Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Christmas Smiles

Christmas Memory Lane, part II

Yesterday's post was a little walk down Memory Lane...here's a little more about why I love this time of year...
Yesterday's post, I looked back at my earliest Christmases.

I have little images, glimpses of things, that stand out in my mind, from Christmases past...

A candle Mom used to keep in the kitchen, that came out only at Christmastime--it smelled like a fresh cut evergreen tree...

Ribbon candy that looked like finely spun glass, glimmering shades of green, red, blue, and yellow, set out in a candy dish on the dining room table.

Nuts on plates, nutcrackers, and other delicious snacks.

Uncles and Aunts sitting near our tree, as my brothers and I showed them all the gifts Santa had surprised us with.

Red wreaths that Mom and Dad hung in the front windows every year, that had a single candle in the center, that lit up red when lit.

Getting a grown up 2 wheeler bike in 3rd grade, and riding it through the interior of our house the following week! I don't think I broke anything!!!

Mr. Kolbe, the school janitor, dressing up as Santa Claus the last day of school, and passing out candy canes.

Watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, The Grinch, and all those other wonderful children's shows with my brothers, and feeling excited to stay up late on those nights. (9:00 was 'late'.)

When I was in high school, the thing that impacted me the deepest was my joining concert choir.  There, I formed one of my closest and longest friendships with a girl that shared my love of music and singing.

We were both first sopranos and we found something to laugh about every single day (my apologies to our classmates, who seemed rather annoyed with our antics).  One year, at our Christmas Concert, we were all dressed up, of course, we did something we laughed about for years afterwards.  The choir room at Sharon High School is in the lowest level (similar to a basement) of the school.  To get there, there are two long graded hallways that run alongside the auditorium (SHS has a magnificent auditorium).  The hallways have a wall on the auditorium side, but the other side is one long extended window, providing natural sunlight and a view of State Street.

We were walking in that hallway on our way to the Choir room, when we stopped to talk for a moment.  We were both wearing lipstick, probably one of the first times ever, and we thought it would be fun to leave our mark right there.  So, we walked over to the glass window and proceeded to 'kiss' it, leaving our lip prints there.  The lips stayed there for a long time; we checked periodically.  I guess the maintenance staff didn't clean the windows often.  :)

I got my first pair of high heels to wear to my 9th grade Christmas Concert--I couldn't believe it when Mom really seemed happy to let me get them!  I had a small solo that year, my first ever, and BOY, was I nervous!

My first Christmas with John, I was a senior in high school.  He gave me a Foreigner album, the songs were all pop hits the summer/fall that we were first dating.  We still joke about him giving me long johns, too.  I was always cold, so he lovingly picked them out, but they were from the little girl's department.  I was so small--about 90 lbs., that he thought that I still shopped in the children's section!  :D

I still have the car he gave me, too--a Dusenberg.  He told me he wanted me to have my own car--so he gave me a beaut--yellow, classy, and a 'Matchbox'.  :) It's in my underwear drawer, where I've kept it all these years. 

The Christmas after we were married was one of my strangest.  For the first time in my life, I awoke with no urgent need to jump out of bed.  I was used to being in a houseful of people, and here I was, just me, John, and Max, our kitty.  It was a lonely feeling that year, although it was also special, being that we celebrated our first Christmas as husband and wife. 

The next year, we had our first little baby boy--Ian.  He had just come home from the hospital on December 12th, so we were staying at my parents' house.  Ian was born on November 3, but he was born with a myriad of health problems, and I was ill equipped to deal with them all.  My parents offered us a bed and a couple extra set of hands until I felt ready to go home and be alone with Ian.  (John worked 12 to 14 hours a day.)

I was thrilled to have my baby at home with us, but it was a very stressful time in my life.  He had to be fed every 2 hours around the clock, and he was so weak that it often took him an hour to suck a couple of ounces.  By the time he was done, he'd fall asleep, I'd zone out, and an hour later, we'd have to start all over again.  I thought I was going to crack, to shatter like a mirror that was dropped on the floor.

In between all those feedings, we had to take him to occupation therapy, physical therapy, and all kinds of medical appointments.  He had to have his throat dilated.  He had to have his feeding tube fixed for one reason or another.  He had to be monitored for numerous other health problems.  I have to say that his first few Christmases, I was always one inch away from the looney bin.

