It’s Christmas Eve as I tap away at the keys of my MacBook. I’m up in my bedroom back in Atlanta (well Marietta to be more specific, but I do’t think that really matters).
I wanted to talk about the holidays. Tomorrow is Christmas, which as a Jew probably shouldn’t mean very much to me. I think Christmas has changed a lot in America and has become a symbol of something beyond what Christians go to church for (edit: I think that is what people do on Christmas, and there is a tree and lights and such). To me, when I think of Christmas, I think of trips out west to visit my Uncles Mike and Peter’s house, trips to Syracuse to my Aunt Martie’s house, going to my grandparent’s house, family dinners, and just getting the family together to spend time together.
I never realized how different it would be coming home for winter break after I had moved away from home. Spending time with family was always something we did. From a young age, we spent a lot of time together as a family. On most weekends, it wasn’t rare to make a trip to my grandparents house in Livingston or for them to come to Millington. Holiday times differed depending on what side of the family we were going to see.
For those of you who don’t know, I have a fairly large family. My dad only has one brother and one sister. How do you have a big family with just the three of them and no grandparents left? Well, my aunt has seven girls (I mentioned this part of the family in my post about Lake Ontario) and my Uncle had two daughters. I remember Chanukah in Syracuse at my Aunt’s house. Most of it is hard to remember as I was fairly young, but there are plenty of things that still stand out to me today.
For one, I remember my dad stopping on the side of the highway while driving up once in the family’s blue Honda Accord wagon. The snow was coming hard and my dad was worried we’d get stuck in the snow if we didn’t wait for it to slow down. We stopped under a bridge if memory serves (if I’m wrong my parents will tell me after they read this).
My Aunt’s house in Syracuse has two floors although we spent most of the time in the house on the main floor. The main entrance to the house led to a hallway towards the kitchen and living room. most of my memories from that house were from inside the kitchen.
The bottom floor of the house had a pool table. I didn’t know how to play pool and nobody ever bothered to teach me how to since I could barely see as high as the pool table. I can remember randomly throwing pool balls at each other. I thought I knew how to play pool. Then again, today I think I can play pool, but my attempts are pathetic at best.
Also in the downstairs part of the house was a guest bedroom, bedrooms for some of my cousins and an unfinished storage area. I don’t honestly remember if it was during Chanukah, but I found a skateboard in the storage area. Having recently watched Back to the Future for the first time, I was so excited to see a skateboard. One of my friends back in Millington also had a skateboard. It was a short, thin skateboard with an orange plastic deck and really tall wheels. I got lots of entertainment on that board attempting to ride it. My parents must have known that day that the X Games were not in my future.
I remember my dad telling me that I shouldn’t trust commercials when I was little. I didn’t really understand what he meant by this, but as a little kid generally agreed with him…well, that is with one exception. There was a remote control car I saw on TV that looked SOOO cool. I don’t honestly remember the name of it, but the kid in the commercial looked like he was having so much fun. The car had wheels high enough that there wasn’t a top or bottom and the car could do flips. Like pretty much every commercial, it explain all the important things you needed to know at the end and said them really quickly (like batteries not included). This car used a specialized rechargeable battery that you could pretty much only get at hobby stores and Radio Shack. Upon realizing this I vaguely remember having a tantrum and my dad taking me to the mall in Syracuse to look for batteries. I don’t remember when we got the batteries, but I remember the car itself being a major disappointment. I don’t trust commercials for things more than ever now.
We spent a couple of Christmases out west at my Uncle Peter and Uncle Mike’s house. It was always refreshing to leave the cold of New Jersey to head out to Laguna Beach and Palm Springs. I always had fun playing with their dogs Aki Bono (like the sumo wrestler) and Ting and then later on with their dog Bourbon who is about the same size as a handle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon.
The first house that I visited in Palm Springs that my Uncles’ owned was a pretty large stucco house. Their neighbor was a published author who was offended to be referred to as a writer. I still don’t know what the difference is between an author and a writer (feel free to let me know with a comment), but I took to referring to the neighbor with our family as the painter.
The house had a couple of citrus trees outside of it. It was always a treat to have fresh lemons, limes, oranges and tangelos so close by. The house itself was a giant circle centered around a kitchen with tile floors. The kitchen had a giant island in the middle of it. I remember a Thanksgiving and a Christmas prepared in that kitchen. Both of my uncles are great cooks.
Looking down from the kitchen you could see the pool. In late December it was warm enough to use the hot tub, but rarely the pool itself. The opposite was true when we visited once during the spring. The desert gets HOT and stays that way through the summer.
Another treat of being in the desert was the street fair. On Thursdays, the main drag of Palm Springs closed down and was filled with vendors. It was always a treat to see all of the fun stuff people came out to sell. Outside the fair, but on the main drag was a store that sold sports memorabilia. I was able to get a giant thing of baseball cards there which kept me occupied for hours as I sorted them by team and player.
Holidays early on were also spent with my mom’s side of the family. My mom was one of four siblings, all of the others being boys. Most of the full family affairs with my mom’s side of the family were when my grandparents were still around.
My grandparents lived together in the same house most of their adult lives. My uncles and my mother all grew up in that same house. The room that I knew as the living room in my grandparent’s house was once the garage (don’t worry, they finished it, it wasn’t a garage anymore). I had a tendency to sit close to the tv in front of my grandfather and my grandmother would yell at me telling me that I was going to go blind from sitting too close.
During most holidays when the whole family came to town, soccer became a part of the celebration. My Uncle Russell would gather some of us up and take us over to a park with a ball to play soccer. I played for a team at the time so it was always a treat. My cousin Jonathan would always come to play and was a far better soccer player than I ever was, but it was always a good time anyway.
Despite her best efforts, my grandmother was known to have meals come out very fragmented. She just never seemed to be able to time a meal right. It wasn’t uncommon for the starch to come out first and then the main course half an hour later and then the salad at some other random time.
Holidays with my family have always been a special time. They are when as a family we have reconnected. This time of year can be tough, but it is when we laugh, cry, eat, and whatever else it is our families do. Holidays for me are happy times to remember where I came from and how I grew up and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.