Monday, December 20, 2010

The 12 Memories of Christmas: Reservations required.

I got the sweetest email from my cousin BJ this morning.

"I'm sleeping, until 3 p.m. Wednesday," it said.

I immediately responded:

"Thank you for your email. In anticipation of my family's Christmas celebrations, I have entered a medically-induced coma from which I will not emerge until mid-day Wednesday. I will respond to all emails at that time.

Thank you again for your message.

Kristin Stultz

His response:

"This is an automated reply.

I am currently away from my email, but I am NOT shaking boxes, reserving my spot on the floor with tape or digging into the baked spaghetti early.

If you need assistance, please contact Mary Stultz

I think it's pretty obvious that our exchange was in reference to the 5th Memory of Christmas - this memory is also known as "how the grandchildren of Mary & Fred Stultz survived the Great Wait leading up to every single Christmas Eve."

In a previous post, I alluded to how tough it was to suffer through the daytime of each December 24th. Under Mayme's tree was an avalanche of gifts. They overflowed, like the banks of the Ohio during the Greenup flood of 1937. Sure. Some of these were for our dads - Mayme and Papaw's sons. Others were for the extended family - uncles, aunts, and cousins we only saw that one nite of the year, but the five of us had lived long enough to learn that most of them were for us. As you can imagine, this made Christmas Eve interminable. If the 21st is the shortest day of the year, the 24th is most definitely the longest.

We developed a strategy. We had to. We'd do anything to make the time pass, to make the hours fall from the clock like snow from the sky. The older we got, the wiser we became. By the time Mayme died, in fact, Lori and I were just sleeping until it was time for supper. That's what I was alluding to in my email. In the earlier years, though, we had to be a little more creative. BJ alluded to most of our methods in his email, and I include them here as suggestions in case there are any children out there whose holiday celebrations are nearly ruined by older family members who don't share their sense of urgency:

1) Shake boxes. This actually occurred the second we got in to town - having arrived at 1400 Riverside Drive, Sissy and I would head straight for the tree. "I'm sorry, Mayme," our obvious subtext. "I will just have to hug you later. If you'll excuse me, my sister and I have got some business to attend to." Typically, Brad, Lori, and BJ would be waiting for us in the living room. Our work would get immediately underway. Brad would crawl under the tree and pull out whatever gifts were tagged to one of us. Hearing our names called, we would mentally cross check the shapes and sounds of the wrapped packages with those things on our wishlists. This clandestine method often enabled us to determine a box's contents without so much as peeling back a single piece of tape. Well, at least not the WHOLE piece of tape. It's tape, in fact, that leads me to tier two in our three pronged strategy...

2) Reserving my spot on the floor with tape. Mayme's house was really full on Christmas Eve. It, too - as the presents under her tree - overflowed like the banks of the Ohio. Naturally, then, the five of us knew we had to be proactive. If we wanted a space close to all the action - and trust me. We DID - we'd have to stake our claim early in the day. We accomplished this by adhering massive amounts of masking tape - Mayme must've bought stock in the masking tape company, because she always had several rolls' worth - to the braided rug carpet that covered her hardwoods. On this masking tape, we'd each write our name - "Kristin," "BJ," "Lori," you get the picture. That way, no adults would go getting any bright ideas that they could sit on the carpet right by the tree. "Um, no, Jim Bob. You can't sit there. You'll have to step away from this spot. As you can see, it's RESERVED. Maybe try to talk Papaw out of his big blue recliner, huh?" You'd have thought the adults would've gotten used to this custom - five Stultzes sitting in a semi-circle that echoed the hemline of the tree skirt, but we took no chances. We marked our spots each year - sometimes several days before the big day.

3) Digging into the baked spaghetti early. Everybody knows that Mayme served baked spaghetti on Christmas Eve. In fact, that's still what we eat on Christmas Eve. To do otherwise would be a sacrilege! The tension between parents and children came not so much in the eating of the spaghetti but in the timing of the eating of the spaghetti. The five of us knew that we had to eat our dinner before we could open presents. What we didn't know was why we couldn't just eat spaghetti for breakfast and get on with the Big Show. Though we probably could've talked Mayme into it, our parents wouldn't hear of it. So we'd start begging for dinner about 3 in the afternoon. When the time finally came, my cousins and I could complete our dinners - spaghetti, crackers, and some kind of dessert - in 37.92 seconds.

Our older relations didn't share our zeal, however. They'd take their sweet time, visiting with other family members and eating two, three, NINE helpings, while us kids would ask a quick intervals, "Are you ready now?" "How about now? Are you done yet?" Each time, they'd squelch our desire like a bronze cup snuffs out a Christmas candle.

And then, at looonngg last, would come the culmination of the day. The waiting, the wishing, the shaking, and the spaghetti all led to the single moment when the voices that once said, "No" would ring out in a glorious chorus:

"Kids, are you ready to open presents?"

Were we ready? Did they even have to ask?! We'd been ready since three days earlier. We were just relieved they'd finally caught up, and when they finally did, they knew just where to find us - thanks to the spots we'd so cleverly reserved earlier in the day.

No comments:

Post a Comment