The Perfect Christmas Snap Shot

Earlier this week I listened to friends say that they couldn’t wait for the Christmas season to end.  Their kids are over tired and over stimulated.  They are overwhelmed with baking and decorating and buying and wrapping.  I empathise with them, but I do not agree with them.  I love Christmas.  It is the season for making memories.

I thought about this later when my son and I returned from some last-minute shopping.  As we wrapped gifts and listened to music, he asked,

“Remember the year you and Dad bought us boom boxes?”

I do indeed.  We went shopping the week before Christmas, during a snow storm.  On a whim, we decided to buy each of the children a boom box, and finding that they took up the entire space in the car trunk, we returned home to unload and go out for a few more items.

The bushes in front of our townhouse were aglow with white lights that glittered in the falling snow.  Struggling to hold two of the large boxes, I stood on the stoop as Paul searched his pockets for the car keys.  Through the front door, we could hear peals of laughter coming from the living room.  Paul stopped looking for his keys and we stood there for a few moments, watching the snow and listening to the music of our children’s laughter.  It was a perfect Christmas snapshot.

Most of us have a favorite Christmas memory.  I have many.  The smell of a new doll brought by Santa.   Tearing wrapping paper to reveal the glitter of Sparkle Paints.  Lying in my bunk bed until midnight, listening to “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” through the earphone on a new transistor radio.  The trip we took to see the lights at Constitution Plaza, where my brother Eric discovered that he could stand on a bridge and spit on the cars speeding along the highway below us.  “Frosty the Snowman” performed by the Ray Conniff singers.  Assembling toys at two o’clock in the morning, and hoping we would be finished before the kids woke up.  Singing “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” at midnight mass.

Some Christmases were a bit more challenging.  The year Gabe was a baby, all four of us got influenza.   Another year, we had only thirty dollars to buy the children’s Christmas gifts.  The year Abby was five, I made her a beautiful plaid dress to wear for her first Christmas cantata.  On the way to the performance, she turned a ghastly white, said “I can’t do this,”  and threw up all over the porch steps, and her new dress.

And there was last year, when I spent Christmas afternoon sitting in my mother’s empty room, wishing for just one more chance to hear her read aloud, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

For most of us, Christmas is a kaleidoscope of glitter, color and noise.  It is family, and laughter and foods too rich to eat more than once a year.  It is a riot of gifts, carols and crimson cheeked children watching for Santa’s arrival.  But mostly, it is about hope.  Hope that the special gift we found for that someone special will convey the love in our hearts.  Hope that our children will stay healthy and happy and not tell Aunt Polly that she has a whisker growing from her chin.  Hope that through the birth of a small child in Bethlehem, we are redeemed from our sins.

With that hope to guide us, the things we do will make the memories we so badly want for our loved ones.  When our children are grown, they will remember how they felt on Christmas morning.  They will remember the thrill of finding treasures left by Santa, the aroma of warm gingerbread cookies, and their favorite ornament on the tree.  They will remember opening gifts in their pajamas, and laughter from the children’s table, and hugging a new teddy bear as they drift off to sleep on Christmas night.

This year, my family is making a new holiday memory.  On December 24th, my firstborn will dress in a gown as white as fresh snow and pledge her love to the man who makes every day feel like Christmas morning.  There will be laughter. There will be tears. It will be forever etched in my heart as a perfect Christmas snapshot. 

I hope you and your family will share in the hope of love and light this Christmas, and that your holiday season will be full of new and wonderful memories.

Good to the Last Drop

Coffee.  I even love the sound of the word.  Contrary to the “Cup of Tea with Momma G” title, I don’t often drink tea.  But hot coffee-now, that’s another story.

Every morning at 4:40, my automatic coffeemaker begins dripping its aromatic Columbian treasure to the waiting pot, so by the time my alarm rings at five, and I shuffle to the kitchen, several steaming cups are waiting for me.  I pour a mug and sip it while I check my email, waiting for the caffeine to awaken my groggy brain and inspire me to stretch the kinks from my stiff joints.

