One Christmas Morning

I have thought of that Hefty trash bag every day throughout the Christmas season and feel guilt and shame about the excess most enjoy, myself included. Does that stop me from going headlong into the gift buying and giving during Christmas?

Since I can’t seem to put this memory and the feelings it conjures up to rest, I’m taking a few moments to write about it. Maybe I’ll get some resolution. Maybe not.

Here’s the story. Years ago, I wanted to mix things up a bit in my Human Growth and Development online class. While there was nothing wrong with the written assignments, they got to be, well, boring after a while. So I got the bright idea of having the students write a semester long document with the overall theme of Life’s a Journey. My plan was that they’d start with prenatal life and the variables that went into making them who they were, the ingredients that influenced their journey…like inheriting musical proclivities or athletic prowess; physical attributes went into the mix, too. This blog isn’t going to be long enough to go into the multiple combinations that affect our physical appearance, but you know what I’m talking about. Are you blue-eyed in a brown-eyed world? Tall when everyone else is average (whatever that is)? 

But let’s move forward. In childhood, what was the home like? Were both parents present? Did the family attend church? Was there enough money for the basics? Did the person live in an apartment, a luxurious home, a shelter? And where was this residence—country, city, mountains, seaside? 

I wanted them to see how where they’d already been on their journey could affect where they were at that moment and all the moments in the future. Many students wrote about picking up passengers along the way, including spouses and children, and I recall being impressed by the creativity of that. Sometimes their journeys were bumpy and filled with potholes, and other times it seemed that they whizzed down smooth roads with nary a curve or missed exit.

As we neared the end of the semester, I opened the last of the documents, and things were going along swimmingly until I read the final installation by a young woman who wrote of an unforgettable Christmas. Her parents had been fighting, and there wasn’t much money for gifts, but still, she was hopeful. They had a tree after all, and her mom had cookies set out for Santa.

But the next morning is one that would be forever etched in her memory. She and her mother and little sister woke up in a women’s shelter with all their worldly possessions shoved into a black Hefty trash bag. Her mother, puffy faced and red eyed, was barely holding it together. I can’t remember the details of the story; I might have deliberately suppressed them. I just know there had been a horrible scene, one so haunting that the young woman writing about it not only recalled the trauma decades later but also one that gave her resolve to never, never, never keep company with anyone who drank. 

Like I said, I read this document decades ago, and yet it still disturbs me. I think of that heartbroken, scared little girl awakening in a shelter on Christmas morning and hope her life has done nothing but soar through the years. I remember her story and feel compassion and sadness for all the little children like her, those who have crummy parents and/or no gifts beneath the tree.

I have thought of that Hefty trash bag every day throughout the Christmas season and feel guilt and shame about the excess most enjoy, myself included. Does that stop me from going headlong into the gift buying and giving during Christmas? No. I’m just as likely as others to leap into the commercialism of the season. At the same time, this year on the first day of 2020, I’m resolving to become more aware of the needs of others, especially children, and to do something about them. 

Any ideas?

Biscuits, Toast, & Cornbread

My Grandmother Padgett was a marvelous cook. Even now, I drool at the thought of her walnut pound cake and the dark chocolate covered coconut candy she served. And it wasn’t just the sweet treats she excelled in. Her roast beef, chicken and dumplings, and angel biscuits were unsurpassed.

My other grandmother, Grandmother Clyburn, was my mother’s mother, and her cooking must have been fair (like mine?) because I never heard a single person brag on it. In all my years of knowing her and being in and out of her home, I don’t recall ever tasting any of her kitchen creations except toast and eggs. She broiled the toast after smearing it with real butter, and I loved it.

I’ve come to realize that I’m a mediocre cook at best. I can do it, but I don’t look forward to it like some folks. In fact, the idea of preparing a delectable dinner with several dishes is daunting to me, and I’m wondering if that’s why I’ve gravitated towards hosting holiday drop-ins with tasty finger foods for the past couple of years.

Last week as I began putting Christmas paraphernalia away, I came across three sets of Christmas china, none of which I had used for a “sit-down” meal,” a good old-fashioned family event. What is wrong with this picture? I asked myself.

Knowing I was going to see two of my three children over New Year’s weekend, I decided to prepare a traditional meal that included black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread. We set the time for late Sunday afternoon, and I was filled with anticipation and honestly, a little bit of dread. What if my plans for around the table sighs of gustatory delight backfired?

My daughter Elizabeth, always organized, helped me plan and gather what I’d need. With ham, rice, cornmeal, buttermilk, green beans, and spinach, we felt good confident about the meal.

That’s when the self-doubt came to call.

I felt like something was missing, so we dropped by the Piggly Wiggly  at Market Commons. They have the best deli in South Carolina, and I chose a loaded baked potato salad, a Waldorf salad, and a small chef salad to supplement our Sunday feast. Armed with the essentials for a memorable New Year’s meal, I was content.

