Waiting for Christmas was hard for a kid. Hours seemed to be days and days months. There was anxious waiting for fudge, divinity, tree decorating, and putting baby Jesus in the manger. It seemed as if Christmas Eve would never come. And why on that night did anyone think I could sleep? Though, I always did. One year I waited for a train set, and next year I waited for a Roy Rogers outfit, complete with a six-shooter and cowboy hat. I was always looking out the window for snow. How could Santa’s sled get to a house without snow?
Grandma made sure I knew Christmas was about wanting for baby Jesus to come. At her house he waited in a Sears box wrapped in newspaper, sleeping under the circular staircase, in the unused front hallway, across from the chest freezer and an old Victrola. Throughout the year, when I played the Victrola, I’d make sure he was still there.
When Grandma wore her bib apron with green holly branches and red berries everyone knew Christmas was near. The minute I opened her door I could smell marshmallow fudge, peanut brittle, sugar cookies, lemon pies, biscuits, and sassafras tea. It was time for electric candles to go on living room windowsills, and small scratchy green wreaths to be hang from the window locks, all in preparation to put baby Jesus in the manager.
Grandma’s house wasn’t complete until Grandpa and I picked out a perfect Christmas tree. Once we found it we’d load it into his old blue Chevy truck and take it home. On the way we’d stop for a drink at Greek’s tavern. I couldn’t tell Grandma. She was a good Baptist and didn’t think Grandpa should be drinking. But it’s okay now. Grandma’s with Jesus.
After my coke and Grandpas Jim Beam, we’d head to the house and unload the tree. I’d get to use Grandpa’s pocketknife to cut the string, even got to open it myself. As we’d carry our tree into the front parlor, Grandma would follow us in her Christmas apron, sweeping with her broom and dustpan saying, “Lordy, Sherman, can’t you be more careful. You’re dropping needles all over the place. I’ve got enough to do for Christmas without cleaning up after you.” Grandpa never said anything. He’d just grumble and chew a little harder on his Kentucky Twist tobacco wad.
After the tree was placed in its green stand with red legs, it was put in the west window. Then, more waiting. I’d have to look at the lights and tree decorations wrapped in their boxes. We couldn’t put them on the tree until its branches fell down. I could never tell any difference. When Grandma gave her blessing to the branches being just right, I’d put on the lights. Grandpa got the top branches. Next came the glass ornaments. Grandma would carefully unwrap them from the newspaper. Handing them to me always came with the same warning. “Careful child, don’t break them.” We usually broke at least one, but I was never scolded. I liked to throw icicles in bunches, but Grandma insisted I separate them individually, but let me throw a few.
Placing the angel on top was Grandpa’s job. It always came with another of Grandma’s warnings. “Careful Sherman, don’t fall. Timmy Joe and I couldn’t pick you up if you fall.” I think the angel protected him. He never fell.
When we plugged in the lights, the room sparkled with color reflected off the silver icicles and glass ornaments. There was a stand of lights that always went out. Grandpa and I would search for the burnt out bulb. Only when all the lights were completely lite and Grandma gave her approval could the nativity set be put under the tree.
Grandma would place the manger in the cardboard barn between Mary and Joseph, add bright yellow straw, and then I arranged the rest: sheep with white plaster wool, brown camel, a wise man in blue, one in red, one in purple with gold beads in his hand, a shepherd with a wire staff, and a red cow laying down. All the while, wrapped in his own newspaper, baby Jesus was waiting. Grandma would move a sheep closer, or rearrange a Wiseman. When satisfied, she’d nod to me. I’d carefully unwrap baby Jesus and place him in the manger. Finally, she’d hand me the gold star and I’d place it on the roof of the stable. Next Grandpa brought a light from the tree and put it in the middle of the star. It glowed. Suddenly time sped up and it was Christmas Day. All wa s right with the world. There’s a train under the tree at home, along with an orange and chocolate in my stocking.
But it was never really Christmas until I was at Grandma’s house. Along with more presents under the tree, baby Jesus was watching \, and wishing me a merry Christmas, on His birthday.