It’s always a trip, literally and figuratively, to visit my adult kids in California. When we’re together, our conversations gravitate to the “remember whens.” Our individual recollections vacillate widely: joyful, hilarious or downright sad. This visit, we reminisced about “Christmas past” — a season we shared in another time and place, a lifetime ago.
Christmas Eve was a solemn occasion; we went against the norm of doing the Italian “fish thing.” If you aren’t of Italian-American descent, you’re wondering, “Huh?” Some Italian families serve seven different fish dishes on Christmas Eve. Why? No clue!
Instead, we enjoyed a quiet dinner before attending midnight Mass. My boys were ecstatic when, instead of going to bed at 9 o’clock, they were getting dressed for Mass. Jeff would become so feverishly excited about Santa and staying up past midnight that he would upchuck (an annual event!). A trip to the bathroom, a good brushing, mouthwash and he was good to go.
Arriving at church, we were greeted with lanterns illuminating the way. Inside the church, the hush was audible; the smell of pine, candle wax and incense permeated the air. Our church was beautifully decorated with greenery and the altar was adorned with glowing brass candelabras.
At the opening notes of “O Come All Ye Faithful” the congregation stood as Father Novey walked down the center aisle, majestic in his vestments. The voices swelled until I was certain they’d reached heaven: “O come, let us adore him.” My husband, George, would squeeze my hand while my heart expanded in gratitude. After Mass we celebrated with friends, exchanging small handmade gifts — gifts made from love and not from China.
Back at home, it was hard to get the boys to sleep, Jeff especially. We put out cookies and whiskey (hey, Santa needed warming up!) and my husband would go outside and jingle the sleigh bells, announcing Santa’s arrival. Greg, our oldest, caught on and started yapping about the impossibility of Santa’s feat. He said, incredulously: “Mom! Riding through the sky with reindeer?” His dad gave him “the look” and that was that! Jeff, on the other hand, heard the bells and dove under his covers. Afraid he would upchuck again, I put a pot near his bed.
Christmas Day, after we opened our presents, we drove to New Jersey, where my parents resided. As my siblings, their spouses and children began gathering, it signaled the beginning of a big, noisy Italian party. I can still visualize my parents, younger than I am now, proudly smiling and laughing, surrounded by the family they created. Dad would tell his hilarious stores; Mom would try to shush him with, “Oh, Charlie!” My kids told me this was a magical time for them. Me, too!
This little look-back triggered memories of my childhood Christmases. Quite different — and not. We did the Italian fish thing with my grandparents and extended family. The vino and love flowed in equal measure.
We attended midnight Mass together. I once had the audacity to ask Mom why everyone smelled funny and looked “red.” She gave me “the look” (all parents have a “look”) and that was that! Mom sang her solo, “O Holy Night,” which brought tears to my eyes then and now, as I write this. Everyone returned to our house, where Uncle Paulie disappeared and Santa arrived. (Duh! It took some time before I figured it out.)
Christmas Day was a visit to Brooklyn via the ferry. That, too, was a trip, literally and figuratively. While the ferry rocked from Staten Island over the Narrows, Mom remained rigidly seated, fingering her rosary, while we kids ran around the deck with Dad. (He was a big kid, too!)
I’m a forward-living gal, but occasionally it’s nice to do some time travel. Life consists of fleeting moments that we cannot hold on to. Still, those who have left us walk among us in memory. George, Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle Paulie and all the company of heaven, thanks for the memories.
Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.