But here’s what happened:

  • The rice that I had so cleverly prepared with chicken broth was a solid, gummy mass of goo. Apparently, I forgot to burn off the burner.
  • The ham was incredibly salty. Also, I had heated and added a glaze that was much too spicy. Live and learn, right? I won’t be doing that again.
  • The Waldorf salad had too much celery, and I removed each tiny piece of it and then added a sliced banana for that mellow taste. Everything was fine until little Ethan announced that he didn’t like the “white things” on his apples. Despite his mother’s reminders that he liked coconut, he couldn’t be persuaded to eat one bite.
  • The green beans in the steamer bag were so green that they looked almost artificial. They were waxy and chewy and tasteless, the latter because  because I forgot to add seasoning.
  • The loaded potato salad that looked and tasted so good after being warmed in the oven for a few minutes became a soupy mess after being forgotten for another half hour.
  • The cornbread was so-so without my mother’s cast-iron frying pan to bake it in.
  • The chef salad that was supposed to add some texture and color to the menu remained uneaten in its festive bowl. Without a drop of salad dressing in the house, the dish was unappealing.
  • The Star Wars cookies Elizabeth made were colorful and yummy.
  • I had planned to prepare spinach, but well, why waste the time?

My idea of having a traditional around the table meal panned out. We used plates that had once been my mother’s, and we decorated the table with Christmas items that had not yet been put away. The scene was pretty. But the food. Well, it was so unappetizing that the experience has helped me come up with my word for the year: IMPROVE.

Improve in cooking, writing, loving, painting, teaching, helping, and every other area of my life. Vying for first place was learn, but since that’s something I already make it a point to do every day, improve wins the day.

Has anyone else decided upon a word to guide behavior, thoughts, and feelings this year? If so, what is it? And why or how did you decide on it?

Stick to the Basics

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“Stick to the basics, Mom. Just stick to the basics.”

Those are the wise words spoken by my son a few years ago when I had gone a little overboard experimenting with soup recipes for a Christmas meal. Not content with chicken noodle and beef vegetable, I added navy bean soup AND potato soup. Before I finally got the four soups and several bread/meats/spreads on the table, I was beside myself with tense aggravation. I could hardly enjoy the laughter and good will around me.

I vowed never to be so foolish again.

I kept that promise until yesterday when my husband’s mother, children, in-laws, and grandchildren came over for the annual Christmas celebration. We’ve done this event often enough to be able to predict everyone’s contribution, so I decided to mix it up a bit. I had attended a “beachie Christmas” party last week and was longing to duplicate the yummy shrimp and grits that Carol and Randy served.

How hard could it be, right? Carol directed me to Pat Conroy’s shrimp and grits recipe, and while I saw dozens of recipes online, Conroy’s wasn’t among them.

I went into Books A Million in search of his cookbook, but the Sandhills BAM had sold their last copy that morning. Undeterred, I browsed through some cookbooks until I found one with an easy recipe for Shrimp and Grits. So far, so good.

About 4:30 yesterday afternoon, things began to go downhill when I tried to sauté garlic and green onions in one skillet and fry bacon in another. Don’t ask. I think I misread something. Let’s just cut through all of the drama and say that I botched the dish. The grits were lumpy, and somehow I’d missed the directions about the shrimp and sauce being in one pot and the grits in another. Everything ended up together in one giant pot.

When he heard of the near fiasco, Kacey the chef said, “I don’t understand. Wasn’t there a recipe?”

“Yes, and I did a pretty good job of following the first four steps.”

Kacey read the recipe and good-naturedly reminded me that I needed to follow the directions in order. “No skipping around or leaving out,” he said.

Fortunately for me, Kelly and Angie, my step daughters-in-law are angels. Without laughing or teasing, they simply began making a roux to go on top of the shrimp and grits. Before they did, however, Kelly had to make a Food Lion run to get the necessary ingredients. Again, no teasing or complaining.

An hour later, we were all sampling the shrimp and grits, broiled tomatoes, buttered bread, and a cucumber, tomato, and onion salad. Dessert was especially good, Jenny’s brownies and Angie’s chocolate trifle. The main dish was “okay,” just okay. It’s not one I plan to try again any time soon.

As the evening went on, I remembered that it’s being together that’s important. Little Charlie fell and hurt his nose, the blood splotching his shirt and Kelly’s. Kacey and Big Charlie animatedly discussed religion, Otis gave a nice talk about missing family members, and the kids all liked their gifts. The little girls modeled their scarves before leaving, and Little Charlie took several “interesting” pictures with his new camera. Cooper walked around checking things out, and sweet baby Daniel slept through much of the evening.

I think a good time was had by all. Honestly, I’m a little distressed about that gummy concoction in my fridge. Just thinking about it makes me more determined not to go overboard later this week when my children cruise into town. I’m sticking to the basics.

