By Lisa Bell
I drove through our quaint town square today. Green wreaths hung from light posts and in the park, the lighted decorations stood in anticipation of thrilling young, and old. My mind wandered back to my childhood.
In a different time and place, the downtown streets held such festive decorations long before December, and the display windows of a local department store featured animated characters. Children stood, mouths opened with amazement, as the figures moved in rhythm to soft Christmas music, which magically appeared from out of nowhere and flooded the sidewalk. The best part, though, came with the annual visit to Mrs. Baird’s bakery. We stood in long lines and finally climbed into Santa’s lap where we detailed every gift we desired. Then joyous wonder, we toured the bakery. The smell of fresh baked bread overwhelmed every sense and at the end of the short journey, the host gave us a thick slice of fresh, buttered Texas toast.
A year never passed without piles of homemade goodies. My mother knew the best recipes for fudge, divinity, and pecan pralines, not to mention cakes, pies, and cookies. We saw little of these treats the rest of the year, but when the holidays came, so did the warmth of the kitchen. Music from Christmas records (yes, the vinyl scratchable kind) filled the room as we hung ornaments on the tree. At least one night during the season, we piled into the car and drove through many neighborhoods with one purpose. The lights and decorations elicited exclamations as we peered out at them – noses pressed against the car windows. So long ago – yet, the sights, sounds and smells remained vivid in my thoughts through the years.
As a young mother, I became a memory maker for my children. I took credit for the good ones and blame for the bad. Some traditions came from my childhood. My daughters helped with homemade goodies, although rather than eat them all we gave many away as gifts. The annual drive through neighborhoods included pajamas and a covered mug of hot cocoa and for many years, the confines of car seats prevented nose prints on the rear windows. CD’s replaced the vinyl version of music, and the tree always appeared within a day or two after Thanksgiving. A small plastic nativity set gave the girls a baby Jesus to hold and thus avoided the temptation to cuddle the breakable version I made and loved. Several years, an insistence of baking a birthday cake for Jesus became rather vocal from the four shrill voices, and Christmas Eve meant a candlelight service without exception.
In a quest for some food the girls might actually stop and eat on Christmas morning, I learned the art of sausage ball creation. Little girls with gooey hands joined in the Christmas Eve tradition of making the balls, and insisted that Santa much preferred them to cookies. After all, everyone left cookies for him. I agreed. He needed something without sugar for a change.
One year I added an advent wreath and a new tradition began. Each Sunday one of the girls lit a candle and read the meanings from a book. As the years passed and my daughters left home one by one, the wreath stood unlit through the month of December. Then, one of my daughters lamented over the lack of occasions for formal wear. A new thing began that Christmas Eve. Donned in formal gowns, I served my daughters a five-course meal accompanied by lighting of the advent wreath with each stage of dinner. An intense photo shoot followed dessert. The next year, they informed me we had to do it again…it was tradition. I anticipated a long run for that particular ritual.
Past, present and future memories mingled together in my head as I watched the sparkle in the eyes of three little boys, mesmerized by lights, sounds, and smells in their world. Different from my own childhood or that of my daughters, my grandsons have already learned their own brand of traditions.
I embraced the role of memory maker with high hopes that the good ones outweighed the bad. Although I retained some of that role when my name changed to Nana, I graciously passed the torch to my daughters for the next generation. They learned the importance of tradition and precious memories, and I watched with pride, as they became memory makers too.