Over the next 15 years, we added five more children to our family.  Jacob came to us in 1990, and it was fun having two little boys in the house for Christmas.  Ian got a Little Tikes playhouse, and John spent the whole night putting it together.  When he finally got it all set up, after a frustrating and exhausting night, the Handel piece 'Alleluia' blasted from our little radio, and John toppled over in giddy laughter. 

Tony came in 1992, and that year, Barney prevailed.  All three boys got a plush Barney doll!

  In 1994, we had a beautiful little baby girl, Maria, and with that, we had the chance to pick out gifts that were of a softer, more feminine nature.  Santa Claus visits us each year, and that year, I handed three month old Maria to him, and he didn't grip well enough.  Santa almost dropped her!  Thankfully, I was hovering right there, and grabbed her as she began to tumble.

Three years later, two weeks before the big Holy Day, I gave birth to JohnPaul.  It was a hectic month, but so deeply satisfying. 

And, then...four years later, I was heavily pregnant and due on New Year's Eve.  JohnPaul had come exactly on my due date, so I wondered if this sixth child might be early.  I hoped I wouldn't go into labor on Christmas eve, I wanted to see all the kids open their gifts at home.  There was NO problem there.  Therese didn't come early.  Or on time.  She was 12 days LATE!!!!

We have our little traditions here--most years we bake something together.  The older kids go to Midnight Mass and bring along huge groups of friends with them, then they head out to Denny's for a very late dinner (or early breakfast).

We still have a child who waits for Santa, although she's pretty savvy and has been tipping us off to the fact that she's on the brink of putting that behind her.  I figure I'll get one more good year of that--I am not yet ready to let that one go quite yet.

I hope you all enjoy these little memories.  Maybe you'd share some of yours with me?


Monday, December 17, 2012

Twas the week before Christmas, and I've been thinking...

I really love Christmas.  On sooo many levels.  I love to reminisce; how about you--my readers?  What memories warm your heart this time of year?

It's interesting when I look back at the chapters of my life...

Although Christmas is and always will be, primarily, Christ's birthday, I still can't help but love all the things I remember about that time of year throughout my life.

As a very little child, my first memory of Christmas was when I was two years old.  It was so long ago that the memories are mostly of what I was thinking.  I can recall being told that Santa Claus had come, and seeing toys everywhere.  I cannot remember anything Santa brought, but I do remember that my aunt and uncle came by and gave me a Fischer Price pull toy (a telephone that had eyes which moved when you pulled it).

The following morning, I awoke and wondered why there were no more new presents to open.  :) I didn't grasp the whole idea of it being only one day.

Life as a two year old consisted of me and my big brother, Shaun, living with our parents in a rental home in a neighborhood near Farrell, Pa.  Shaun and I had the whole dining room to play in, which was gated off and filled with our toys.  Mom kept her ironing board there, so she could do her laundry and watch us.  Days were pretty much the same each day; occasionally, Mom would let us sit on the front porch and play with our puppets, or walk out back and throw bread to the birds.  I remember a cherry tree there, maybe I got to taste the fruit, although I'm not sure.

When I was three, we moved to the house that Mom and Dad still live in.  That October, my baby brother, Jim arrived.  That Christmas is much more vivid in my mind than the previous one.

I remember the tree being all decorated in the corner of the dining room, and that I got up earliest that morning.  I found the tree, all lit up in the dark room, and all the toys under it.  I grabbed the first thing I saw and ran up the steps to show it to Mom, who was still sound asleep.  It was a toy rhinocerous. Groggy, she sat up and looked at the toy.  "Annie, this isn't yours, it is your brother's."  Wait till Daddy and I come down and show you what is yours."  Waiting for them to get up and make their way down the steps was an eternity.  :)

That Christmas, I received lots of goodies.  I remember a doll named Janie West, who came with a pony to ride.  I sat by the heat register that day, opening the box that held the doll, then proceeded to somehow drop several of her tiny accessories down the register.  I cried, and Mom said that those things were gone forever.  There was no way to get them back.  I never dangled toys over that thing again. 