Macy’s, Journey, and Westway

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Two months ago, I had the pleasure of taking a whirlwind trip to the Big Apple with four of my favorite people. From this experience, I was reminded that it’s not possible to do even a tenth of what you want to do in an overnight trip. I also learned that talk is cheap. Some people yak and yak and then yak some more about how they want to travel and that they’d LOVE to go to New York at Christmas to see the huge tree in Rockefeller Center, and the next year finds them saying the same thing. And the next year too. You just have to DO IT and stop talking about doing it. Here’s hoping that if I write some of my memories, you’ll be encouraged to “go for it” next year.

On the plane ride home from NYC that Sunday night, I re-read parts of a book entitled The Writer’s Book of Days by Judith Reeves. Towards the end of the book, she urges her readers to use “I remember” as writing prompt. While this is a simple idea, and certainly not a new one, it’s hard to put into practice sometimes. It’s easier to say, “Hey, I remember the summer morning when my oldest child was born” than to actually write about the event itself.

That night after reading Ms. Reeves’ suggestion, I challenged my sister travelers to go home and jot down some of the things they remembered. Although they looked at me as though I’d had too much eggnog or something, I hope that they followed through. I did.

I remember:

  • Watching the cab dispatcher at LaGuardia and admiring his ability to keep everything moving. I also remember seeing a yellow Highlander and wondering if we’d get to ride in it. We didn’t.
  • The wild taxi ride into the city. We were so close to other vehicles that, to Katherine’s delight, we could see their lunch and the books they were reading. When one person gets excited and happy about something, it’s contagious, and before we arrived at our hotel, we were all laughing.
  • Dancing to Christmas music in the lobby with Charles, a bellman at the Hilton Garden Inn, and knowing that this was going to be a wonderful trip. He later danced with Katherine and tried his best to get her to sing.
  • Eating lunch at the Westway Diner, something that’s become a tradition ever since the day Otis and I spied Brooke Shields in a booth there one May day. On the Saturday in December, we had sandwiches and fries, and Elizabeth and I pronounced the fries to be the best we’ve ever tasted.
  • Not being able to locate the Gray Line tour bus and settling for “the other one.” It was okay, but the plastic cover on the top of the bus was old and opaque. We couldn’t see the sights clearly; nor could we hear our tour guide unless we used ear buds. Using ear buds, however, cut out the city noises. It was a trade-off: savoring the sounds of the city or listening to the tour guide’s spiel. I did a little of both.
  • The hundreds and hundreds of Santas and elves doing a pub crawl. I’m still not certain about how and why this event was taking place, but wherever we went, we saw Santas and elves merrily walking up and down the streets and in an out of pubs and restaurants. We were told that they were taking part in an official pub crawl to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. I just know it was huge fun to watch them.
  • Katherine and Jeanita wheeling and dealing over scarves and pocketbooks in China Town. Elizabeth later got into the act and bought scarves for the Core 4, a group of work friends.
  • Dinner at La Mela in Little Italy, a high energy establishment with an “interesting” ceiling decoration. We all dined on something different, but I can remember only my choice, clam linguine with clams still in the shells.
  • Joining thousands of other people in Time’s Square after getting back to the city that night. We visited the Hershey store, gawked at the billboards, and bought scarves from what looked like a festive downtown city market, complete with Christmas lights outlining the red roofs.
  • Enjoying a scrumptious breakfast with Elizabeth in the hotel dining room the next morning as we watched the gray and overcast city come alive.
  • Walking briskly to Radio City Music Hall in the misting rain. Drinking in the sights along the way, especially the gigantic red balls and lights.
  • Standing in line at Radio City and enjoying the sights, including a man wearing a red corduroy hat and lots of little girls wearing their winter coats.
  • The moment when Ann realized that our Rockettes tickets were for the 23rd instead of the 16th. No problem. The staff arranged for other seats, even better than the ones we had purchased.
  • The Rockettes and Santa! Marvelous show! Later I told Elizabeth that witnessing such remarkable talent was almost a spiritual experience and that I thought I was going to cry. Trying to hide a smile, she said, “Mom, you did cry.”
  • Touring Rockefeller Plaza and having our picture made in front of the Christmas tree. I also offered to take pictures of other people, something I often do when walking on the beach. We oohed and ahed over the ice skaters and then hustled towards the M & M store. Loved it! Three stories high and fun.
  • Subway ride to and from Macy’s. A nice experience that made me feel that we were in a movie. The next time I go to New York, I’m going to learn how to navigate this system because it’s so much less expensive than paying for a taxi or riding a tour bus. However, I highly recommend the latter for people who are visiting for the first time. If it weren’t for the things I’ve learned on busses, I’d think Battery Park was in Times Square!
  • Buying a chicken shish kabob and roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Yummy! We had seen the roasted chestnut signs from the taxi on our way into the city, and I remarked that I wanted to sample this treat that I’d sung about for decades—“chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”
  • Doing the Macy’s thing. Jeanita and I have this landmark on our Must-Do List every year, but this is the first time we had ever visited the shoe floor. We asked about Uggs and were directed to the second (if I recall correctly) floor. It was amazing! Shoes, shoes everywhere and not an Ugg in sight. No problem. We were sent to a store called Journey on the corner of 34th and Broadway where we were assisted by a peppy young man. Unfortunately, we spent so much time deliberating over shoes that we didn’t have time to visit the Museum of Modern Art, my favorite museum. Alas.
  • Eating at Z Deli across from the hotel after realizing it was too late to go to the MoMA. Great (tasty and substantive) pizza and interesting ambience. There were a couple of picnic tables in the front of the market/deli, and that’s where we ate as we watched the drizzling rain and enjoyed being together.
  • Riding back to airport through Queens and thinking of how dismal the sky was, yet how the little trees and lighted decorations glimpsed inside of apartment windows gave pause for thought.
  • Enjoying airport snacks while waiting at the gate. The Dunkin Donuts flatbread sandwiches taste better there than anywhere else.

