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Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Pilgrimage

Pin It Every year, for as long as memory has served me, we've gotten up, opened presents, piled into the car and made the pilgrimage to Crewe, VA for Christmas at Grandma's. When I was a kid, this meant the four of us (my three brothers and me) stuffed into the backseat of the station wagon, the adults chainsmoking in the front seat. We'd be dressed in our Sunday best and our winter coats, which inevitably would be puffed up souffle-style around our faces. The entire hour and a half to Crewe, elbows would be slyly nudged into ribs, eyes would be narrowed, breath would be hissed, and the occasional brave one would lash out with a "Mom, Clay's looking at me!"

But somehow, every year we would make it there in one piece.

Grandma's house is always the best kind of chaos. Mom was the last of five daughters--a funny story in and of itself, actually. Grandpa Elliott kept hoping for a son, and so kept Grandma hopping, so to speak, with Ginger, Linda, Judy, Susan, and finally, Mom. He finally conceded defeat, named her Lesley after himself, and that was the end of the Elliott family procreation until Ginger took up the torch.

Now, here's a little background on The Sisters.

Ginger's the Cook. Linda's the Beauty Queen. Judy's the Middle Child, Susan's the Talented One, and Mom's the Baby. I love them all to pieces. Between them, they had I don't know how many kids--something like fourteen?--and over thirty great-grandchildren. I'm honestly not sure how many great-great-grands have been manufactured by this time. I've lost track.

But we'll just go back to the fourteen grandchildren for the purpose of this blog. When we get to Grandma's, there's typically a grandma and a grandpa, five daughters and their husbands or significant others, and their fourteen children. For the mathematically challenged, that's, like, twenty-six freaking people. Which wouldn't be a big deal, except I forgot to tell you that Grandma lives in this house that has four rooms: a kitchenette, living room, and two bedrooms that are roughly the size of your big toenail. Oh, and it does have a bathroom. A bathroom. As in One. As in, Wait Your Turn, Sucka.

This is the house that Mom grew up in. I never tire of hearing the story of how she and her four sisters all slept in the SAME BED in the same room all through their childhood, where literally there is just enough room on either side of the bed to walk. The crib from the girls' babyhood still remains at the foot of the bed--Mom said she slept in that until she was around five. I can't say I blame her. I think I would've slept in it until I was sixteen. Sometimes, during these visits, I would crawl into the crib just so I have somewhere to sit.

When I was a child, I knew exactly what to expect on Christmas morning at Grandma's. When you walked in, you could expect to be enveloped in hugs from one end of the tiny house to the other. The Sisters would look each other over critically for signs of aging, weight gain, and new glitter. Plates would get filled quickly with goodies, and soon laps would be filled with a few gifts--you could pretty much count on socks or underwear from Grandma. Afterwards, a walk down the gravelled alleyway behind the little house with Grandpa would round out the day. We'd leave in the evening, driving home with my face pressed against the cold glass of the window, watching the stars flash by.

Not much has changed since I was a child. Ginger and Judy still look you over critically but with a wealth of love, and proclaim to the ounce how much weight you've either gained or lost in the past year. Grandma will exclaim over how big the kids have gotten, and complain quietly over how long it's been since you've last been in to see her. The confines of the house have gotten a little tighter as the families have blossomed; laps form many of the seats and many of the men, like Duane, find it more comfortable to stand around in the nippy air outside rather than remain indoors.

Grandma still makes her perfect turkey and even more perfect sweet tea, while everyone else brings in all sorts of side dishes, and we eat until we're just about sick--especially Uncle Mike. Then we open gifts, and chuckle over our ubiquitious socks and underwear. There are still babies to be held, and toddlers to giggle over. There are still the same beautiful, old-fashioned ornaments on a sparse little Charlie-Brown type tree.

The only thing missing, really, is Grandpa. He's been gone for several many years--close to ten, I guess, but it's at times like this when I really feel his loss. I see him in that alley, and wish that my children would feel his presence there the way I always will.

That's okay, though--I've come to realize that his presence is a heritage, passed on in these families that return year after year to this little house on Carolina Avenue in Crewe, VA. These thirty-some odd great-grandchildren don't necessarily have to have known Grandpa Elliott; they're walking down that alley with him every time one of his grandchildren hoists them up on their shoulders, or takes their hand and does the same. Every time we gather in his home, we're sharing his past with his future.


Anaise said...

Sheesh! You practically described my house--and we have 9 people actually living here--when we have company over, it's definitely more fun to be outside than in. :)

But what love!

May this year's Christmas pilgrimage be just as joyful and satisfying as you've described.

Teachinfourth said...

Thanks for inviting us to capture a little glimpse of your holiday world, Lori. I remember those puffy jackets, too...

Gerb said...

My favorite line in this: Wait Your Turn, Sucka.

Whenever there is occasion for my husband's family to migrate home to southern California there is scarcely enough room to hold all 16 kids along with their spouses and children. (And you thought I was crazy with 9!) There are tents pitched in the yard and bodies covering every inch of floor space at bedtime - including beneath the tables and in front of the fridge.

And you know what? (For the most part) It is heaven.

Merry Christmas, Lori.

TerriC said...

My memories are similar to yours with a lot less people. I'm now living in Grandma's house and even though the furniture inside is mine, I often think of her sitting at her place at the dining table. The heritage of our grandparents is in our blood and we can only do our best to pass it on to our children and grandchildren. It's a feeling of love.

Lori said...

Yall get it, totally. I love sharing my family with you. Hope your day is full of wonderful memories, pinched cheeks, tons of calories, ribbons, and bows. Merry Christmas.

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