A lighted garland crowned the archway between the kitchen and living room where a festive balsam tree glittered and twinkled. My husband Arnie and son-in-law Mike sat on the couch next to the tree watching a football game on television. My daughter Niki and I sat at the table in the kitchen. Arnie held six-month-old Jon in his arms while Anne, my two-year-old granddaughter, ran between the two rooms playing with her toys.
A tea kettle on the stove began to whistle. Niki jumped to her feet. Placing a steaming mug of hot water and a tea bag in front of me, she sat down with a cup of her own and commented, “I love the holiday traditions I grew up with, but I would like to have some new traditions that I are my own.”
Taking a bite of Christmas cookie and a very small sip of the hot tea, I questioned, “What sort of new traditions are you thinking of?”
Pushing a library book towards me, Niki launched into a list of ideas, concluding with, “This book had so many good ideas that it was hard to pick which one I wanted to start for my family. The top one on my list is to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.”
Cupping my hands around the delightfully warm mug I asked, “How do you plan to do that?”
My daughter had obviously formed a game plan. She detailed, “I want to buy 12 very small gifts for each of the children. Then, every night between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany, they will have a package to open.”
“Hello. Kathy, Niki and Tammie are here to visit!” I called out as I opened the farmhouse door and walked into my childhood home, My two daughters rushed ahead of me. As I stepped from the entryway into the kitchen, I heard the back door open again. Glancing over my shoulder I saw my brother Billy entering the house. Seeing my car enter the yard, he had stopped doing chores to come inside for a visit.
Hearing us, my mother ordered, “Come on in!” I pulled off my coat and hung it up on the stairway newel post. Noticing my daughters had tossed their coats on the steps, I stopped long enough to drape them over my coat on the post. Grammie was comfortably settled in her upholstered rocking chair in the living room. Niki and Tammie were on the floor leaning against her knees. The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room, glittering and sparkling. From the other room I heard Silver Bells playing on the kitchen radio that always played from morning to night.
Billy sat on the sofa. My brother Casper strolled out of his bedroom a moment later and sat down on the other end of the sofa. I sat down on a dining room chair near the tree. My eight and twelve-year-old daughters were gobbling Christmas candy from the bowl on the table.
Glancing over at the candy dish, Mom pointed out that it needed to be refilled. I jumped to my feet. I knew where the candy was kept. Carrying the green glass bowl into Casper’s bedroom, I opened his closet door and knelt down. Just as in my childhood, a box on the floor contained various brown paper sacks filled with a variety of candies. Scooping handfuls of angel food, bridge mix, chocolate covered caramels, butter finger bites and peanut brittle into the dish, I remembered all the times I had raided the Christmas candy stash as a teenager.
Back in the living room, Billy commented on how the shadows on cold winter days were blue-colored. I stood by the large living room window and studied the clear sky and the lengthening late afternoon shadows. He was right. The shadows cast by small pine trees near the house did look very blue against the snow. On the distant radio I heard Bing Crosby singing, ‘Adeste Fideles’.
Looking forward to having a few minutes of peace and quiet, I pulled into a parking spot next to the building, turned off the engine and leaned back. One minute later the dismissal bell rang. In a remarkably short time a steady stream of grade school children poured out of the school. Hoping my daughters remembered not to take the bus home tonight, I scanned the crowd.
They had remembered. Ten-year-old Niki stepped out of the building with six-year-old Tammie at her side. Niki must have gone to her sister’s kindergarten room to make sure they didn’t get separated. Stopping in front of the school, Niki studied the row of parked cars. Both girls quickly spotted me and ran towards the car with big grins on their faces.
Tammie clutched something in her hand. Giving the object to me, she excitedly blurted, “Angie is having a birthday party and I’m invited!” The crumpled card gave the date and time of the party.
“It’s a good thing we’re going shopping today.” I said, mentally adding Angie’s birthday gift to my shopping list. “You can help pick the gift out.”
I heard birds busily twittering and pecking at seeds in the birdfeeder when I returned to the living room. My 90-year-old mother sat in her upholstered rocking chair holding a baby monitor in her lap. From the neighbor’s farm, we heard the distant crowing of a rooster. Laughing, I marveled, “That baby monitor picks up everything! It’s like actually being outside.”
Mom bragged, “It’s better than being outside. We hear what’s going on inside the birdfeeder.”
I agreed with a nod, “That’s true. Until now I never knew how noisy pecking is, or how much birds squabble while they eat.”
Macular degeneration had taken most of my mother’s eyesight the year before. To help her, I’d started bathing Mom every Friday evening, refilling her pill box, paying bills and doing her laundry. My teenaged daughters often came with me to spend time with their beloved Grammie.
Years before, my two bachelor brothers who live with Mom, had bought a baby monitor system. They fastened the microphone half of the device under the roof of the bird feeder and gave the receiver to Mom. She could turn it on and listen to the birds whenever she wanted.
I dropped my purse and car keys on the table as I looked around at the kitchen, dining room and living room. Used food dishes and silverware were everywhere. Books, paper and toys littered the floor. Sofa pillows and cuddle blankets were on the kitchen floor and used kettles filled the sink. Stamping a foot, I raged, “This place is a pig sty! Why do I have to come home from work to a mess like this?”