In about an hour and 20 minutes, we landed in Myrtle Beach with memories of street vendors and China Town and Rocketttes and little girls in their winter coats. From start to finish, our adventure lasted less than 36 hours, but the time together and the experiences we shared will last a lifetime.

Okay, Ladies, what do you remember? And what about someone else who went to New York during the holiday season? Do you have a special memory to share?

Lesson from Mama

 

The house is quiet tonight, almost too quiet. All of the Christmas company has gone home, the tree has been taken down, and the fireworks commemorating the new year are going off all around my house. As I reflect on yet another holiday season coming to a close, I’m reminded of another lesson I learned from my mother. Christmas isn’t just one day. Well, it is and it isn’t. What she meant is that Christmas is a season and a feeling and that it doesn’t have to be confined to one 24-hour period. When we spend so much time, money, energy, and thought into making the day one of unimaginable splendor and beauty, we sometimes miss the meaning and the magic.

So that’s got me thinking of when I first realized, “Oh, it’s here again!” Was it when I first saw the Salvation Army people collecting money at Wal-Mart? Or was it when I turned in the last grade for the semester? No, maybe it was the day after that when I attended a luncheon at our local CCTC satellite campus. Or no, I think it was actually when I arrived in NYC with three like-minded gals for a day of sightseeing and shopping in the Big Apple. If there’s anyone on earth who can see the Macy’s store windows and the huge “Believe” sign on the front of the block-sized department store and not feel the spirit, that person has some psychological issues.

I did a lot of fun things this season (including the above mentioned trip to Manhattan!), but when it comes right down to it, my most precious recollections have to do with people, the people I love…and some who are strangers too. In no particular order, here are a few sweet memories.

  • Seeing the Salvation Army men dancing dancing dancing in NYC. In front of Macy’s and at Rockefeller Center, these spirited men were entertaining the crowds and raising money for a good cause.
  • Seeing Santa sitting on a bench near Rockefeller Center. Jolly old Saint Nick happily posed for a picture with Kayla, the youngest of our group.
  • My husband’s children and their partners and children joining us on the afternoon of the 17th for food and fellowship. We were especially happy that Kacey could join us this year. And all of remarked on how much difference a year could make. Baby Charlie was walking all over the place, and last year he couldn’t even crawl yet.
  • Earlier that day, we had a Christmas get-together with all of my husband’s siblings and their families. When he and I first got married, these events were held in a home, but now that the family has grown so much, we’ve moved the party to a local church. Santa came. He was jolly and patient, but he couldn’t fool Whitney. “He’s not the real Santa,” she confided in me. “I could see the strap holding his beard.”
  • The night of the 22nd when I saw three of my grandchildren’s faces pressed up against window of the breezeway door. I flung open the door, hugged them tight, and then saw another sight for sore eyes: their other two siblings and their parents.
  • That same night around 11:15 when I heard a tentative “Mom?” It was my son Paul who had stopped over to spend the night on his way to Myrtle Beach where his wife and daughter were waiting.
  • Later that night seeing Paul and Carrie’s heads together as they discussed the merits of various laptops.
  • Watching and listening as the kids opened their gifts on the night of the 23rd. Need I say more about this? Everyone who’s been a child or been around a child can imagine this scenario.
  • The Christmas Eve brunch. I loved having my sibs(two of them) and their families, my Aunt Polly, my cousin Sue & her family, and of course my children here for a fun gathering. Thanks to help from my beautiful daughter Elizabeth, everything came together. We even played Christmas bingo…loved watching Brooke help her father play the game.
  • Following through with a Christmas Eve tradition of seeing a movie; this year it was Sherlock Holmes.
  • Sitting between Otis and Elizabeth in church on Christmas morning as we listened to the messages and the soul-stirring music.
  • Christmas day lunch at my mother-in-law’s house. After all of the feasting we’d been experiencing, we decided on a light menu, subs and cake. Loved that!
  • Monday brunch at Elizabeth’s home in Conway. More yummy food!
  • Having Olivia, Amanda, Paul, and Elizabeth come for a visit in Myrtle Beach and watching Olivia push her new pink grocery cart all over the house. She was wearing her black boots and chatting away. Later we went to Nacho Hippo for a farewell dinner.
  • Shopping for after Christmas deals with Elizabeth the next day. We love Target!
  • Naturally, I couldn’t include everything in the above. Who would want to read all of it anyway?