Christmases at the Ryan house were always beautiful.  Santa Claus brought all our toys, but in addition to that, the tree itself.  When we went to bed on Christmas Eve, there was not yet a Christmas tree.  But, early the next morn, we'd awaken to find the entire downstairs in darkness, except for the glow of the mulicolored bulbs on the tree.

We always had a live fur tree.  There was great and meticulous care put into choosing just the right one, and the trimming was a work of art.

I think the tannenbaum was the thing that most impressed me, even over all the toys.  Santa Claus didn't wrap our gifts, that was normal for us, and I thought it strange when I heard from other children that they had to unwrap their things.  When I first looked at the gifts, it always looked like the window in a toy store.  I always got dolls--I loved dolls--and lots of wonderful other gifts.

Some years, Mom baked cookies with us.  She was never a fan of KP duty, in any way, shape, or form.  She is a good cook, but doesn't like to cook--she just does it out of necessity.  So, when we made cookies, it was quite a treat.  It seems I remember making gingerbread men the most.

My brothers and I used to lie in our beds on Christmas Eve, listening to stereo 99 FM on our little radio.  We set it in the middle of the upstairs hallway between our bedrooms, and fell asleep to the soothing sounds of Christmas music.  They ran continual Christmas music for 24 hours each year.

At school, in the weeks preparing for Christmas, our teachers taught us about Advent (Catholic school), and we always had a Christmas program set up for the final day of school before vacation.

The year I was in first grade, the teachers decided to put on a play.  I was chosen to sit on the bleachers (off to the side of the stage) to sing songs with a couple dozen other students.  I was content with that, being a very bashful kid.  That was, until my teacher decided that all the first graders would be ON stage.  I refused.  I wanted to be off stage.  She pushed.  I resisted.  Finally, she called Mom, who told her to make me do it.  I cried.  Mrs. Driscoll compromised with me.  She told me all I had to do was dress up as a doll and she'd let me sit on the edge of the stage--no lines.  I reluctantly agreed.

So, Mom made me this adorable dress and fashioned a turnkey for my back.  She assembled it, and I looked like a wind up toy.  When the time for the show came, I plopped down on the stage's edge.  The audience must have thought I looked cute, based on their faces.  I felt dumb and silly.  I wanted to hide in a closet.

When the play ended, I sat there for several seconds until I heard giggling.  I realized I'd missed my cue to stand up and go back stage.  How humiliating!

That Christmas, Santa brought me a pink Cinderella watch.  And a pink robe.  And pink plush slippers.  Pink, pink, pink.  I remember a tiny Barbie like doll named Dawn.  All the girls seemed to have Dawn dolls, and now I did, too!  I received a game called The Bride Game, and a Skipper doll.  It's funny how I can still picture those gifts, and how excited they made me feel.

The next year, as a big second grader, I became aware of fashion.  I wanted fashionable boots--no heavy duty snow boots, but pretty ones to wear with dresses to school.  Santa came through for me!  I also got my first pairs of knee socks.  Prior to that, it was either crew socks or anklets, but I wanted something less childish! 

Each Christmas eve, we visited both sets of grandparents...Mom's parents lived in a big old house on Main Street in Sharpsville.  Sometimes, all the cousins were there, and we'd sing Christmas carols together.  My Aunt Loretta and Uncle Mart still lived there, too, and provided much entertainment for us kids.

My paternal grandmother died when I was a baby, but Grandpa Ryan was always thrilled to see us visit.  He lived with my Aunt Maggie and Uncle Jim, and they always had a big Christmas tree in the corner of their living room.  Uncle Jim would always lift us kids up and swing us in his arms, until we laughed, and then he'd put us back down.  I remember when I grew too big for that fun; what a dismal day that was!  For a few years, Grandpa had a pet monkey named Daisy.  We used to love looking in at the little squirrel monkey and talking to her.  We didn't dare put our fingers near her cage because she was nasty!  She would have bit us!

Christmases always meant lots of visitors.  I had cousins all over the place on both sides of the family.  They were like siblings to me.  I never had a sister, but my female cousins filled that void!  I loved it when they came to our house, or we visited theirs.

I remember games, and ghost stories, outdoor walks, and other fun stuff with them.  I am so glad to have all these fabulous things to look back upon.

Well, time to go do housework...more memories to come...LOTs more!!!

Until later...

HUGSxxx Annie