I have been drinking coffee almost as long as I remember.  My parents were huge coffee drinkers, and in the house where I was raised, there was rarely a moment when there wasn’t a pot of dark brown liquid on the stove.  My mother drank hers black, my father with milk and sugar.  I prefer mine with cream and sugar, but drink it black to save calories, except on Sundays, when I savor one large mug fixed just the way I like it.

When I was a child, a milestone of maturity was to be old enough to fix my dad’s coffee.   I think I was around seven when I reached this pinnacle of achievement.   It was a simple process, but one that required close attention.  My parents were smokers, so finding a match to light the gas burner was easy.  I would place the battered aluminum coffee pot over the flame and wait until the deep brown liquid neared the point of simmer.  Paying attention was crucial, because the line between heating coffee and boiling coffee is very thin.  One moment of distraction- the time it took to grab an oatmeal cookie from the pantry- and the swirling liquid would bubble, leaving it bitter and gray.   So I watched, and waited until the liquid just sizzled against the edge of the pot.  I’d carefully fill a mug and stir in just enough milk to change the color from mahogany to oak.   Then, just as carefully, I would stir in a rounded teaspoon of sugar, and then add the amount that my dad called “a little bit more” and stir it in.  I sampled a bit from the spoon, just to be sure it was right, and gingerly carried the mug to the living room where my father sat on his easy chair.  It was a ritual to be repeated countless times through the years.  When I was a teenager, aggravated at being asked to wait on my father, I never expected to miss the task, but now I would give almost anything to bring him just one more steaming cup.

In my parents’ house, coffee was the catalyst for conversation.  Whenever people entered the door, they were immediately offered a cup, for indeed, even during financial hardship, there was always coffee.  When I was a small child, my father introduced me to my first cup.  He filled a mug with milk and poured in a small amount of coffee, sweetened it with sugar, and invited me to sit with him and enjoy a cup and keep him company.  To me this was a monumental statement.  It meant that for the next ten minutes, I was like an adult- an equal, whose opinions and ideas carried equal weight as my father’s.  I felt grown up, affirmed, and valued.  From that day on, sharing a cup of coffee removed the walls that separate child from parent.  Sitting at the old kitchen table to slurp caffeine from a cup and follow the slurp with a satisfied “Ahhh” put us on the same side, even if just for a few moments.

In much the same fashion, I shared coffee with my children.  When Abby was a teenager, we began our own ritual of sharing coffee on the beach.  We would fill a large thermos with hot coffee, mix it with sugar and creamer, and sip it while the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean.   Like they had when I was a teenager, the barriers that separate kids from adults toppled the moment that thermos was opened. The scent of coffee mingling with the salt air opened the heart and relaxed the soul.

My dearest friend Sue and I formed our friendship over cups of coffee. We would brew a pot and sit in her kitchen or mine, our children playing in the next room.    When she moved to North Carolina, I thought my heart would break, but every once in awhile, the phone will ring and it will be Sue, asking me if I want to share a cup over the phone and catch up.  I always do. 

As much as I love my first cup of the day, I love to linger over a cup after dinner.  When the children were young, their father and I would make a fresh pot, sit on the deck and chat while the sun faded and the kids searched for grasshoppers in the tall grass by the shed.  I never quite understood how the same drink that woke us up in the morning helped us to relax at the end of the day, but it did. 

I grind my coffee at the grocery store and before I close the bag, I often stick my nose in the bag and inhale a few times.  I suppose it looks a bit ridiculous, but any true coffee lover knows that nothing beats the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans.   My favorite coffee house is my own apartment.  However, poured into a ceramic mug or a Styrofoam cup, in the car or on my front patio, served by a waitress or Juan Valdez himself, coffee will always be my beverage of choice.  Come to think of it, I could go for a cup right now.  How do you take yours?

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