Oh the great arguments we used to have!
As the oldest, and a true loophole finder, I was often the one pleading our case.
“Five a.m.” I’d say.
“Not one minute before nine, ” my parents, the “other party,” would say.
“Eighty-thirty.” They’d respond.
And so on. Until usually, almost every year, the time was set. 7:00 a.m.
The time we were allowed to get our parents up on Christmas morning.
The rule in our house was that we did not go in and see what was under the tree without everyone else.
Most Christmas mornings, especially after Bubba was old enough to understand how exciting it all was, Sister, Mess Cat, and Bubba would come pile into my twin bed in the room I shared with Sister.
Around 5 a.m.
We would laugh in hushed tones and whisper excitedly, giving hints about what we had gotten or made for each other. What we had gotten for Mama or Daddy. What we thought Santa might actually bring us. How hungry we were and ideas for how to sneak a peek without them knowing and how ready we were for 7:00 a.m. to be here already!
When it was a few minutes before seven we would creep down the hall to stand outside of my parents’ bedroom. We were giggling and shivering and all aflutter with excitement. When we figured it was 7 exactly, we would tap on their door, gently at first, and then with a little more insistence.
“Who is it?” one of them would call out in the dim light of morning.
We’d all giggle. “It’s us!”
We would hear them stirring and the sounds of water running. Mama, just about every year, would say, “Daddy is going to get a shower first, and then we’ll be ready.”
We always laughed but I think there was a little fear in the back of our minds that he might really be going to take a shower, and oh my goodness, how could we ever wait that long?
And just when we thought we could not stand to wait any longer, nearly bouncing out of our skin with excitement and anticipation, their door would open and *oh relief* there they’d be, dressed and ready to go in and finally get this Christmas morning party started.
We would line up outside the living room door, and Mama would say, “Let me see if Santa has already come.” She’d peek her head in, check it out, and then turn back to us and give us the okay to head on in.
Waking up on Christmas morning was always the best part of the day.
Back then I guess Mama and Daddy taught us about patience on Christmas morning. In the years since, they taught us so much more about waking up at Christmas.
Waking up to others. Those not gathered with us under the tree. Those who maybe had no tree or family or even a home to gather with or in. Since newly married they sponsored children through the Pearl S. Buck Foundation. Something we didn’t know about until we were much older. It was when I was in college that they taught us about really waking up. They married on December 17. Over the years we would give them different things as anniversary gifts. One year we asked Mama what they would like for their anniversary, and she asked us to do something for others who needed something, that they didn’t need anything.
That was the first year the sibs and I went in together and had our eyes and hearts opened. There was an elderly couple, living in an old, rather rundown house. We took them groceries and a few treats for Christmas. Bless them. What precious, sweet folks. They had so little but they were so filled with joy.
That’s what our parents were trying to get us to wake up to all those years on Christmas morning–to the idea that it’s not about what you have, or what’s under the tree, but who you have in your life. Who is at your side, whispering and giggling on Christmas morning. Who is walking with you as you journey through the years, the good times and the bad, the laughter and the tears.
The past few years, the tables have turned. Mama and Daddy have come to our house on Christmas morning. Some years they were earlier than others. And then there was the Christmas of 2008. The year before Daddy got sick. It was Christmas morning. I’d been up rather late the night before putting out the cookies and Coca-Cola for Santa. It was 6:58. I only know this because I opened my eyes to check when I heard……
The doorbell. Ringing all through the house.
Did I mention it was 6:58 a.m.? In the morning?
They were quite tickled with themselves.
And once I realized that the Fella could appreciate the humor in the situation, I was delighted at their turnabout. As were my young’uns. Once they wiped the sleep out of their eyes.
What a great memory!
Then last year, Mama had talked about the possibility of not coming on Christmas morning because of the weather. She told me on Christmas Eve that she would check the weather when she got up. It was 4 a.m. when I realized that Cooter was running a fever. My heart broke. I knew that Mama didn’t need to be around him, as she was vulnerable to illness because of medication. I didn’t want to wake her up, so I waited until 8 a.m. to call her. No answer. Ten minutes later. Still no answer.
Three minutes later. Her car in the driveway. Oh yes! Oh no.
I told her on the porch. She looked at me and said, “Well, we just won’t hug today, but it will be okay.” And she hugged me, wrinkled her nose, and let me know it all really would be okay.
And it was. Better than okay. I was able to have my last Christmas waking up to see my sweet and spunky Mama’s face.
My Mama, who taught me to wake up and look around me at what others needed and figure out what I could do, left us for a better place in February. But she is still with us. I know she is. I was struggling this year with what I could wake up out of my grief and do this Christmas to help someone else. And in the craziest of ways, things presented themselves. Not what I would have thought of and not what I was expecting, but things that woke me up and blessed me anyway. I’ve had my eyes opened, my heart torn, and my mind blown this holiday season. I’ve cried over what I’ve seen both good and bad, and I’ve laughed with joy. And I know my Mama had something to do with it. She liked to help me look outside of myself when I was on my pity pot. In fact, she insisted on it. That’s just how she rolled.
When Mama woke up in the mornings, the first thing she’d do was have a glass of chocolate milk. It helped her feel better since she had to take so much medicine.
And that’s what we all need, isn’t it? Something to help us get through the bitter and broken and hard to swallow moments in life.
So this Christmas morning, I will have a small glass of chocolate milk in her honor. And remember all that she and Daddy taught me about waking up at Christmas and every day of the year. It’s about those you can giggle with, walk with; it’s about looking around and helping when you can, and always keeping your chocolate milk handy. When the world gets hard, nothing’s better than giggling sisters and brothers and all the chocolate you can find.
Other Christmas memories from my childhood–