Christmas Roller Coaster

Photo of handmade orniment by Travis Loller. Janice C. Kemp
Copyright 1999 by Janice C. Kemp
Handmade orniment by Travis Loller.  Photo owned by Richard Loller

"Granny loves decorating the house, doesn't she, Bennie?" "Bennie said yea, and grandpa does too!" "Where did she get the idea to stream those red streamers across the living room", said Bennie. Janice smiled thinking about granny and grandpa's old house and how little they had materialistically but how they enjoyed Christmas and decorating! The Christmas' in my life have been like a roller coaster with as many ups as downs.

Granny and grandpa were my most favorite people in the world and though they had little in the way of material things, they had riches in love and how they showed that love. In days gone by, when granny and grandpa were alive, all the kids would come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. What a group we were!

Joel, the youngest and my dad, had six of us, three girls and three boys with about a year between each child with me being the oldest. Uncle Hershel, the eldest, had one son by marriage to his wife Geri, and my Aunt Tessie had one boy and one girl. We would rip and romp outside while the women were inside preparing the big dinner. We usually had baked ham, chicken and dressing, potato salad, green beans, rolls, cranberry sauce and granny's specialty - sweet potato pies! Granny and grandpa's house was built during the depression so it was never quite finished. The house had no hallways but you walked from room to room. Grandpa said that it snowed before they could get a roof on the house and they had to put a tent on top. They must have lived like that a while before he could finally get a roof on since it was winter and during the depression. There was no sheet rock on the walls but big wide boards and granny painted them an aqua blue color. She had a big nice dining room table that was made of chrome and had nice blue cushioned seats. I thought it was about the nicest table I had ever seen. She used to tell me we were poor but I always denied that fact and told granny, "we are just average".

My grandpa was a Baptist preacher and he always said the blessing before we ate. He didn't just say the blessing. He said the blessing! He prayed and he prayed and he prayed and by the time he got through he was crying and a lot of the rest of us were too but it was good. The food was always so good. It was a fun time. I would help clear the dishes and wash dishes while my Aunt Tessie dried. Granny and grandpa did not have running water or an indoor bath until I was grown and married and my husband helped install a bath and running water in the kitchen.

Christmas cards were a big thing. Granny would have her cards displayed all around the living room proudly displaying her many cards. She always mailed out Christmas cards as long as she lived. I still enjoy carrying on that tradition.

Granny and grandpa had a space heater in the kitchen and one in the living room. I lived with them for a while when I was about 11 because my parents were having trouble. Granny would check on me during the night as I lay under the tons of covers she put on my bed. She would have my clothes and my shoes warming by the fire in the kitchen when I got up. The space heaters kept the house real cozy. I enjoyed immensely times at my grandparent's home.

At Christmas, Granny always had presents for everyone even if it was just a pair of socks. We didn't mind. Granny found great joy in giving. I guess they didn't have much growing up because they were so appreciative of what was given to them. Grandpa took forever to open his gifts and always took out his pocketknife to cut the tape from his presents. Christmas was all about getting together as a family.

My mother and father would take us riding to the nicer sections of town to see the Christmas lights. It was a family tradition. There was one place we would go where most rich people lived with a lake and they always had a tree on a float out on the water.

As time went by, times got leaner and granny and grandpa just couldn't buy for everyone, even a small gift. I saw the joy of Christmas go out of granny's eyes. She didn't decorate anymore. She said if she could not give presents, she didn't want to decorate. It broke my heart. Then the dinners stopped too. The families were falling apart. I don't remember exactly when the last dinner was that we were all together.

My parents divorced first. Dad moved to Atlanta and married and divorced several times. Sometimes he would come around Christmas time and bring us gifts but most times not. My mom married a man I despised and he had four children but two were grown and moved out of the house. With six of us and two of them, times were hard. It's wasn't the hard times though that brought changes to our Christmas', it was the loss of family togetherness. My mom didn't communicate with my grandparents on my dad's side, she hated her own father and her mom was dead.

I grew up and married and had two wonderful children and boy and a girl. Christmas got better. We baked cookies and candies. We decorated. We painted Christmas ornaments and hand painted a complete nativity scene as a family. We went to church together. I got to play Santa. I felt love at Christmas again. My family would go to my grandparents and we once again shared meals and fun times together. I sang gospel music and had the awesome joy of traveling and singing for God's people. I also belonged to a lady's ministry that helped make the holidays special to the elderly. Then after 17 years of marriage, my family unit was broken and we divorced. Christmas was to never be the same again. I'll never forget the sad faces of my children that first Christmas a part. It literally broke my heart. Somehow I had allowed what had happened to me as a child to repeat history in my own children's lives. I did not like it a bit.

My mom divorced the mean stepfather and married a nicer man. With all six of us and our spouses and kids, we had quite a group. We would usually get together at moms on Christmas Eve sometimes exchanging gifts by drawing names or sometimes just buying for the children but at least we were together. We would bring food and everyone would all talk at the same time. Paper was strewn all over the house and no one could keep up with who got what and where it even was! Then my brothers got on drugs and alcohol. My brothers would act ugly to someone at my moms and so it got be where most times we all could not get together. We had to start coming at different times to my mom's and never having all of us together has caused Christmas at mom's to never be the same. We used to always get what we call our 'fireplace picture'. All of my brother's and sisters would have our picture made standing in front of mother's fireplace.

Granny and grandpa are gone now. I'm divorced and so are most of the other members of the family. It has become quite a circus trying to get together to share Christmas. I cook Christmas dinner and my children and their children come. I send out Christmas cards almost always. I reminisce about days gone by when we all were one big happy family enjoying a holiday season together.

We hear all the time about how Christmas is not about gifts but about Jesus and what He means to us. We hear that Christmas is for kids, that Christmas is not about getting but giving. To me, Christmas is about Jesus and God's gift to us and His unconditional love and about being with the ones I love.

In times past, there were years when I was a child and had no control over how my Christmas' were spent. I'm an adult now and though I cannot bring my family back together, I can share my love and time with my friends and my immediate family. I can make a difference for my children and my grandchildren. It is my time to be the grandmother that my granny was for me. I hope and pray that I can bring joy to my grandchildren that she brought to me.

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