For some brief, shining moments, we were all together enjoying one another’s presence and remembering Christmases past. On Christmas Eve, I shared a toast with all who were present, and although you weren’t there, you’d like the toast. It was based on the end of a movie, Places in the Heart. My friend Martha had declared its ending to be the best of all movie endings so I had to rent it.

The scene takes inside of a church, and all the pews are populated not only by people who live in the small town but also by those who have “moved on,” either by death or change of location. They’re all partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and although there has been a lot of heartache and pain in the movie, in that final scene, everyone is there…everyone.

What I took from the church scene is that love is the most important and powerful force in the universe and that people who’ve once been a part of your life will always be there with you. You might not be able to see them, but they’re there. Oh and P.S., my mother was right. Christmas is more than a day.

Changing and Looking Ahead


My son and his family left Myrtle Beach this afternoon. It was marvelous to see them again…and heart wrenching to tell them good-bye last night. Atlanta, GA is a long way from here, and although I know I’ll see them at least once before Ethan Paul makes his debut in March, it was still hard to watch them drive away last night.

Still, if I’ve learned one thing in my life it’s that it (life) goes on. Despite separation, trials, loss, and pain, it goes on. Whining and feeling sorry for myself won’t bring the young family back. Nor will it bring back my parents and grandparents who no longer walk the earth. I’ve known people so sick or discouraged or miserable that they simply didn’t want to go on anymore. Fortunately, so far they’ve had the fortitude to keep on keeping on.

Here’s another thing I’ve learned: those whom you’ve loved never really leave you. They’re always in your heart and mind, and sweet memories of them can be conjured up at a moment’s notice. Hundreds of these recollections  have flooded my mind during this special season, thus making it challenging to spotlight just one. Many of them sort of flow into each other, like the dozens of Christmas Eves at my grandmother’s house when all of my cousins were there. Invariably, one of the adults would look out the window and declare that he had seen lights circling the area, a sure sign that Santa wanted to land. If I had to choose just one Christmas memory, I’d go with the one in which my grandmother read me an article from the newspaper about a little girl named Virginia who wanted to know if there was a Santa Claus. Spellbound, I listened to MaMa Padgett as she read Virginia’s letter and the editor’s response, thrilled to know that indeed Santa existed.

My sweet daughter-in-law seemed to have a case of the doldrums when I saw her yesterday, and I suspect it’s because she and I were feeling some of the same emotions. She’s on her way back to Atlanta now and probably won’t see her parents for several months. They’re serving a mission for the LDS church and only came home for a couple of weeks at this special season. They’ll be back in June. By then, Amanda and Paul will have another baby, Ethan. Hmmm. That brings me to a third thing I’ve learned: The only constant is change! Seriously, you can count on that one. Nothing ever stays the same. For better or worse, things (people, events, circumstances) are always in a state of flux. All I have to do is look at my grandchildren to see that!

I think of my sweet mama every day, and naturally she’s in most of my Christmas memories. Of the many, many lessons I learned from her, one is that a person always needs something to look forward to. Whether it’s a visit from a friend, a favorite television show, or a shopping excursion, having something to look forward to can give us momentum and buoy up our spirits. Having a hopeful expectation that something good is going to happen can make the crucial difference between happiness and misery.

As 2011 comes to a close, I realize the truth of the above even more. Life goes on, people never really leave you, change is constant, and hope is important. I’m looking forward to 2012 and all of the changes that it will surely bring. I hope that we can all adapt to whatever lies in store for us and, all the while keeping our loved ones in our hearts.

A Day in Manhattan

Sometimes a girl just needs to have fun, and if it’s in New York City with good friends, that’s even better!

“How long were you there? A week?” That was Tim’s question when he overheard me telling Lisa about the things we did in New York City a few weeks ago. We were only there from Thursday about noon until Saturday around 3:00 p.m., but we managed to make use of every moment. If you want to read a travelogue of six women’s experiences in the Big Apple, read on. You might get some good ideas about what to do when you visit the City.

Here’s a rundown of our first day:

We flew out of Myrtle Beach on Spirit Airlines, an experience that was grand in every way. Well, almost every way. If you want a soft drink, juice, or coffee, you have to pay for it. Gone are the days when those frills are free, at least with Spirit. At the same time, Spirit is more affordable than the giant airlines, and it’s virtually hassle-free. The ride was smooth, and the people were friendly.

