Saturday, December 24, 2016

I Blame My Family

In the early seventies, two families combined with the marriage of my mom and our dentist. Mom had three kids, he had four, and the two of them had a baby together. We were the Brady Bunch, minus Alice. Who needs an Alice when you have eight kids to do chores? 

My dad remarried, too, and he and my stepmom had a baby a couple weeks before Christmas, and named her Natalie, our child of Christmas. Yes, I had four sisters, four brothers, and a foster brother, too.

One of my favorite holidays since childhood has been Christmas. I blame my family. Even though my parents were divorced when I was ten, one thing they all (step-parents included) agreed on was this: Christmas is for celebrating. My folks went all out for Christmas.

Mom and Richard

My mom must have one of the most extensive collections of Christmas sweaters. (We don't use the word "ugly" when referencing any of the sweaters; they are just absolutely FESTIVE.) My Dad wore his Santa hat and apron when delivering his homemade baked goods to friends. They loved doing things for other people, and they had fun doing it.

Photo Credit: Patsy Smith, 2013

My childhood Christmases were hand-dipped chocolates, German stöllen and pfeffernüse, tins of cookies and fudge, Nativity sets, fresh-cut pine trees, hand-painted ceramic ornaments, piling into the van to drive to the neighbors in rural Virginia to go Christmas caroling, and delivering plates heaping with Mom's holiday treats, the annual family Christmas Eve program, oyster stew for breakfast at Mom's, and a huge holiday feast Christmas afternoon at Dad and Jackie's. 

My love of Christmas may have been partly genetic, but there were definitely environmental influences, as well. Again, I blame my family.

Early this Christmas Eve morning, as I sat in my cozy little cottage, wearing a red sweater and my Santa leggings and socks, my thoughts turned to those Christmases so many years ago celebrated in the two-story farmhouse in Shipman, Virginia. Enjoying my sentimental mood, I decided to write my mom and siblings a letter, to let them know I had not forgotten them, or our holidays of the past.

Dear Family,

Was there anything more exciting than Christmas Eve in Shipman? Okay, maybe there was, but there was certainly nothing funnier, or more memorable. 

I think of our Christmas Eve programs, and the songs we sang off-key (Do You Hear What I Hear, Kathy?), the poems we wrote (Mom, Grandma, Dan, and even Kevin, I believe), the trumpet solos by Keith, the nativity acted out with Lisa, Eric, and anyone else who would do it, The Night Before Christmas recited by Joelle when she had barely learned to talk, the Elvis lip-sync by our foster brother Ricky, and I think way back to Grandpa's singing "O, Tannenbaum." Waiting for Dad to distribute our first and only gift for Christmas Eve before we went to bed, hoping against hope he would let us open something fun, but knowing in the end, the chosen gift for each of us would be underwear from Aunt Myrtle. Were those fun times or what? 

I love Christmas so much. Yes, I blame you people. 

I love remembering the Christmases in Shipman. Putting out milk, cookies, and carrots before we went to bed, and loving to wake up oh, so early on Christmas morning. (Wait, that was just me, but even Kathy joined in, and was a morning person on Christmas, and we worked hard to get everyone else to wake up.)

This is for you, Kathy. I think we all know I'm a morning person, thanks to making friends with insomnia.

All eight kids ready, and tingly with excitement, sitting on the stairs outside our parents' bedroom, singing Christmas carols with our biggest voices, trying to wake up Mom and Dad. Waiting FOREVER for them to come out of their room, just so Dad could inspect the Christmas room, and come back out, quietly close the door, and tell us to go back to bed; Santa had forgotten to come to our house. Every. Single. Christmas.

And when we were finally given permission to go into that chilly living room with the upright piano, dark paneled walls and faux wooden beams, we ran to our stockings and our pile of loot. I remember with a smile the year little Eric walked up to the last unclaimed pile, wondering where HIS stuff was because he certainly hadn't ordered any of THIS stuff. Other memories. Dumping out our stockings of simple inexpensive things, hard candy and an orange. Trying to get all the lint off of the hard candy, and realizing we'd have to eat it linty, or not eat it at all.

Oyster stew and German stöllen for breakfast, and then three of us went to our Dad's and four of them went to their Mom's, and one of us stayed behind with both of her parents for Christmas dinner. 

I just wanted you to know I haven't forgotten those special Christmases in Shipman. I am thinking about each of you today. I blame you all for my crazy love of Christmas, but I love you even more because of it. 

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases.



  1. That was such a beautiful post about your family. It is refreshing, to hear of blended families who have made it work and who were not blaming their folks for other less admirable things - instead, you blame them for your love of the season. Merry Christmas Denise and keep on, loving and keeping Christmas.

    1. Merry Christmas, Debby! I hope today is full of peace and joy for you. Thank you for sharing encouraging words.

  2. How sweet to read what I have been thinking the past few days. Except you have a fun way with words. Certainly huge events piled up over the years. How sweet to read your memories. Thanks for sharing. I love you! Merry Christmas!

    1. YOU LEFT A COMMENT ON MY BLOG? Way to make my day, Dan! I love you. And you even called to tell me you enjoyed my writing. Way to make my year. You are awesome!


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