My husband, sprawled on the sofa, looked up from the newspaper he was reading with a startled look. “I didn’t hear you come in.” he exclaimed. Looking around, he added, “It’ll just take a few minutes to pick everything up.”
My eight-year-old and four-year-old daughters, Niki and Tammie came running from their bedroom for welcome-home-Mommy hugs. Kicking off my shoes, I bargained, “Help me pick up things. As soon as we’re done, I’ll start making supper.”
Seeing that everything was under control, my husband Arnie leaned back to resume reading his paper.
I remembered the butter dish was nearly empty as I began to peal the first potato. Drying my hands and turning away from the sink to get a stick from the refrigerator, I nearly fell in avoiding killing the family pet. Flicker, our tuxedo cat, lay stretched to his full length in the center of the kitchen floor. His gorgeous, soft belly fur on full display begged to be stroked. He calmly blinked up at me with a kitty smile on his face. He had no idea he’d narrowly escaped a mortal danger. I shouted in a loud voice, “Flicker, you dumb cat! I nearly stepped on your big belly! Get out of the kitchen while I’m preparing supper!” My ten-year-old daughter, trailed by her six-year-old sister, appeared in the kitchen doorway. I sighed and asked, “Will you please take Flicker into the living room? He would get hurt very badly if I accidentally stepped on him.” As the children left the room with Flicker, my husband Arnie walked in. He asked, “Do I have enough time before supper to run into town to get gas for the truck?” Glancing at the unpealed potatoes in the sink and the stick of butter in my hand, I nodded and assured, “You have plenty of time.”
Three days before my granddaughter’s wedding, my daughter Tammie looked up from her phone and sadly reported, “I’ve been watching weather forecasts all week. Unfortunately, Anne will most certainly have a rainy wedding day!”
“That’s too bad.” I sympathized before adding, “The sun never came out on my wedding day. From time to time throughout the morning icy rain spit fitfully from the gray sky. During the afternoon and early evening, it flat out rained. My wedding was in April, not an end of June wedding like Anne’s. At least the rain on Saturday will be warmer than it was on my wedding day.”
I heard my daughter’s van pull into the driveway and hurried to the back door to greet my grandchildren. For over a year Niki and her family and I had suspended our Tuesday evening family meals because of COVID. Now, with there being fewer cases and more people vaccinated, we resumed our weekly get togethers.
The grandchildren quickly hopped out of the vehicles side door and joined me at the back door for hugs. Jacob, the third youngest, blurted, “Grandma! There’s a turkey next to your house!”
Nodding, I acknowledged, “I’ve been seeing that bird around the yard for the past week or two. It’s always by itself. I keep wondering why it’s not with a flock.”
Opening the back doors of the van, Niki said, “I brought the tomato and pepper plants I started for you.” I took one of the seed-starter flats and looked at the slender stems topped with small green leaves. The baby plants swayed in the breeze, their small leaves quivering. “They’re perfect.” I announced.
I nibbled on apple wedges as I read the electronic newspaper in the computer. Sadie, one of my copycats sat curled up snoozing in my lap. I clicked on the next page and found the advice column. It’s always interesting to find out what sort of dilemmas are currently bothering mankind, so I leaned back to read the first letter.
The writer complained bitterly about his relatives who dropped by his house unannounced, uninvited and unwanted. He furiously noted, “If they stop in at meal time, they expect to be invited and don’t take the hint when we fail to set a place at our table for them!”
I caressed the cat in my lap. Sadie’s fur was very soft and she began to purr. Jerry, Sadie’s copycat brother suddenly leapt onto my lap. Snuggling together, Jerry began to lick Sadie. I mused, “You didn’t need an invitation. You’re welcome whenever you feel like dropping in, aren’t you?”
The letter was followed by several other letters from people also complaining about family members who felt it was their right to drop in whenever they wanted. Reading these letters made me laugh and think of Daddy.
As I searched through the rack of sequined dresses I sounded like little Miss Goldie-locks as I pointed out to the saleswoman, “This one is cut too low in the neckline, this one is sleeveless. I don’t want to expose my upper arms.” Holding out a beautiful blue dress I complained, “The top of this dress is transparent material. It would allow my undergarments to show through.”
Dress shopping as a young woman was easy. In 1970, almost all women wore dresses. There were several stores along Central Avenue that carried a wide variety of dresses to choose from, ranging from casual to fancy. My criteria for what I wanted in a dress was different back then, too. I wanted the garment to be a color I liked, fit and be affordable.
Searching for a dress to wear to my granddaughter’s wedding has me feeling discouraged. I might be old fashioned, but I don’t think a grandmother of the bride should be a show-stopping spectacle. The dress should be modest and complementary to my aging body and include being able to wear familiar, tried-and-tested foundation garments.
One of the dresses I tried on looked nice, but showed every contour of my midsection. When I told my daughter that I needed to wear a bulge control thing under it, she laughed at me. I find it hard to say the word: girdle. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, I suspect every woman wore one whether she needed to or not. I hated how they rolled and cut into the flesh. Taking a deep breath, I went shopping for what I needed. Eventually I managed to find a girdle that would gently shape my form rather than strangle it.
Since my recent shopping trip for wedding clothing, I came across an article I treasure as a trivia enthusiast. It told of the intimate connection women have with the Apollo Space Program. The Playtex company, famous for bras and girdles since the 1950’s, made the space suits that made it possible for man to walk on the moon.