The holidays are both forward-looking and nostalgic at the same time. We look ahead to what the New Year has in store, and we reminisce with the Ghost of Christmas Past about loved ones no longer on this earthly plane.
Christmas Past has been on my mind the last couple of weeks, particularly the Christmases with my paternal grandparents.
First, Christmas music was better then. The lovely Sarah’s car is equipped with Sirius XM satellite radio, and we’ve been listening to Christmas music since Black Friday. The pop Christmas station was wearing me out though. I mean, how many times can you hear Mariah Carey growl the opening notes of “All I Want For Christmas is You” before you want to shoot a hole through the radio? Answer: roughly six.
Holiday Traditions, Sirius XM’s classics station, didn’t launch this year until December 5. I couldn’t wait. Christmas music sung by Frank Sinatra, The Ray Conniff Singers, Nat King Cole, et al., is like gold. My grandfather, George, had a giant stereo cabinet in his living room and a huge collection of albums. 78s. Vinyl. Hiss and all. I loved his music then and I love it still today. In my humble opinion, no one but the Harry Simeone Chorale can do a proper “Little Drummer Boy.”
Second, the cookies were amazing. My grandmother, Dorothy, baked the best cookies and coffee can cakes. At Christmas, my grandparents’ kitchen became something of a a cutout cookie factory. The best cutouts I have ever put in my mouth, and no one makes them like my grandma did. I’ve tried, along with her freezer cookies and lebkuchen.
In truth, I’ve never met a Christmas cookie I didn’t like, but cookies at my grandma’s house — reindeer, stars, stockings and more slathered with powdered sugar frosting and all manner of decorating sugars and jimmies — were the best.
Finally, there was the train scene my grandparents set up in their living room. It was huge. Miles of track surrounded by piles of cotton batting with vignettes depicting kids skating on a pond (they really skated), a shopping district, a neighborhood, a train yard. And houses and churches made from paper with colored cellophane windows lit by a bulb poked through a small hole in the back.
The paper houses were already old when my grandparents set up the train scene for our enjoyment, and were carefully packed away until the scene was set up the next time. It didn’t appear every year because the scene took up a lot of space and was a lot of work, but they loved doing it and we loved seeing it, and we kids had a blast running the train.
George and Dorothy have been gone for a long time, and I miss them. While George became a bitter and angry man after my dad, his only child, passed away, he was the most important male figure in my youth. He fostered my love of music. I played trombone and tuba in middle and high school. He and my grandmother attended all my concert performances. While he called the classical selections we played “long-hair music,” he loved every minute of it.
My grandparents also had a big hand in my becoming a writer — as a journalist, public relations practitioner, blogger and author. Every letter to the editor or op/ed I got published went up on their refrigerator. They kept copies of my high school newspaper during the year I was editor. Knowing my name is on the cover of a book would send them over the moon.
I am so grateful for their influence, and for the memories. Merry Christmas!