My Not-So-Typical Christmas Tradition

Christmas.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  I love the beautiful decorations, the food, the parties, the food, the excitement of opening presents, and of course, more food.

Growing up, December was always a special time for me.  We would decorate our tree on my father’s birthday, December 9, (and many years later would celebrate my son’s birth on that same day!), and then we would celebrate my mother’s Christmas Day birthday.  My grandfather used to tell us the story of how Santa Claus brought my mother down the chimney to him, which, as a child, made me extremely jealous.

Christmas was full of love and happiness.  I was blessed!

Then, the unthinkable happened to my fantasy Christmas:  I got divorced.  Not just some easy-peasy, that-was-mine-this-is-yours divorce, but the “I kind of wish he’d get hit by a bus” divorce.

In an instant, my holidays were totally disrupted.  Suddenly, I only had my son with me for the first half of Christmas vacation, after which he would go to his father’s house at noon on Christmas Day.  Then he would return home after New Year’s Day.  It was agonizing.

One day, while visiting my eighty-something-year-old grandmother, she asked why I hated my ex so much.  I explained all of the reasons, and she listened quietly before saying, “What does it matter?  You’re divorced, but you have a child that loves you both and needs you to get along, especially now that the holidays are close.”

So, I went back home feeling like a first grader who just got scolded, and spoke with my ex.  After deciding to meet at the library (so we couldn’t yell at each other), we had a much-needed, long discussion.  For the first time since our divorce, we both agreed that we needed to put aside our differences and be parents to our son.  Civility wasn’t always easy, but we did it.

By then, he had married a very sweet lady and had a precious daughter, and one day, my son made a comment of how hard it was having to split his time between his parents on Christmas.  He wanted to spend time with us all, but having a big Christmas lunch at my house, followed by a big Christmas dinner at his dad’s house was just too much for him.

So, after great thought, and a few glasses of chardonnay, I reluctantly invited them over for Christmas lunch one year.

I know, I know….I can just hear many of you now saying, “I could never do that!”  But, let me tell you, when you know you’re doing something for your child, you can literally do ANYTHING.  It wasn’t easy, and there were times during dinner that I was tempted to stab my ex with a fork…but I digress.

It worked.

And just like that, we began a new Christmas tradition.  Each year, we would all have Christmas lunch together:  my son and his sister, my ex and his wife, my parents and grandmother.  When I remarried many years later, my sweet and understanding husband accepted our arrangement like it was no big deal. He saw that it was a good thing and welcomed my ex and his family into our house like they were old friends.

A few years have passed since we shared our last Christmas together.  Our son is nearly 23-years-old, and is venturing out as a young man, with a wonderful girlfriend who I hope will become part of our family one day.  My father passed away last year, and my mother moved to live with my 97-year-old grandmother.

Christmases are different, but I will be forever grateful for those wise words encouraging us to set aside our anger, forgive past mistakes, and put our child first.

After all, isn’t that what the holidays are really about?

 

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Going Home

One hundred years ago, a little baby girl named Mary Evelyn Gunn, known to her family as Aunt Sissy, was born in a big white house in Enterprise, Mississippi. She was the beloved sister of her five brothers (two older and three younger), one of whom was my grandfather, Frank Carlton Gunn, affectionally called Bubba.

Riverside Plantation

Riverside Plantation

Little did her family know then, how many lives she would touch in her life time.

Many of those family members gathered this past weekend to celebrate her life and her 100th birthday at that same white house, named Riverside Plantation.

All week, I had stressed over how I was going to manage making it from Atlanta to Enterprise to join in the celebration. My husband is in the process of getting his masters and had a huge project due and we realized it would be too risky for him to make the trip in case he couldn’t finish his work on time.

At the last minute, my son and his girlfriend decided to drive up from college in south Georgia to make the trip with me. He had never seen the old home place but had heard about it for years. I welcomed the company and was thrilled that they wanted to be a part of the occasion.

As we pulled into the grassy yard, Riverside stood tall and proud, albeit a bit weathered. Two tall white columns flanked both sides of the front porch, welcoming visitors into the foyer. Built in the early to mid-1800’s, it has seen better days but the sight of it still overwhelmed me. I had been to the place only twice before, but this time, I was older and truly appreciated and understood where I came from. Two chimneys flanked both sides of the house. The green shutters had faded as had the once bright red door, but the beautiful decorative transom windows were still intact. I could hear the squeals and laughter from children who were playing on the balcony above the front steps.

