Ghosts of Christmas Past (Part 1 of 5)

This morning as I exited the tiny Baptist church that my parents attend, a kind older man urged me to take a brown bag from the table at the door. Some sweet soul had prepared a bag of Christmas treats for each person, a brown lunch bag containing peanuts, chocolate candy, and an orange. Seeing that pile of treat bags transported me about four decades into the past.

I remember entering the cold narthex of First Baptist Church of Sparta, the air slowly warming as we walked down to our pew on the piano side of the church. Other families sat on the organ side, but we’ve always been piano people. Greenery, a nativity scene, festive candles – I remember none of these things. I do remember the Christmas treats for the kids: a brown paper bag filled with unshelled walnuts, a candy cane, and a bright navel orange. We weren’t really into fruit, my sister and I, but were still delighted by the brown bag. It was a sure sign that Christmas morning, which pretty much took forever to get here, was just around the corner.

Mom was obsessive about Christmas morning fairness. Sis and I often received identical Christmas gifts, which we had to open at the same time to warnings of “no peeking” and “don’t look at your sister’s present!” One wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise by five seconds.

As we got older, mom would season Christmas morning with explanations that while it may look like one sister got a bigger pile of gifts, remember that the other sister got one big gift that cost the same. My mom is terrible with numbers, but Christmas turned her into a human tabulator. Even now, Amanda and I both in our forties, Mom will explain that this gift is equivalent to your sister’s three gifts combined. We aren’t keeping tabs, and we’ve never called for an audit. Mom’s concern with equity and fairness is a harmless quirk. It’s actually pretty sweet.

My dad, as far as I know, has never chosen a gift for me or my sister. He may have given input if asked, but he is not a gift giver. He has written me poems and beautiful, heartfelt letters on a yellow legal pad, but gift giving for him is a last-minute trip to the drug store on Christmas Eve.

Back in the day, Mom drew the line at choosing gifts for her in-laws, so that’s why he had to make the two-block trek to pick up a set of perfume, lotion, and powder for his mom and possibly a box of chocolates for his dad. I remember that feeling of déjà vu when he’d bring home the same boxed set of perfume for Mom’s wrapping service, wondering if Grandma went through a whole set of the same perfume every year. I don’t recall her having had a particular smell, but it’s possible.

At Christmastime, anything is possible.

To be continued. Jump to Part 2.

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