Thursday, April 28, 2011

Christmas Eve 1954

I have decided to write a biography of my grandmother, Florence. What follows will likely become the Epilogue of the book (or perhaps the Prologue). I did not write this piece, but for me it embodies so much of what I am learning about my grandmother.

The author of today's guest post is my mother, Kristine, a rather amazing woman in her own right.

Christmas Eve 1953
"We're inviting a new couple in the neighborhood over for Christmas Eve, and we told them to have something for the program." These words in a letter from my brother a few years ago reminded me just what  Christmas Eve had come to mean to our family, and it brought back memories, too, of the influence behind those evenings.

Mother decided long ago that Christmas Day should be enjoyable and relaxing for her as well as the rest of us. So the traditional Christmas dinner with all its time-consuming work went out, to be replaced by what we simply called "Christmas Eve." Preparations actually began the day after Thanksgiving when the fruitcakes were baked and set in the basement to age. The week before Christmas, Dad made root beer and we kids capped the bottles. Candy was made somewhere along the way, and on the afternoon of Christmas Eve the ham went in the oven. After the traditional service at the church, we came back to the house along with relatives and one or two other families whom the folks always invited. After the meal came the impromptu program. I managed a piano solo. There would be poems, songs, maybe a story or two, and my slightly wacky aunt and uncle would always come up with something that would leave our sides aching from laughter. We ended with Christmas carols, and I was sure each year as I went to bed that it had been absolutely the best Christmas Eve ever.

Florence and Kristine
I suppose the one that I'll always particularly remember is the Christmas Eve of 1954, simply because we did spend it just as we had spent all the others. In May of that year Mother went into surgery for what proved to be a malignant brain tumor. The doctors took out what they could, but they couldn't get it all. For a few months after the operation she was much the same as she had always been. By the time school started, though, her arm and leg were becoming paralyzed--a consequence of the growing tumor--and she was spending most of her time in bed. Mother knew, of course, what was happening, though she never said much about it.

She called me to her room one afternoon in early November. She had just ordered Dad an electric shaver for Christmas. The store would call sometime in December, she said, and I was to go down and pick it up. She had asked Dad to get a record player for two of the younger kids, but since, as she said, he had a tendency to be a little forgetful, I was to remind him about it.

Two days before Thanksgiving she went into a coma, and four days later she died.

A day or so after the funeral, one of my brothers asked Dad if we would have Christmas Eve like always. Dad said we would. I personally thought he was out of his mind but went along with the plans anyway. Someone had made the fruitcakes, probably one of my aunts. Dad helped us with the root beer, and the ham was bought. The afternoon of Christmas Eve I got a call asking if we still wanted the electric shaver. I had completely forgotten about it. Dad had done a little better and remembered the record player.

Christmas Eve was more subdued that year, but it was lovely. There was a void, of course, but also an extra closeness that I don't think we've had any other time. We had only relatives that year, but people were dropping by all evening just to leave "a little something" for the kids. The living room was overflowing, and we were all a little overwhelmed. We'd finished singing carols and everyone had gone home, when I noticed a huge package in back of the tree and asked Dad who "that monstrosity" was for. He just laughed, but next morning a note was taped to the package saying, "Kris, this monstrosity is for you." Mother, remembering that I would be leaving for college the next fall, had told Dad to get me some luggage. She had seen that we were all taken care of. I don't remember what everyone got, but my sister and I still have pillowcases with tatted edges that she had asked a lady in town to do.

We've all left home now, and it's rare that we get together at Christmas time. But "Christmas Eve" still happens in our individual homes. There are variations: my brother and his family go out Christmas caroling--a tradition from his wife's family--and I've given up on fruitcakes which none of my family likes and now bake Christmas cookies which I don't like. We all, though, make it a point to invite someone over, just as Mother always did.

The Christmas of 1954 will always stand out in my mind, and the memory of what Mother did for us that year gives special meaning to the scripture: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of have done it unto me."


  1. I love this. I can hear you in your mother's memory and can see Alec in Florence's face. I connected with this piece in a very personal way as I experienced a very similar Christmas when my mom died just before Thanksgiving. I'm going to Utah this week to be with 66 other members of my immediate blended family, dreading the details and inevitable drama. This remembrance of your mother's helped me remember mine and what they have to offer. Thank you for posting this. I really needed it. It will be a beautiful prologue of your book. I'm so proud of you!

  2. Moving. Leaves a lump in my throat. A MOTHER to the very end.