Upon arrival at LaGuardia, we easily found the baggage claim area where we retrieved our bags and then went outside to hail a taxi. Fortunately for us, we quickly found a little yellow station wagon that carried all of us. We oohed and aahed our way into the city as our small-town eyes drank in the sights around us, and if I recall correctly, we especially loved the bridges and tunnel.

We checked in at the Staybridge on 34th Street (high recommend this establishment) and rendezvoused with Mary, a friend of Jeanita’s who lives in New Jersey. After checking with the Staybridge staff for directions, we headed out in search of the Westway Diner. My husband and I had spied Brooke Shields while eating  there in May, and we were halfway hoping for another celebrity sighting. If that didn’t happen, I knew the food would be good…and it was. I love the ambience of Westway. From the black and white tiled floors to the magnificent service, it’s a grand place to eat.

Tummies full, we walked to Macy’s for a little touristy-type behavior. We gawked at the window displays, enjoyed the sights of Herald Square, and did a little shopping for hats and gloves. While in Macy’s, I inquired about Tiffany’s location in relation to where we were, and since it was going to be open until 8, we decided to ride the Subway there. With Mary’s help, we made it there and back.

The area around Tiffany’s is far different from that around Times Square, not better but different. Connie and Tilara took numerous pictures of the beautiful street decorations, and then we went inside. Although they were incredibly busy that afternoon, there was still an almost formal feeling in the air. We loved the pale blue carpeting and uniformed “guards,” one of whom agreed to take our picture. We spent most of our time on the third floor drooling over sterling silver, and after making our tiny purchases, we rode the subway back to the Staybridge.

After a little primping and preening, we headed out to the Rockefeller Center area to see the famous Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. In a word, fabulous. I fell in love with Santa and felt like a kid mesmerized by his laughter and rich voice. Anyone who could sit through such a delightful performance and not be in the Christmas spirit would have to be a first-rate Scrooge.

All our walking and sightseeing left us hungry so after leaving Radio City, we walked to one of my favorite Manhattan restaurants, Junior’s. I’m not sure what it is that I like about that place, but well, maybe it’s the generous portions of good food. Or it could be that the staff is friendly and helpful. It’s a busy, buzzy place with a lot of energy and a big city feel. That night, we were there until 12:30 a.m., and as the restaurant was nearing closing time, the employees presented the hostess with a birthday cake and a song. Nice way to end a perfect evening.

The next day was even better. Stay tuned.

Holiday Month

As I think back over the past month, I can’t help but recall something my mother used to say. While Christmas Day is the 25th, every day of the season is worth celebrating. Guess one reason she said that so often is because of the frequency I’d have to tell her that we’d be dining with my in-laws at  midday of the 25th, hence relegating my parents to the evening before or Christmas evening. Accustomed to working around the schedules of four adult children and their spouses, she’d say, “Don’t worry about it, Darlin’; Christmas is a season, not just a noon meal.”

She was right. If you concentrate your efforts and anticipation on just that one day, then when it’s over, it’s over. All of the planning and excited expectancy crumple up just like the wrapping paper that’s ripped from gifts and stuffed into trash bags.   On the other hand, if you try to relish the dozens and dozens of moments throughout the month, you won’t feel the post-holiday doldrums…or at least not so keenly.

Here are a few of the highlights that I happen to be thinking of right this moment. In an hour, it’ll probably be something else:

  • Lauren and Charlie’s party on the 5th and the memory of Hannah showing me Noel the elf hiding in their Christmas tree.
  • The Christmas Book Club meeting at Connie’s, a friend who has “the touch” for decorating and entertaining.
  • Meeting “the same sweet girls” at the Old Armory to reminisce about last year’s New York trip and to catch up with each other’s lives.
  • The “Girls Weekend” that I spent in Myrtle Beach with my sister, a sister-in-law, and our daughters. We shopped, ate out, shopped, laughed, shopped, wrapped presents, and then shopped some more. A couple of neat things that are on my mind at the moment include making a 10:00 p.m. visit to Chick-fil-A for milkshakes and then sipping them while shopping at Wal-Mart.
  • Sarah Beth giggling at my scrawny pathetic little pre-lit tree in Myrtle Beach.
  • My husband’s family Christmas get-together, made even more memorable with a visit from Santa himself. Seeing the wide-eyed looks of wonder on the children’s faces was marvelous.
  • Carol’s annual get-together.  In addition to the gift exchange, Carol’s traditional “reading of the poem,” and scrumptious food, this year we also had music. It was grand to sing “Oh Holy Night” with my colleagues.
  • DH’s children and grandchildren coming over for an evening of family celebratory activities…loved playing Christmas Trivia. We repeated the same thing on the afternoon and evening of the 22nd when my children and grandchildren joined us. So did an assorted mixture of other family members, including Aunt Polly and my cousin Sue.
  • A big family breakfast on the 24th before the Masedas left for Rincon, GA. A true Southern girl, my granddaughter Brooke requested grits, and I couldn’t disappoint her.
  • Delivering gifts and visiting people.
  • The Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at FBC, an event that always makes me feel closer to my mother.
  • Christmas morning breakfast in Blythewood with my brother Mike’s family and midday visit with my sister Ann in Sumter.
  • A Christmas repast of Allen’s barbeque and other goodies enjoyed at the beach house late Christmas afternoon.
  • Seeing  Avatar and Invictus with my sweetheart.
  • Shopping with Elizabeth for after-Christmas bargains, and later in the afternoon, being visited by Paul and Amanda. I LOVE having a little home where my children can visit us more easily!
  • Attending church in Conway, and dining with Paul and Amanda at Lib’s house (lots of warm ambience there) before the young Crolleys left for Atlanta.
  • The fun we had experimenting with taking pictures using Lisa’s tip to take them from above. Just so you’ll know, we look better than this picture! Really, we do.

