hors d’oeuvres on the table with equal ease. The ornament boxes were all accessible and opened. Time to trim.
Mom and Allison had the top of the tree. Beverly was responsible for the middle of the tree which was easily reached from her wheelchair. That left me with the bottom of the tree which was just fine with me since that also included the Nativity under the tree. I could spend all the time I wanted arranging the animals, and they would be rearranged continuously on a daily basis throughout Christmas vacation. I never tired of handling them.
Dad returned with the Eggnog and stopped at our new Hi-fi stereo to change the record so we had new Christmas music to listen to. Bing Crosby began singing about a “White Christmas”, and Dad sang along.
We all dug in, but each ornament had to be admired and exclaimed over. The beautiful, colorful ones from Germany, the beaded ones from Czechoslovakia that Dad had bought the first year that he and Mom were married, the flying Stork from Lord and Taylor in Manhasset, Long Island, and all the other ones that had a million memories attached; each one carefully chosen for beauty and significance.
The trimming took a while, but in between hanging ornaments or moving sheep and camels, I would sneak a peek out the window to look for snow, and then glance around the room to find everyone doing the same thing. But the sky couldn’t have been more clear – not a cloud in sight.
Eventually the eggnog was finished, the hors d’oeuvres disappeared (into us or the pug – who knew?) and the trimming was done. The dishes and glasses were whisked out to the kitchen, and the ornament boxes were packed away. Beverly rested in her chair by the picture window admiring the beautiful tree with a sleepy (and very full) pug in her lap.
Suddenly we heard her calling us, and from all parts of the house we came running. Her calls were never to be ignored. She was sitting bolt upright at the window staring out into the dusk. “LOOK! It’s SNOWING!!”
Dad said, “It can’t be, it’s not cold enough!”
“It IS Dad!! IT IS!! LOOK!”
SO we looked…and there it was, drifting silently past the window. Snowflakes by the hundreds!! Not just flurries – a full blown snowstorm! The most beautiful one I had ever seen – or have ever seen since.
Beverly couldn’t take her eyes off it. “Oh Mom, it’s SNOWING!” My Mom just hugged her, with tears in her eyes. No words were necessary… or possible.
It snowed all night, and by morning we, indeed, had a very white Christmas, as Bing Crosby had said. Beverly spent the day pretty much glued to the window admiring the untouched, crisp, white snow which blanketed our lawn, our street, and our driveway. For once, my Dad didn’t go out and shovel right away.
The weathermen talked about it on the news. It had not been a very widely spread snowstorm, and it was completely unexpected. I’ve never seen so much snow fall on Christmas Eve since then. But it came that year when it was needed most.
That Christmas of 1966 was Beverly’s last Christmas. She left us on February 10 of 1967. She was invited to the prom, but when the prom came she was already gone. Her high school ring arrived the week after her funeral. My Mom had called the jewelry company and tried to explain the urgency, but they didn’t understand. Her ring is here now, completely unworn and tied with a faded ribbon.
But the Christmas snow arrived when it was needed most and made that last year a beautiful one.
As Christmas approaches this year, I will be looking for Christmas Snow. And if it comes, I will know that my big sister is still with me.