I thought of my grandfather and my great-uncles and Aunt Sissy as they played in the front yard as children. They had climbed the trees, worked in the garden, tended to the livestock, and swam in the Chunky River nearby. I was confident that if I listened hard enough, I could probably hear the ringing of the dinner bell and the voice of my great-great grandmother calling everyone inside the house for dinner.

My grandfather, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Kiddo on the front steps of Riverside.

My grandfather, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Kiddo on the front steps of Riverside.

As we walked in, Aunt Sissy sat in a chair in the very room that she was born in, grinning as those who came to celebrate with her stopped to wish her Happy Birthday.

The hardwood floors creaked as people walked around, soaking in the history that has made up the house, wishing the walls could tell us stories of those who lived here. Before the Civil War, the house was owned by a man who was a Mason. When Union soldiers took over the house, they found a box (supposedly full of valuables) wrapped in Masonic papers. With many Union soldiers also being Masons, they stood by their vow to never cause harm to a fellow Mason, thereby ordering the other soldiers not to burn the house or steal anything. They then turned the home into Union headquarters, where they planned the Battle of Vicksburg from the front parlor. The home is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is a book called Riverside Remembered by Wallace Neal Briggs, Aunt Sissy’s cousin, who everyone called “Buster.” His story tells about the times he visited his beloved Riverside, starting when he was only six years-old. For those of us who were not around during that time, it has been a beautiful way to learn about Mammy and Pappy, my great-great-grandparents, along with Allie and Cally, my great-grandparents. I have also learned about my grandfather as a young man, before he met my grandmother. What a rare gift to be able to treasure events in his life long after they occurred!

In addition, the book tells about Mattie Riley and her son Leroy, their black neighbors who helped at the house who were really just part of the family. Sissy and Mattie were especially close, since Mattie had taken care of her since she was a child.

One of the most cherished moments was when Mattie’s grandson, Floyd, arrived at the celebration and handed a photograph of Mattie to Sissy. I wish I could have frozen in time the moment Aunt Sissy saw the photograph – her delighted expression clearly showed the love she had for her and how much she missed her.

Throughout the day, all of the family laughed and told stories of parents and kids and simply loved being there. I hope Aunt Sissy looked around and realized that the people who were there, were there because of HER family – each one of us being a child, grandchild, great-grandchild, niece, nephew, cousin or other relative.

I watched my father laugh with his brother and sisters. I watched my son and nephews look for rusty old railroad spikes by the Chunky River. I laughed with my cousins, some of whom I had not seen in over 25 years.

My Great-Aunt Sissy with her brother Bubba (my grandfather's) kids - Aunt Carol, Daddy, Uncle Pat, & Aunt Polly.

My Great-Aunt Sissy with her brother Bubba (my grandfather’s) kids – Aunt Carol, Daddy, Uncle Pat, & Aunt Polly.

And as the children of my cousins ran through the house and people mingled about sipping coffee and eating birthday cake, I felt the house shake. Some would think that a 150+ year-old home shaking wouldn’t be a good thing, but I felt otherwise.

To me, it felt as if the home was happy and giggling because after way too many years, it was once again full of the love, laughter and life of the Gunn family.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Where did the summer go? It seems that school was released last week! Where did all of the lazy days by the pool go? Why is it still dark outside when I’m getting up? When did we get back from vacation? How do I work my alarm clock?

That’s right. School starts today and all of the kiddos are going back.

Kids are complaining and mumbling about how life sucks, and how tired they are, and that the first day of school just happens to be the worst day of the WHOLE YEAR.

The obnoxious buzzing of the alarm goes off at 6:45 a.m. It’s the butt-crack of dawn and time to get my step-son up for the first day of school.

I shuffle into the bathroom and turn on the light. Good grief. I feel like a Gremlin. Bright light! Bright light! It’s so bright that it actually hurts. I take a horrifying glance at my reflection in the mirror. I look like I’ve been electrocuted. I really don’t like early mornings.

I have to force myself up the stairs to his room, knock on the door and turn on the light. Now he feels like a Gremlin.

He growls at me.

I sleep-walk into the kitchen and make a quick breakfast for him even though he says he doesn’t want much to eat. I pack a brown-bag lunch full of fruit, cheese, chips, yogurt, and a chocolate bar (I’m not a health food nut – he just has food allergies) and put it by his book bag.

