My mother didn’t seem to enjoy cooking. So, we usually managed to eat Christmas dinner at someone else’s table.
I had two grandmothers living there in little Kingsville, Texas, and of course we visited each of them on Christmas day. My brother Walter and I were induced to break away from our new toys by the offer of breakfast. I was a big fan of chocolate milk – “Coco-malt” but not Ovaltine, not even when it was served in a Little Orphan Annie mug.
Then – it was off to Grandmother Baird’s house, first stop on a Christmas morning.
My Nan-naw had one of those big claw-foot oak tables on which she’d lay out a huge meal. Southern farm food, many vegetables, perhaps a platter with nondescript fragments of meat. Avoid those! Her creamy mashed potatoes, her mushy green beans live in my memory. Each of us had his own place at the table – my brother and I side by side. The Baird family, fire-breathing Methodists, didn’t believe in much in the way Christmas decorations. But they were joyful. Your Christmas presents hid under the tablecloth in front of you. My grandfather Baird had the largest pile of presents – he augmented his position with bricks shoved under the tablecloth in front of him. And he was the first to holler, “Christmas Gift.”
Grandmother Crossley came from a ranching tradition, the arid Nueces country north of Laredo. She liked to cook. And she served steak for Christmas dinner, a meal much more to my liking. She hung decorations all over the place, not somber like the Baird family. My “Nan-nan” once had a little Christmas tree with real candles on it, burning away in the parlor. So impressive to us kids, but frightening to our parents.
And in the evening at Nan-nan’s, stuffed to the gills, all presents opened and enjoyed, we’d gather around her Atwater Kent radio and listen to Lionel Barrymore read “A Christmas Carol.” Listening to that scratchy, wobbly voice, I could believe he was actually Scrooge.
Finally, driving home down bumpy, calieche-paved streets, my father would inevitably announce, “Only 365 days until Christmas.”
My mother never laughed at that.
December 9, 2013
“Each day the world is born anew, for him who takes it rightly.” – James Russell Lowell.