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The Tentacle


December 21, 2004

I Remember Christmases Past and..

Jason Grabill

I really don't have a 'most memorable' Christmas, but rather, a bunch of small memories that I draw on during the Christmas season.

I grew up in a typical middle class/farming household in the '60s and '70s. My dad worked for the Frederick Motor Company as a body shop foreman. Mom stayed at home. They always put money away in a Christmas club account every year, without fail, to give my sister and me a "good Christmas." I can't remember every single one, but I don't remember ever having a "bad" Christmas as a kid.

Now, I could tell of Christmases spent working as a police officer, and some of the things I've seen that people do to each other (one story in my house has become famous, since I tell it every year, about a murder/suicide, my partner Pete Aurich, a frigid pre Christmas night, and some rose bushes....) and the Christmases spent "at the tip of the spear, at the edge of the empire," but I believe that Christmas memories as a kid are the best memories.

The start of our Christmas season was when the Christmas lights went up. One of my first memories of Christmas is my Dad, out in the cold, stringing the lights on the bushes in front of my bedroom. They were the big green kind (called C-7 lights nowadays), and I remember they were bright! Green everywhere!

As I got older, I took over the job of stringing lights. By then, all the trees in our yard had grown along with me, and I would be out on December 15, as soon as Dad told me I could put them up, merrily stringing lights all over the place. (Dad wouldn't let me put any lights up before December 15, and except for this year, I still string my own lights on or about that day).

I climbed the trees, eschewing the use of a ladder, and had strings of lights all over the yard, and dangling behind me. As the years went by, and I got more experienced, lights ended up not only on the trees, but on the gutters, roof ledges, walls, and any place else I could put a strand.

The big green lights were long gone, but for most of my teenage years we had white "twinkle" lights. Yes, the kind that if one bulb blows, the entire strand goes out. I learned about pre-planning from that; and also refined my cursing ability when the strand would die. Dad didn't interfere, and usually didn't even give suggestions. He just let me do what I wanted to do to make our house one of the most well lit around.

Christmas Eve, I was in bed by 7 P.M. - if I could get away with it, figuring, the sooner I went to sleep, the sooner Christmas would come.

It never seemed to work out that way though. I stayed up later as I got older, but the memories I have are of pinging off the walls in anticipation of the following day.

We never trimmed our tree until Christmas Eve, didn't even have the tree up until then. We'd get a fire rolling in the fireplace, and start trimming the tree. The record player would have Christmas carols playing, or the TV would be on, and we could always find some sort of Christmas special on (after all, we only had channels 2, 4, 5, 11, 13, and 20...45 on a good day then).

Mom ran the tree trimming exercise and made sure all had cookies (home baked, of course). Dad would set up the trains. He had built a huge train layout on a large piece of plywood with Plasticville houses, fake snow (made of asbestos in those days... FLAMEPROOF!) and my Matchbox cars.

That's also where the strands of big green lights went, they lit the Plasticville houses.

My personal ritual on Christmas morning (I fancied myself a commando even in my youngest days) was to wake up at about 4 A.M., and sneak from my downstairs bedroom to the upstairs where our stockings were hung.

Now, to do this, I had to get by my parents bedroom....and the wooden floor squeaked. So, there I would be, stealthily creeping down the hallway, barely breathing, inching along ever so slowly, taking care to wear socks to glide along the hardwood floor in the pitch black of our house until I reached the room where the stockings, now packed with loot, lay on the hearth.

I also had to dodge various and sundry pieces of furniture to get to this point. Then, carefully, I would try and figure out what Ole Santa Claus had left in my stocking. Using a flashlight would have violated my sense of "fair play" and ruined this game, so I never did. The only thing I remember finding from those stocking forays is a strange little Star Trek figure, a Gorn, I think. Naturally, I still have him, and I can never look at that toy without having those fond memories of a Christmas long ago.

Some Christmas mornings, the pile of wrapped packages would be as tall as me. As I got older, the boxes got bigger, and changed from toys to other things.

Mom always tried to save as much wrapping paper as possible from those years. It became a game for me to try to figure out how old the paper was that wrapped my presents (she always wrote our names on the paper in cursive, ink pen. So, by counting the names, you could figure out how old the paper was). I think some of that paper was probably 20 years old, still being used, when I left home for the Marines.

Since then, I've had Christmases far from home, on both friendly and unfriendly shores. I've worked Christmas Day in law enforcement, security, and pulling guard duty stateside.

And now, I have my own home, with my own kids. I hope that my wife and I have been able to give our kids some of the same fond memories that I have of Christmas.

I hang my Christmas lights (I favor blue lights, and now use the big C-7s), and my wife will tell you she leaves that job to me. I've climbed many a roof in the places we've lived through the years trying to remember the lessons Dad taught me, (mainly, check the lights before you hang 'em, and make sure the plugs match).

Both my wife and my kids will tell you that they've heard plenty of non-Christmas like words at times when I'm doing lights. Some years, the older kids help, some years, they don't. I've kind of left it up to them.

We re-use wrapping paper, so much so that last year was the first year we bought new paper in something like 10 years...and my kids are well used to seeing stuff from years past....."Hey, I remember this paper from five years ago!"

And, I've got the sneaking suspicion that I've heard the pattering of little footsteps at zero-dark-thirty Christmas morn.....I just grin, and try to get some more sleep, knowing that my kids are carrying on the old traditions.

Merry Christmas to all!



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