I love this time of year, when family and friends gather and conversations turn to stories told and retold, especially those embellished for fresh ears in the room -- stories like the time Uncle Ronnie caught his suspenders on the electric fence. Or the first time Mama fired a shotgun, or the summer she picked cotton in a bikini. Or the day Grammy accidentally burned down the field. Or the night our truck was stuck, and we had to walk a mile home in the snow carrying bowling balls. Or the time I wrecked the car and spray painted it so no one would notice. (They noticed.) Or when my grandfather taught the parrot to say "Shew, you stink!" each time a guest emerged from the bathroom.
The stories all start the same. "Do you remember when..." or "What year was that? We drove the '79 Cutlass so it had to be around '80..." or "We were newly married and lived over on Browning Street, so that'd be..." Where we lived, what we drove or who was married to whom helps pinpoint the date, and then that house, spouse or car triggers another story as day drifts into evening.
Some of my favorite tales are about the best Christmas presents ever given or received. In a family of believers, we take judicial notice that our first choice is the birth of baby Jesus. After that, what gift takes center stage?
For me, it was the Christmas I was 10 years old. Mama and I would sometimes go to Riggs Hardware Store on Saturday mornings because, for some inexplicable reason, I loved it. It was old and smelled weird and had wrinkled men who cranked paper receipts and sold nickel Cokes, something we could actually afford. I'd walk around the store, sipping a Coke and looking at hammers, brooms and a plethora of sharp implements no kid today would be allowed to touch.
Riggs sold fireplaces, and I remember turning a corner and seeing several ceramic kittens for sale on the hearth of a fireplace. I cooed with delight, then turned one over to see the price tag: $12.99. It may as well have been a million dollars since we didn't have three dimes between us to spend on anything that wasn't the mortgage, gas or groceries. I sat by the orange tabby for a long while, just sure I'd never see her again.
I suspect you can figure out Paul Harvey's rest-of-the-story. When I bounded down the stairs weeks later on Christmas morning, the orange ceramic kitten awaited me on our hearth. I don't recall socks or pajamas or anything else I received that Christmas. But I can tell you I carried the Riggs kitten to my room, and to college and law school. And it sits on my hearth this very day -- a reminder of the love, sacrifice and magic the season holds.
As we gather together, may we tell the stories that make us tear up or smile wide, and tell twice the ones that do both.
NAN Our Town on 12/19/2019