To the Times of Ti:
Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa Cottrell's! Such a precious memory. Let me tell you about it.
We grandchildren always stayed all night Christmas Eve, sharing beds , and giggly excitement . My grandparents’ Christmas tree was never decorated until after we were tucked in. And how we put off going to bed! Every Christmas Eve, Grandpa would say, "Hark! I hear sleigh bells! You children hustle and get to bed. Santa must be almost here!”
Of course that did the trick. We certainly didn’t want to be caught by Santa Claus! So teeth were brushed at the old-fashioned marble corner sink, flannel pajamas donned, and into quilt-laden beds we popped. I never quite understood where my aunt and uncles slept those Christmas Eves since we occupied their beds, two children to a single bed.
I remember gazing out the big bedroom window in my uncles' room one crisp starry Christmas Eve, all cozy under the quilts. The twinkling city lay below. Santa’s reindeer were somewhere up there in that expanse of cold star-drenched sky. I know I heard the tinkle of bells! Then I fell asleep.
“Merry Christmas!” The very rafters echoed the Quilts were tossed aside. (I remember the, cold linoleum floor.)
Grandpa Cottrell’s rule was that the children couldn’t come downstairs until they were fully clothed and until all the other relatives had arrived. Some of the longest moments I’ve known came those Christmas mornings as we waited at the top of the stairs in the hall. Always the first to arrive, as we strained at the top landing, were my father's parents, and my Grandmother Whyland began calling “Merry Christmas” even before she was out of the old Buick. The whole block resounded as she called her happy wishes all the way into the big front hall, those cold Christmas mornings Mother and Daddy were there at last, but what kept aunts and uncles so long?
When all had arrived, we were allowed to come down, the closed double parlor doors were pushed open to reveal a glittering tree. Santa had found time in his long journey to decorate it with all the favorite old ornaments. (When we returned home Christmas night, we always found that Santa had stopped there, too, to decorate the tree while we were gone.)
Each grown-up and each child kept the same gift “spot” through the years. We rushed to what we knew to be our own gifts. My sisters’ and mine were right in front of the fireplace.
"Oh, Mother, look! my sled,” I exclaimed the year I received my Flexible Flyer.
The mantel was of dark marble, so Grandpa had made a board for the top, which he fastened on with screw clamps so that we might hang our stockings. Even the grown-ups had stockings-such a queer lumpy assortment of all sizes and colors, from black cotton hose to child-sized tan ribbed cotton. The lumps, when spilled out, turned into nuts, an orange (the orange always stuck in the stocking) , candy cane and hard candies.
At last the red, green and white tissue (the prettiest had holly or Santa designs on it) and the tinsel cord had been cleared away. The tags were affixed in some way so that parents would know who had given the gifts. I can still hear Mother say, “Save the tags, girls.”
The womenfolk got breakfast while we exclaimed over each other’s gifts, treasuring them over and over. There were doll clothes made by Grandma Whyland, books, games and all sorts of treasures.
Our Christmas breakfast was a feast. The leaves were all in the dining room table, and around this huge oval were seated all the happy family. I recall that I, the eldest grandchild, sat on the piano stool. After Grandpa’s reverent prayer of thanksgiving, the platters of steaming pancakes were passed from the kitchen. Served with them was an assortment of toppings that made a decision almost impossible. Of course, real maple syrup, or perhaps brown sugar syrup, or white sugar syrup or plain brown sugar. You might choose my favorite - sausage drippings drizzled over with a sprinkle of granulated sugar! Who thought then of calories? The pancakes were accompanied by sausage, real country sausage cakes or links, fried on the old cook stove in iron “spiders.”
Laughter and familial love were shared the whole day long, as we celebrated together the birth of the Christ Child.
But of all our festivities, these Christmas Eve and Christmas morning memories are the brightest and most precious to me.