APOSTLE’S BLOG: Christmas in 1968
My oldest brother, Columbus, who still lives in Annapolis, Maryland, would arrive very late on Christmas Eve. I would lay in bed half awake and half asleep waiting for his return. I could always tell when he was home because I smelled his cologne. No matter how faint, we could always detect a different scent in our home. This simple scent meant big brother was home for Christmas and the family was complete once again.
I recall with great fondness Christmas morning in a little community in Southeast Raleigh named Walnut Terrace. Nobody had a lot of money so everybody had to “make do”. Kids were so excited on Christmas morning because this was the only time each year that a new toy would be received. Most of us received roller skates and a roller skate key. We would tie the key to a string and wear it around our necks. A few of the luckier kids would get a shiny new bike, which was to be shared with two or three siblings. The roller skates were the steel, adjustable kind and would eventually tear the soles off your shoes with improper adjustments.
Overexcited kids would get up around 5:00 a.m. and snatch gifts from under a tree overladen with dangling strands of icicles. They would start roller skating, shooting cap pistols and mimicking the Lone Ranger and Tonto. Imagine hearing all of that noise and it was still dark outside! Dozens of children would eventually gather on the concrete basketball court, better known as “the square”, to skate.
One of my friends next door received a drum set. Most of the boys would crowd around and wait their turn at making a racket . . . I mean, music . . . as our mothers would listen with painful regret.
For us thrill seekers and daredevils, we would skate or bike down a hill we nicknamed “Killer Diller”.
The thing that made this hill so frightening was not its height, but a very sharp left turn about halfway down. You’d be rolling down the hill so fast that it was difficult to make that hard left. And if you missed it you’d hurtle right over the curb and headlong into the street against any oncoming traffic. It was really fun when someone with a bike would pull a line of kids on skates down that hill. Nobody wore a helmet or any type of protective gear. Somebody would always get scraped elbows, bruised knees, and damaged pride. Talk about stupid!
At Christmas, my mother would also give each of us a brown paper bag containing two oranges, an apple, nuts, some cluster raisins, and hard candy wrapped in aluminum foil. The candy would always gum up into a hard ball. This bag was always packed with a whole lot of love.
The aroma of roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potato pies with coconut in the filling, and homemade chocolate, pineapple, and coconut cakes would waft through the apartment. Most of the cooking was completed on Christmas Eve. Everybody’s back screen door was opened to defog the windows and ventilate the steam from the apartments from the collard greens. Somewhere in the midst of my mom and sisters preparing dinner, Mama would send me to Mrs. Avery’s house to borrow some nutmeg or a tablespoon of vanilla. Neighbors loaned each other a cup of sugar, a dash of vanilla, or whatever was necessary to make a successful Christmas meal. Baby boys and baby girls would always end up being the family “gophers” (i.e. go for this and go for that). The payment for the loan would be a big, honking slice of cake or one of the pies to the lender.
Around 2:00 in the afternoon, we would all sit together for our Christmas meal. My mom would pull out her best silverware and tablecloths. After a very heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving by a family member, I would gorge myself on the many delicacies fit for a king.
As the day waned, Columbus would begin thinking about returning to Annapolis. It seemed to me back then that people who lived “up north” had a lot more money, better clothing, and were better off. My mother would tell him to make sure to stop by to see several of her friends before leaving town. She would say, “Be sure to see Mrs. Nevels and Mrs. Steward. Be sure to stop by and say hello to Mrs. Smith and the Carvers. Don’t forget to say hello to the Averys, too.”
I could tell that he was a little indifferent about speaking to all of these people when his time was short and he had too many other places to go and too many other people to see. Besides that, all of them would talk him to death. However, this was my mother’s understated way of saying, “Son, I am proud of you.” Not only was my brother instructed to see her friends, but the neighbors’ sons and daughters, home for the holidays, would return the favor by stopping by our home to see my mom. Some were on military leave and proudly wore their uniforms and spit-shined boots.
1968 seems like forever ago, but some of these simple traditions are now being passed down to my family. The rest of my Christmas memories are stored away in my mind like the shiny, silver aluminum tree and its red, green, blue and yellow rotating light are tucked away after “Old Christmas” (January 6th) has come and gone.
Thank God for old family traditions. However, I am also very grateful for the new ones that we are making today. So having said that: Vickie, Cheri, Danaka, Briana, Donise, and I wish you the merriest of Christmases this year, and may 2014 be filled with all the best. MERRY CHRISTMAS!