Today I took down the greenery, packed away ornaments, cleaned out the refrigerator, and re-read Christmas cards. Every room in the house has some little reminder of a comment, experience, or image, and I’m going to treasure those memories throughout the cold winter ahead. I’ve become a master at stretching it out, so to speak, and am still savoring the season. Tomorrow I’m off to Rincon for an overnight trip. Just gotta get a granddarling fix before going back to work next week.

Dolls and Fudge

Lucky me. I’m sitting in the living room of our little beach bungalow reflecting on the events and experiences of this past month, and I’m feeling awed and humbled by my good fortune. Wound through and around and over and under these thoughts are memories of Christmases past. What is it about this time of year that forces one to reflect on yesterday? The people, scenes, sounds, and sights from my past are all around me.

It’s been an interesting month, and I have lots of swirling thoughts about how traditions change as families change. Plus, the society itself continues to change as people get greedier (at least some of them) and more frenzied as they go about decorating, shopping, and partying. It might have been like that when I was a kid, but I don’t remember that. I just remember the magic. And no, it wasn’t because we were wealthy and had beaucoup over-the-top gifts, just the regular stuff.

Seems like my sister and I ALWAYS got some pajamas, a pair of bedroom shoes, and a doll. My granddaughters (see above) got some cupcake p.j.s this year. Aren’t they cute? One year I got this gorgeous doll named Bonnie that was the size of a six-month old baby. I loved that baby doll, especially her curly red hair…that is, until my brother David decided that she’d look better bald. Ever had a little brother who messed with your stuff??? Santa brought my sister Ann a doll that year too, and she named her blond baby Beth.

Like most of the people I knew then, my family visited grandparents to share meals and gifts. Aunts, uncles, and cousins were always around. At my Grandmother Padgett’s house, the kids would always sit on the floor of an adjoining room to eat our Christmas victuals while the grownups sat at a big round oak table. I recently had a flash of déjà vu when I relegated my grandchildren to the floor at my house. There simply wasn’t room for them anywhere else, and this way I didn’t have to worry so much about spilled Sprite or sticky macaroni and cheese.

Speaking of macaroni and cheese, it’s funny and wonderful how some of the same traditional family dishes and specialties continue while others develop. I can still taste my mother’s marvelous fudge! She never knew this (at least I don’t think she did), but I’d often sneak into the kitchen, gingerly take the top off of the tin, take out a sweet square, move the other pieces around to hide the empty space, and then I’d savor the rich sweet treat. She also made nutty fingers (lady fingers), and this Christmas, her sister Joni shared some with me. As for the present, my specialty is Chex party mix. Lib makes the best chocolate candy in the universe with a recipe borrowed from my childhood friend Jeanita.  Lauren always provides sausage dip made with Rotel and cream cheese, and it’s become traditional for her dad to call her and ask for the recipe even though he knows it well.

Elizabeth and I have a busy day ahead of us so I need to wrap this up. I’m going to do it with a quote I’ve been wanting to use for a long time. Hope you like it. “Families are a complex web of lives stretched across years and generations as well as vast geographical and cultural distances.” Wendy Wright, Sacred Dwelling

Yuletide Memories

Ouch. Hayden’s comment about my new header made me realize that yes indeed, I have gotten a lot of mileage out of my New York trip and the dozens and dozens of pictures. So much in fact that I went straight from NYC to Williamsburg and then jumped right over Christmas. It’s not that I didn’t have good intentions of recording all of the joyous moments and memorable sights and sounds. Is it too late now? I hope not. Warning: If you don’t know me, you’ll probably be bored to tears. If you do know me and my loved ones, then you might enjoy it.  

On the Saturday before Christmas we got together with DH’s extended family for a scrumptious dinner and fun family time. Santa came by for a visit, thus making the day even more memorable. DH’s nephew donned the red suit and black boots and apparently did such a great job of impersonating the jolly  visitor from the North Pole that his little daughter later said, “You wouldn’t believe what you missed, Dad. Santa came while you were gone!” Aren’t kids wonderful?

