Pieces of Christmas Past

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(This is NOT a family photo.)There's no other time of the year like the holidays for eliciting memories of years past. Here are a few of the memories I've had rumbling around in my mind the last few weeks. Some may make sense -- especially if you're family and know what the heck I'm recalling -- and some are just snippets that don't tell the whole story ... and may not even be what really happened. But they're what I remember, what have been bogging down my brain.

Once upon a time, while living in a big, old, supposedly haunted farm house, my older brother -- who was probably a pre-teen at the time -- recorded a wake-up call for Mom and Dad to remind them to play Santa for his six younger siblings. I only recall "You put the lime in the coconut ..." being part of the recording he set to go off for them.

One year, also while living on the farm, my Christmas gifts included a doll-making kit, in which wires were placed in the doll form, then a goopy plastic gunk made from a powder included in the kit, was poured into the mold. Once dry, bendable rubbery dolls would come out of the form, ready for dressing with very cool, very mod, sticker outfits included in the kit. My dolls never worked. There never seemed to be enough goop added to create a fully formed doll, capable of wearing those nifty outfits. It took me until I was an adult -- and helping one of the girls with one toy or another -- to realize that the reason those dolls never worked was because I read the directions on those little packets of powder as "Do not use entirely" when what they really said was "Do not use internally."

A silver aluminum tree with red balls and continually changing colors.

Christmas gifts sent from faraway Aunt Jane were opened by us three big kids while Mom was at work ... then wrapped back up so Mom would never know. My gift was a denim doll, which I named "Jean." It was very difficult getting through the days between our illegal unwrapping and Christmas morning, knowing Jean was likely having difficulty breathing in her box covered with gift wrap.

Loving the Chipmunks Christmas years and years before it became overplayed and an idiotic movie (which I've not seen). Same goes for How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Grandma on my dad's side gave me a strawberry necklace -- a glass strawberry-shaped bottle filled with the sweetest, stawberryest perfume ever, that hung from a gold chain around my neck. I saved the bottle just for inhaling the remaining scent long after the perfume was gone.

Mom and my older brother jingled bells and stifled giggles as they pranced around the house pretending to be Santa. My sister and I stifled our own giggles as we lay in bed listening to them.

Eggnog that never got drank.

Punch with floating mounds of sherbet at Aunt Terry's.

Christmas ornaments made of egg cartons that hung in the pass-through between the kitchen and the family room in the house we lived in at the time I was born. While watching "The Birds," the ornaments swayed and fell and scared the hell out of the little kids watching a movie they probably shouldn't have.

The first Christmas picture Jim and I have together was taken by Jim holding the Polaroid camera out and snapping us in front of the tree he'd nabbed from the elementary school after it had been thrown in the dumpster at the end of their Christmas parties. The baby in my womb at the time -- unbeknownst to both of us! -- is the woman who decorated my house this year because I couldn't find the time or motivation to do it.

The following Christmas, we were a young married couple with a tiny baby girl, too poor to buy any Christmas gifts. But we'd ordered a set of encyclopedias the month before -- as all naive newlyweds did back then! -- and as the boxes came in the mail with pieces of the set, I wrapped them unopened and placed them under the tree so we'd have something to open on Christmas morning. I did splurge, though, on a $5 "porcelain" doll for baby Brianna to open.

Crying in the shower every Christmas morning for the first 15 or so years of marriage -- not because I gave or received crappy gifts or was unhappy, but because I felt so blessed to have a normal family, a normal life, with Jim and the girls in the other room, picking up wrapping paper, cranking the Christmas carols, someone crying that a piece to their favorite toy was already gone, and Christmas breakfast pizza baking in the oven, ready to enjoy once my crying shower was done.

Being thrilled to death that Lionel Playworld was going out of business because the clearance sale allowed me to buy gifts for the girls I would never have been able to afford otherwise. THAT turned my frown upside down!

The Conway Twitty and "Twitty Bird" Christmas record (vinyl!) that Brianna and Megan listened to and danced to over and over as I lay on the couch with incredible morning, afternoon and evening sickness while pregnant with Andie. Every year after, I got nauseous just hearing that record and later hid it so no one would play it ever again. Years later, Jim was pretty excited to give me the gift of the Twitty Bird COMPACT DISC so we could relive the special times we had listening to it when the girls were little! Ugh! I did tell him, soon after, how much I absolutely hate that CD. We don't listen to it anymore because 25 years later, it still makes me want to puke. Nothing against Conway or anything ....

Attending candlelight services each and every Christmas Eve ... except one. The girls were sick and very tired after a raucous Christmas Eve at Aunt Debbie's, so we decided not to go to service. As we drove past the church on our way home from Debbie's, one of the girls piped up from the darkened backseat where they all slept, saying "Can't we just pop in for the candles?"

Today's question NOT from "The Christmas Conversation Piece":

What Christmas memory takes up the biggest amount of space in your brain this time of year?