A Christmas Story

As Christmas nears, we begin planning our traditional Christmas Eve family activity, viewing “A Christmas Story”. We all wear our jammies, climb into our master king-size bed, and snack on popcorn and hot chocolate while our children eagerly anticipate what gifts they will find under the tree on Christmas morning.

The kids also love to hear of our Christmas traditions and family lore from our growing-up years. Noah, for the past two or three days has been mildly ill with fever, headache, and achy muscles. He has mostly languished in bed since Sunday afternoon, but has been very un-demanding to care for–no throwing up and no other distasteful symptoms to deal with.

The combination of holiday memories and Christmas illness takes me back to a particular childhood Christmas in Knoxville. We always went to Grandma and Grandaddy Sweet’s house on Christmas Eve to open presents. Our aunts, Dad’s sisters, were there with their husbands. The tree, a live cedar, stood in the living room against the wall at the end of the piano just outside the doorway to the dining room. The tree was strung with large pointed bulb lights in primary colors, and adorned with fragile glass ornaments (including ones of silver mercury glass that had tarnished over the years), and a heavy handed application of draped silver tinsel icicles. Mounds of packages were heaped under the tree, and if a family member opened a gift of clothing, the family chorus called out, “Model it! Model it!”, even if it was underwear or socks–and especially if it was lingerie.

The dining room table, and sometimes the kitchen table too, was covered with homemade sweets: chocolate and butterscotch haystacks, divinity, peanut butter fudge, chocolate fudge, rum balls, chex-mix, sugar cookies in pastel colors dotted with silver beads, and fruit cake. Essentially, the family meal consisted of butter and sugar in all its best forms: frosted, powdered, and iced.

My sister, Cyndi, loved to eat the sweets. On this particular night my mother, the family oracle, warned her, “Cyndi, stop eating all that sugar. You will make yourself sick.” Cyndi did not heed that advice. With complete abandon she ate handful after mouthful of the treats. It was Christmas after all, and there were no vegetables in sight.

We headed home on this particularly cold and bitter night. We were sent off to bed where visions of Sugarplums danced in our heads. Except, that the dancing wasn’t in Cyndi’s head….it was in her tummy, where the butter and sugar and chocolate swirled round and round like a spin cycle in a washing machine, until suddenly at 3 a.m., she erupted violently all over her sheets and electric blanket.

We all awoke to the sound of Cyndi’s retching. “Jo! Cyndi’s throwing up! I told her not to eat all that sugar! I told her she would make herself sick!”, screeched my Mother. I don’t remember much sound from Dad other than a mild “Hmmm” and a small sigh of exasperation. His reaction was much milder than say, the father in “A Christmas Story” who “wove a tapestry of obscenity from curse words”. Perhaps Dad thought such things, but he did not say them. Mom was agitated and verbal-she was right, after all –while Dad silently trudged to the back yard with the defiled electric blanket to wash it off with the garden hose. There he stood, in the Christmas darkness illuminated only by the greenish tint of a utility pole light, in thirty degree weather, arm outstretched with the blanket in hand, and the water hose in the other hand, shivering, dutifully cleaning up the projectile consequences of too much junk food. Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!

Tonight, on this Christmas Eve, we wish you a Merry Christmas. Oh, and you would be well served to listen to my Mother and stop eating that left-over office party cake, cookies, and fudge now before the Sugarplum Fairy turns into a demon.

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