We always gather on Christmas Eve to celebrate. It’s never formal, we show up in our jeans and boots, because we’re going down to the farm, there’s a chance of getting muddy. Except now I’m an adult, I can’t tell you the last time I went down to the fields and got dirty, but it’s still there in the back of my mind, “Kate, you better take an extra pair of clothes and wear your boots just in case.”
When it was time to eat Grandpa or Uncle David would say the blessing, we kids would all chow down, and then would go tearing into the 400 acres of woods behind the house. We were not seen again unless one of two things happened: 1. We got the truck stuck in a mud hole or 2. It was time to go home. There were a few exceptions when we had to come back, like the time a mother cow went into labor and charged us she was so frustrated so we went to go get someone to help her deliver.
One Christmas, we were out in the fields and we saw an entire herd of deer run in front of us. I’d never seen that many together at the same time. It was majestic to see them all running over the hill. You could hear the thuds of their hooves from half a mile away. There was another year that the stream beds were so frozen that we were able to “skate” in our shoes for hours and hours.
As I have gotten older, I have been more interested in sitting around in the living room and talking with cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents or friends. I’ve become one of those boring adults that I always rolled my eyes at when I was younger. It used to not be Christmas or Easter if I didn’t play for hours on end outside or get a car stuck in the mud. Finally, my grandfather taught me how to drive his tractor so that he wouldn’t have to come get me anymore. If I got something stuck, then I walked back to the barn (regardless of distance), got the tractor, drove it down, hooked it up to the car and pulled it out. It’s been at least 7 years since I did this (that is get myself stuck, I have pulled other people out since then.)
I think the most beautiful thing I have learned from my grandparents is the doors of hospitality are always open to every person who wants to come. Every year there is someone new who doesn’t have a place to go. We’ve adopted people and they are FAMILY. They aren’t family friends, they are as good as blood kin. This character trait is something that I’ve seen all four of my grandparents’ children do too. I hope that it’s something I will do and I hope it’s a seed I can plant in my children.
Presents were always simple. One of the presents we used to always get were a tin of “Zola Cookies.” Zola was one of those family friends that was considered just another part of the bunch. She made famous chocolate chip cookies and she put them in Folger coffee tins and gave every family one. Zola passed away in 2008 and it’s weird not to have her or her cookies there anymore. I was looking for them on the tables this year, I’m still not used to her not being there.
I spent a lot of time reminiscing of Christmases past this year. I’ve been spending a lot of time paying attention to the smaller details since becoming a mom. It’s a knowledge of the fragility of life that comes with the territory of being in charge of a small soul. I think about how it was once my mom who was wrangling a “19 month old Kate” at Christmas and now it’s my turn. I’m watching the cycles of life while loving and dreading the changes all at the same time.
For me, thinking like this made the holiday weekend all the more beautiful. I took more pictures of everyone so I could remember who was there. I took more pictures so that in 50 years when I stumble across them I can see smiling faces of people who used to give me Folger cans of cookies or who I used to visit with in my grandparents’ living room. Because I was thinking like this I was able to see that the best gift I had at Christmas this year (and every year) is family, the traditions we have created for ourselves, and all the amazing people who love me and all the people I am proud to say I love even more in return.
|Lboy in my grandfather’s hat.
|Not Christmas, but New Year’s Day 2005.
|Same day as above.