Learning through Laughter

Bob Owen, Humorist

I grew up in a Christmas family.  Mom cooked and decorated the inside of the house and the front door, and Dad made magic with the lights outside.  The excitement of the season permeated everything we did as a family – from  celebrating the Advent of Christ to celebrating red bows, bells, and Christmas cards taped around the dining room entrance in our house.  My wife grew up in a family that loved Christmas as well, though I think they were a bit more subtle in decorating.

Brenda and I have carried on this tradition over the years.  I love to turn on all the outside lights the very second we’ve finished the Thanksgiving meal.  And, if I fall asleep somewhere in the house, Brenda will stick a ribbon on me if I’m not moving.

Now our boys, our wonderful sons, are kicking in on their Christmas genes.  This past year, both families moved from apartments to houses.  It was interesting to hear both boys declare, at the beginning of summer, “that’s where we’re going to put the Christmas tree this year.”  We always did that.  Don’t worry about the decorations for the baby’s room or who will get what room, or where the favorite chair will go.  First decision to be made always is where the Christmas tree will reside.  If there’s a couch in front of the window, get rid of it.  The tree goes there.

But the realization that all their many years of decoration training had taken root came when the lights went up outside their houses this year.  They’re on bushes, over the carport, on the front door, around door facings.  I feel sorry for any stray dog who takes a nap in one of their front yards.  It’ll wake up with a light bulb in its ear.

Neither boy was ready to tackle the front door assignment this year, but both are planning for next year.  Front door decorations have always been special to me.  Mom was a creative genius.  We had full-size Santas and Frostys made out of styrofoam and brightly colored paint welcoming people into our home throughout the years.  One year, there was a “live” Christmas tree made from chicken wire and fresh greenery and covered with lights.  People in our small town drove by to see “what Elizabeth has done this year.”  (I am here to tell you it NEVER was gaudy.  Mom didn’t do gaudy.)

Last week, one of our sons was reminiscing about the Christmas doors we had when they were young.  Yes, at times I duplicated the Santa and the Frosty from my youth.  They’re still as popular in memory today as they were back in the 50s.  (That’s the 1950s, smarty, not the 1850s.)  Parker specifically remembers a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer I made for the door, with a bright red nose.  When he first mentioned it, I let it glide past.  I didn’t say anything.  (You see, I don’t remember that.)

The next day, he brought it up again.  I racked my brain, which I do admit has probably diminished a bit over the years.  But, I can’t come up with an image of that door decoration.  We have pictures of EVERYTHING.  So, I looked in the piles of photos.  Not there.

Rob’s memory of Christmas also is slightly different from reality.  We’ve never been much on buying more presents and toys than we had room for inside the house, a garage and four outside buildings.  A couple of years ago, Rob remembered all the many toys he and Parker got during their Santa Claus years and said they weren’t going to buy their kids that many things.  When Brenda heard that, she smiled with great satisfaction.  When the boys were little, we didn’t have a big Christmas budget.  Each boy received two gifts under the tree.  Three if a windfall came in.  Of course, their Christmas stockings were full, and that was done for “pennies.”  The fact is, there weren’t that many toys.  Enough.  Plenty. But, not in excess.  What this says to Brenda and me is that the excitement and joy and love of Christmas is what our boys remember.  They recall toys that weren’t there and they remember door decorations that I don’t know about.

What this really says to me is that their families are going in the same direction.  The same joy and excitement and fun that fills their house every day of the year is still there during the Christmas and Advent seasons.  They just may be wearing a few more bows and bells now.

As our grandchildren grow up, I look forward to watching our traditions take on new life.

What do I remember specifically about Christmas during my Santa Claus years?  I remember my brother and me waking up early on Christmas morning and making enough noise that we awakened our parents.  We stood at the top of the stairs prancing and dancing with excitement.  BUT.  We wouldn’t take one step down the stairs.  It was Dad’s job to go first.  He put on his robe and walked downstairs into the dark.  I held my breath.  As he stepped from the hall into the living room, we could see when he turned on the ceiling light.  I held my breath.  At first, Dad didn’t make a sound. I held my breath. I was about to die.  Then it happened!  Dad declared in a happy, loud voice, “Oh my gosh.  Look at what Santa left.”  That was our cue.  It was finally official.  We could storm downstairs and lay waste to the living room.

I don’t remember all that many specific gifts.  But, I do remember waiting with anticipation as Dad started the day.  What I know now is why he did that.  He went downstairs first to make sure he and Mom hadn’t forgotten to “tidy up” after putting out Santa Claus the night before.  Were the stockings in the right place?  Most importantly, did Santa eat at least some of the cookies from the plate under the tree?  And, did he drink the Coke we left on the mantle?  Why didn’t we leave milk?  I don’t know.  We left a Coke.

One of Dad’s fondest memories was the year he forgot about the Coke.  Just as we barreled into the living room, he glanced at the mantle and saw the full Coke bottle.  Before we spotted this error, he grabbed the bottle and hid it behind his back.  Mom ran interference and got our attention as Dad went into the kitchen and poured out the Coke.  At some point, my brother commented that the Coke bottle was missing from the mantle.  After a search, we found it empty in the kitchen, beside a handwritten thank you note from Santa.

I still haven’t told Parker I don’t remember the Rudolph door.  The next time he asks how I made it, I think I’ll challenge him.  “Why don’t you make it the way you remember it?”  I know it will be wonderful.  Then I can steal the idea for our door the next year.

Date of Blog Story: 
December 16, 2007

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