Last night, I made sure new gym clothes were tucked away in his backpack. What seems like ten-thousand dollars-worth of school supplies have been placed in bags to be taken straight to the teacher’s desk. We almost needed to take out a small equity loan to cover the cost of all the supplies the school required this year. How he is going to carry all of this mess is beyond me.

His school uniform has already been washed and pressed. Socks and brand new shoes are placed by the bedroom door.

I confirm that his teeth are brushed, his shirt is tucked in, and his hair doesn’t show any signs of bedhead.

We jump in the car and head over to the school. It seems that every person in the city is in the car rider line today. Hopefully I won’t get in a wreck because I literally just pulled on a pair of shorts and tucked my night shirt into them. It’s going to be A-W-K-W-A-R-D if someone sees me.

He gets out of the car, tells me “bye,” and heads into the building.

Yep.

School started today, and for me and 99% of other parents out there, it’s THE BEST DAY EVER.

And since I’ve been done with school for years now, you know what that also means?

I get to go back to bed!

Along Came A Spider

I’m a girl. I have a God-given right to be afraid of a lot of things. Mice, snakes, bugs, etc.

Those things, however, do not scare me at all. I mean, I’m not crazy about them and I certainly don’t want them on me, but I’m not really all that scared of them.

I am, however, terrified beyond belief, of spiders.

I don’t care if they are big or small. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as a spider that is “small”. They are ALL enormous.

Every hair on my body will stand on end when I see one.

I think it all started when we would spend summers at my grandmother’s house. My cousin, Brian, who is four years younger than me, would throw granddaddy long-legs at me. My hair was really long at the time, so they would get stuck in my hair. Sometimes I didn’t realize he had thrown them in my hair until hours later, when they would get untangled and would scoot across my face, causing me to scream in terror until the culprit was found and destroyed. Although I love him now, I was not Brian’s biggest fan back then.

As an adult my fear of spiders has not faded. If anything, it’s gotten worse.

My ex-husband and I were visiting my great-uncle in Alabama on his farm. We had to drive through a wooded road to get to the farm and I saw him out in the field on his tractor. I rolled down the window to wave at him, when suddenly a huge gray and black spider with equally huge hairy legs appeared out of nowhere and began crawling through the open window into the car.

And disappeared inside.

Did I mention I was in the driver’s seat?

And the car was still moving?

And I jumped out of the moving car on the passenger side?

While somehow my seat belt remained buckled?

My ex-husband and my uncle searched the car high and low until they found it. Which was very smart of them because otherwise I would have just sold the car as is to the highest bidder.

After my divorce, and until my son got older, it was my job to be the spider killer in the house. I was prepared. I kept cans of raid within an arms reach.

Spiders in my house should know upon arrival that they are in serious danger if I see them. You know that old saying “They’re probably just as scared of you as you are of them?” Well that’s just a bunch of malarkey. Even armed with a can of Raid, old shoes and a vacuum cleaner to suck up the bodies, I still break out into a cold sweat at just the sight of them.

One morning I woke up all sleepy and snuggly in my bed. I laid there listening to the bird chirp outside my window and allowed my eyes to adjust to the light.

What a wonderful morning.

That’s when I saw it.

Dead center above my head, on the ceiling, was the enemy.

And he was big. Actually he wasn’t big-big, but as I said earlier, there is no such thing as a small spider.

And he was looking down at me.

I stealth-rolled out of bed, smooth like a Navy Seal. I slowly pulled the pillows off the bed and then the sheets. (After I counter-attacked, I didn’t want spider guts or the occasional severed leg to end up on sheets! Or even worse, God forbid that it should get LOST in my sheets, so I put them in the bathroom. Just in case.)

My son, Matthew walked in the room as I was standing on top of the mattress, shoe in hand, armed and ready to kill. However, I was startled and started to lose my balance when I heard his voice saying “WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING. MOM?”

At that moment, the spider jumped like he was kung-fu fighting.

At me.

Or so I thought.

I threw the shoe at the ceiling and somehow hit my target. I fell on the bed and bounced onto the floor
as if I had hit the trampoline safety netting of a trapeze artist.

I looked around.

Where the heck was it?

Matthew was laughing hysterically.

I tried to calm myself. I mean, good grief – I was almost ambushed by my nemesis WHILE I WAS SLEEPING. He was going to get me while all of my defenses were down. What kind of fair fight is that?

