A Christmas Memory
You’ve heard me tell of my grandmother.
There is no other time of the year that I think of her more than the Yuletide
season. There is no other time that I miss her more either. When I was a little
girl, we all gathered at Christmas to celebrate. It was a time when everyone
had time off, so the family from out of town could travel home and we could all
Our family had outgrown my
grandmother’s small home, so my mom and her two sisters who still lived “in
town”, took turns hosting the family gathering on Christmas day. Just between
our family and my two aunts the total was 15 people, add whoever came from out
of town, and it could increase to 29 and with Grandma it was 30. Nineteen
grandchildren, seven children with seven spouses.
The children would play games, tear
around and generally make noise. The men would watch football, talk bull, and
drink beer while the women would be in the kitchen preparing the food, drink
wine and catch up on each other’s lives. Amid it all sat Grandma. Talking here
and there to whichever grandchild she saw, or to the daughters and daughters in
law as they worked and talked.
Once the food was ready we all sat to
eat. Grandma led the prayer and then we all stuffed ourselves. It was clamor,
everyone talking, sharing stories, jokes, laughing, milk getting spilled and
always some minor scuffle among the little ones. It lasted until no one could
eat one morsel more. Then the men would get up and stretch, the women would
clear the table and begin the task of cleaning up. Often the cards would come
out and Grandma and a couple of the guys would play a game of 500.
Once the clean up was done, and all the
goodies were set out, like cookies, cakes, and other traditional candies we had
each year, it was time to gather back together. It would be time for the Family
Sing. We’d sing the carols we knew. Obviously, the traditional children’s ones
so the little ones could sing along, then the solos, like my mom and her
brother singing “Oh Holy Night”, as the little ones grew older, they too
performed solos. My sister and I always had to sing the traditional pagan
carol, “Here We Come A Wassailing”. These days, my daughter and I sing “The
Little Drummer Boy”.
Then came the best part of the holiday.
We all gathered around my grandmother and she would recite the little stories
and songs from when she was a child, or had told her children when they were
little. Many have been forgotten, those that I can remember, I have written
down and have shared with my children.
The family favorite though was almost
lost to us until my Aunt Susie & I recreated it. Between the two of us, we
were able to get it right. This is special to me for many reasons. One is
because the warm memory it brings back of childhood. Of sitting beside my
Grandma and hearing her say it each year, the tradition it represented.
Then as I grew older, I realized that
she cried each time she recited it at the end. I wondered what made her cry to
recite it. My mom and her sisters often said it made her think of her dead son
Pat. Or perhaps her son Danny, who died young and never had a full life. We
really don’t know, because Grandma was a very private person and didn’t talk
about her feelings. But I know that as we grew older and she’d recite it, there
wasn’t a dry eye at the end. For me, it was that I knew, one day, she wouldn’t
be there to recite it anymore.
Without further ado, I give you
Come here you sleepy ting … don’t you
heah dat school bell ring?!
heah … git your book and slate … you’s just
fixin to be late!
you be late too wi’ thout fail … creepin
round heah jis like a snail…
you say boy?
… cain’t … fine … y’r … books!
anuder boy in town trifllin as you is can’t be found!
mos too lazy to draw breaf!
you shames me mos to deaf!
tries to raise you right and you haint even fit to kill!
de lord he gone at last…look how proud he walkin fast…
so smart, dat boy of mine … and in school dey say he larnin fine
told me night fo last, he’s de smartest in de class!
whut you say ma’am, I talks mad and scoll de chile when he am bad?
das so, but often I must speak bout him.
I spoke my thoughts you see, dat boy’d git da biggity.
I acts like I am madddd … dat don’t make dat chile feel bad.
Dat little rascal
am so smart … he done larnt to read my
After I got married, she told me that
when she was going to the Women’s Normal College studying to become a teacher,
she was given an assignment to write as a black woman about her child. What
struck me when she told me this was the depth that an 18-year-old could feel
not just what a mother would feel for her child at that time, but a black
mother. I was amazed by it.
My grandmother was born in 1906. I know
very little about her childhood, except that her mother died when she was very
young. Leaving her, a sister and two brothers to be raised by her father and an
aunt. For a time, she lived with this aunt along with her siblings. If she had
any contact with black people growing up, we are unaware of it.
What I personally know of my
grandmother, is that she was a progressive minded woman and raised a
progressive family. Who in turn raised, progressive children. We were all
taught that the measure of a person was not in their skin, but in their