Outside Circle by Jan Swan Wood: Christmas eve at Gramy’s house
Growing up in a big family, I remember Christmas Eve at Gramy (pronounced Graw-mee) and Grandad Swan’s house. There would usually be six adults and 10 of us cousins. Often there were additional folks there who had nowhere else to be and they would be included in the noise, joy, good food, and gifts. The love felt in that little house amidst that crowd, is still a living thing within me today.
After Grandad passed away, Gramy continued to host Christmas Eve. The crowd grew over the years as the grandkids grew up, got married, and had families of their own. College grandkids brought friends who couldn’t get home for Christmas, or sadly, maybe didn’t have a home to go to. They were all enveloped by Gramy’s love. Gramy relished having that crowd there, even when it became harder for her to do it. Fortunately, some of us lived close and could help her when that time came.
Christmas Eve, when I think of it now, is still at Gramy’s house. Even though my oldest brother and his family hosted it for years, then one of my cousins, my memory takes me back to Gramy’s.
I can hear the noise of a hoard of little kids running around the long hallway with it’s linoleum floor echoing, the laughter and shouting barely subdued by the occasional parental suggestion to hold it down. Gramy sure never told us to be quiet. I think her house was awfully quiet most of the time so that noise of beloved kids was music to her ears.
She always made taffy before Christmas. It was actually a caramel, but she called it taffy, so we all do too. It was labor intensive and hard to stir while being made, then she’d let it cool on cookie sheets, cut it into pieces and wrap each piece in waxed paper. College kids, soldiers, distant family got their boxes of taffy in the mail ahead of Christmas, especially if they were unable to come home. Each piece was relished and savored of course. All year we saved little boxes, like the ones checks came in, for Gramy’s taffy. Smart people saved the one she gave them so they could be refilled.
The feast eaten on Christmas Eve was a combined effort of Gramy, Mom and Aunt Lois. As the kids grew up and brought their spouse and family, they also brought their favorite dish to contribute. Gramy and cousin Ron made the traditional Plum Pudding as I recall. As a kid, I didn’t care for the stuff, but my cousin Sandy and I sure liked the rich sauce that was served on it and would just get a little dish of that. It was not a hard sauce, just extremely rich and flavorful. I can taste it still if I think about it.
I don’t remember the gift exchange being the focal point when I was a kid, but it was probably pretty important to us. We exchanged gifts with everyone back then, with all of us spending our own money to buy presents for adults, cousins and siblings. They weren’t lavish, expensive gifts, but something we had chosen for that particular person. All of us would sit wherever we could, the older you were the more likely you got a chair, and the little ones sat on the floor. We nearly filled the living room, especially when the presents and paper were scattered there with us.
The look of love that glowed from Gramy’s brown eyes as she watched the whole thing was palpable. We all just knew that we were her favorite, though we never said anything because we didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. She had that ability to make every person feel special. It didn’t matter if you were family either, you felt special at Gramy’s house. Being her favorite was a wonderful thing, of course. We all treasured that in our hearts.
Gramy has been gone now for many years, though she lived into her 90s. Sadly, hers isn’t the only face missing as our family gatherings. My siblings and I still get together. We’ll be gathering on Christmas Day and laughing, making noise, and carrying on just like we did when we were kids. Now it’s our grandkids who are making all the noise, and we just smile and enjoy, just like Gramy did.