I looked around and found it’s crumpled dead body right where my pillow would have been. And his leg was still hanging from my ceiling.

Gag.

Thankfully his family never came after me for revenge.

Because otherwise I would have just sold the house.

Tom Selleck Called. He Wants His Mustache Back.


I have been lucky enough to call myself a hockey mom for the past 13 years. My son Matthew started playing when he was five years old. He had gone to the ice skating rink with his dad one Saturday afternoon just to skate around the rink. He had played t-ball and done some karate, but when he saw the players coming out of the locker room in their full gear and skates, he decided he wanted to play hockey. Now he had never seen a hockey game before and wasn’t even tall enough on his skates to look over the top of the goal net, but once his mind was made up, that was it. He was going to be a hockey player.

My hockey mom status started with me being (mostly) quiet during his early years. I became the obnoxious hockey mom during his high school years. Matthew made the Varsity high school team while still in middle school so yayyy – I had an extra year of high school yelling.

Hockey isn’t one of those sports where you sit quietly like you’re watching a chess match. Hockey is rough and tough. People are fighting. People are yelling at the coaches and the referees. People are banging on the glass. People are embarrassing themselves.

Wait. I’m talking about me.

That’s right. I’m the loud mouth hockey mom that all of the other parents avoid like I have leprosy. I’m the one decked out in my team’s colors and sometimes I even have a cowbell. I don’t sit down. I’m usually yelling. I sometimes bang on the glass and yell through the seams of the glass JUST TO BE SURE they heard me. And the other parent’s on the team act like they have never seen me before.

“Who is that?” the other team’s parents ask.

“Never seen her before! She looks a little crazy”, our team parents say.

And this all started when Matthew was in first grade. He’s 19 now, so that’s a lot of time to work on my yelling pitch.

Through the years my reputation grew to being a “lipstick-pitbull” (as Sara Palin called hockey moms). The game would begin and I would start yelling. Another parent would lean over and look down the bleachers and me and say “I wondered when you were going to get here.” hockey mom

Yep. I had arrived. I rarely missed a game. I think in the 13 years I missed less than 15 games.

There were few that my fury would not be directed at. What is the coach thinking? Why is he playing that line instead of the other line? That kid he just put on the ice just got his training wheels off his skates. (No, not really. There aren’t training wheels on ice skates.)

The refs were not exempt. As a matter of fact, they received the brunt of my wise cracks.

“WHAT??? How on earth did you miss that penalty??? He was HIT FROM BEHIND you BONEHEAD! My 93 YEAR OLD GRANDMOTHER COULD HAVE SEEN THAT HIT!!!”

Or

“HEY HOPKINS – you must have gone to Collins Hill High School since you’re not making any calls against them. Way to keep your Alma mater winning!!” Incidentally, we were playing Collins Hill that night.

Or even better…

“Hey Linkissy – YOU SUCK at reffing. And by the way – Tom Selleck called from 1986. He wants his humongous mustache back.”

And although I only started yelling at opposing players when my son got to the high school level, they were no less victims. (And don’t worry – what I yelled was G, I mean PG, I mean PG-13 rated.)

There was one guy who always played so dirty – the kind that would take a swing with his stick when the ref wasn’t looking, or checking from behind, or tripping the players with his stick. Penalties that could have caused another player serious injury should have been called and sometimes were. I didn’t like him AT ALL. His hockey pants were so shredded (from what I heard was what he thought was good luck) because he would put his skates on BEFORE his pants, so the blades of his skates would cause tears.

“Hey #81, we can see your pretty lacy panties because your hockey skirt is so ripped.” I would usually get the third finger salute back at me.

That’s right, #81. I just got under your skin. Let’s see how well you play NOW.

And now that my son has graduated and is going to a college that does not have a hockey team, I feel a little sad and melancholy. I miss the smell of the rink after the Zamboni has cut the ice. I miss the chill of the metal bench freezing me to my core.

I miss watching my favorite player and his teammates win two State Championships. Oh how I miss the game.

I ran into another hockey parent at the grocery store recently and I asked how the season was going. I felt a little stab of jealously since her son is still in high school and she is able to continue on with the weekly rituals of being at the rink.

“Yep, the team is playing pretty well” she said sweetly, “but some parents from the other teams were just saying that the games aren’t nearly as entertaining this season without your loud mouth there.”

Oh. My. Gosh.

I’m a legend.