Columns 2016

Christmas memories

On snowy gray days, reminiscing becomes a way to warm you inside and out. Right now, my dogs are sleeping around me. My birds are chirping to the classical music playing for them… ok, maybe parrots don’t exactly chirp but they do their best. And I find myself remembering so many Christmases of the past.

As usual, we will have a white Christmas here. We rarely had them in Atlantic City. If we did have snow, mom just got mad because then the drive to Philly to be with family for Christmas dinner would become scary.

Not that it bothered my father, the driver. Even after the Expressway was built, he took the old Black Horse Pike to the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. On Christmas Day, we got free passage and a candy cane for every kid in the car as we passed over the Delaware into Philly.

Using the old Pike took a lot longer but dad was averse to paying the toll on the Expressway. I can still hear my mother telling him, “That’s ok, Phil, you take the Pike. But when you die, I’m taking the Expressway and giving them your money.”

Yep, Christmas memories; some much better in retrospect. Because when this drive was actually happening, my brother and I were both in the car urging it forward faster than dad’s 50 mph rule so that we could see our cousins and show them the one present we were allowed to bring with us to Philly.

I guess I’ve reached the age where I occasionally wallow in old holiday memories. Almost all the people inhabiting those memories are gone now. But in my mind’s eye, I can still see my father and Uncle Paul and Uncle Henry sitting in front of the TV in Uncle Paul’s living room. It was one of the first color TVs we ever saw. And color was the operative word because unlike today, everything was not automatic.

You had to dial the colors in to get the right balance. If you had three people looking at a screen as you tried to adjust the tone, color and hue, you had three different perspectives on what actually looked right. So the grass was often a funny yellow and the football players a funny orange. Then Uncle Paul would get up to try and adjust it and the comments began again. Everyone within sight of the TV yelled out their suggestions on whether more red was needed, or green, or brown or tan. Often the game would be over and the men would still be working on adjusting it.

The food served at our Christmas dinner was the traditional dishes served by Italians from the Abruzzi region around Rome. As kids, we looked forward to this as a wonderful diversion from the all fish dinner of Christmas Eve. No matter how hard my parents tried, they could not convince us to eat baccalla; we were equally unsold on squid, even if given the fancy name of calamari. And don’t even bring up scungilli. No way were we eating something that came out of a twisted shell and looked so gross.

So having a big antipasto followed by homemade soup, pasta, roast, nuts, fruits and cookies accompanied by espresso with a shot of Anisette was fine by us.

Of course, we didn’t get the shot of Anisette. Our mother had enough to do without her kids reeling through Uncle Paul’s very formal living room. But we did get some wine with out meal. I guess nowadays OCS would investigate my parents for the amount of times liquor factored into homemade traditions and cures. Got a cold? Nona’s got a mug of hot tea with enough whiskey in it to put you to sleep until it’s gone.

Yep, I miss those days and those wonderful aunts and uncles who helped me to truly understand the meaning of family. I know they’ll be spending this Christmas together in the afterlife and they will be discussing “those rotten kids”. Yet no matter how rotten we were, they always managed to hug us so tight our eyes would pop.

My Christmas wish for each and every one of you is that you create the memories that will warm you on snowy gray days in the future. May you celebrate Christmas safe, well fed and surrounded by those you love and those who love you.