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On Sunday, I enjoyed singing and hearing Christmas carols. That afternoon and into the evening, Mr. B. and I wrapped gifts and decorated the house for a breakfast on Monday morning. I sneaked out for a couple of hours that night to hear a beautiful, soul-stirring cantata at First Baptist Church. DH doesn’t much care for such goings-on, so I was fortunate to run into Lisa and Sophia, some church friends.

On Monday, DH’s children and grandchildren arrived for a heavy duty breakfast and gift exchange, and Tuesday found my sister and me in Myrtle Beach for the day so that we could spend some time with our brother David and his family. The lucky stiffs were renting a condo on Ocean Boulevard, and it was nice to have a few hours to reunite with them. To sweeten the day, my sister-in-law Becky’s sisters arrived in time for lunch, thus another reunion. Did I mention that my good looking son met us at the food court at Coastal Grand Mall?

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Christmas Eve was spent cooking, cleaning, wrapping, and delivering goodies. On Christmas day, we motored over to Columbia to eat with Mike, my other brother, and his family. Our Aunt Joni joined us. Huge fun. Mike and Lisa’s home has a warm, welcoming feel to it, especially the kitchen. Oh, but so does the family room. Come to think of it, so does the dining room where we gathered around a large round table. Hmm, so does the sun room which they’re recently furnished.

 

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 My children and grandchildren arrived that afternoon, Elizabeth first and then the Crolleys and Masedas. It was delightful to have them all here, and we spent the evening doing what thousands of other families were doing: eating and opening gifts. Speaking of the eating part, my son keeps reminding me to “stick to the basics, Mom,” and this year I did it. Sure, I mixed and measured and grilled and broiled and baked with the best of them (so to speak), but I did stick to a simple menu. That way, I was an itty bitty less harried and thus more into the merry spirit of the occasion. But I digress. Here are the grandchildren sitting in the Adirondack chairs that Elizabeth and her friend Carla painted and decorated for them. 

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While it was fun, I kept thinking something was missing. Later, I realized what it was: We had no program. That might seem like a strange thing to say, but years ago, we began having a program of sorts.  Someone would read the Christmas story in Luke, I would read “A Cup of Christmas Tea” (sweet story) or some other little book or poem, their dad would read “One Solitary Life,” and we’d often end with Paul exclaiming (like Tiny Tim), “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”  I recall one year before my mother’s death when Ann gave us a Christmas quiz dealing with Biblical information, and I think Greg, a preteen at the time, won the prize. I couldn’t even remember the name of Elisabeth’s husband. Well, at least I knew the name of the angel who visited Mary…unlike someone who shall remain unnamed.

Read between the lines, my dear children and start preparing your parts for next year. While I’m on the subject, now that we have Amanda in the family, perhaps she can add some music to our family Christmas. Hmmm. And perhaps Rich and Braden can strum a little something on their guitars.

Okay, we’re up to Friday, a day the girls and I spent shopping and exchanging things. Greg and Anna were getting married the next day, and we had to make sure that our attire was appropriate from head to toe. Paul and Amanda met us for lunch, as did Sarah Beth, my niece. That night Mr. B. and I went to Greg and Anna’s rehearsal dinner in Florence, a very nice affair. Sitting around the table with my sibs and their spouses, DH, and Paul and Amanda was fantabulous (that’s a real word; I heard it in Van Morrison’s “Moondance”). The groom’s father Allen gave an excellent toast, heartfelt and articulate.

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Saturday arrived cold and wet. One of my fondest memories of the day is of walking through the dining room and seeing Paul, Amanda, Carrie, and Rich playing Buzzword in the dining room while hearing sounds of laugher from Elizabeth and Emma from the bedroom down the hall. Braden was off somewhere being “serious,” and Brooke was shriveling and shivering in the bathtub. Yep, we temporarily forgot her with all of our busyness. 

FINALLY, we were all ready to head out to Pamplico for the wedding. It was beautiful. My niece Katherine sang “Surely the Presence,” a hymn that I love. I hope someone sings it at my funeral. Paul was a groomsman, and he and Greg were the most handsome fellas up front. John and Chris, David’s sons, were in the congregation, and they’re pretty easy on the eyes too. Do I sound a bit biased? Perhaps I am. A nice reception followed, and my favorite part of the evening was dancing with Baby Emma.

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Sunday morning found us at church. It was divine (really) to sit with people I’m kin to. Mr. B. isn’t much of a churchgoer, so that’s usually a solitary activity for me. Well, sort of. I never feel alone; plus, it always brings me great joy to know that even when they’re not beside me, all three children and their families are in another ward getting the same kind of spiritual nourishment.

By Sunday at 3:00 o’clock, the house was quiet. I have my memories, and I like to think that some of the laughter lingers within our walls, especially the dining room where so much love and fun and memories were shared.

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