Dec 23, 2012

Catching Santa... and Memories

Dad's annual project, minus the star on the peak.
Mom insisted he stop climbing three stories high 
by the time this photo was taken.

Happy times with loved ones rank at the top of my list of personal treasures. Among those the holidays figure prominently, since they present the opportunity to gather more of the family together.

I was lucky enough to know Mom's parents and Dad's mother throughout my childhood. Improved longevity allows even adults the benefit of sharing good times with grandparents these day, but by the time I was fifteen all three grandparents were gone. They provided a lifetime of memories in those short years.

Grandma and Grandpa,
Martha and George
Mom's parents were the spitting image of classic grandparenthood: white haired, soft spoken, loving and gentle to a fault. And, to my eyes, older than dirt even though they were only in their sixties in this photo. Their Appalachian accent contributed to my view of them as being from a bygone era. It was a special treat when they would make the trip from Kentucky and stay at our home during the holidays.

Thirty years ago I wrote a story about one Christmas Eve in the 50's when they provided my most memorable holiday ever. I wrote about it as a gift to Mom and Dad and shared it with my siblings. Since then a Christmas never passes that I don't relive that night through those words. I'm indulging myself by sharing them here, hoping to inspire other grandparents to try something similar with your own wee ones.

Catching Santa
by Sandy Brehl

Christmas Eve had always been the longest day to wait
For children sure that Santa Claus would never dare be late

The big day started early, all the gifts were wrapped and tied,
And those with our names on the tags were rattled, sniffed, and pried.

While Mom was baking pumpkin pies and cookies were still hot
We iced each one and sprinkled bits- we never missed a spot.

Then Dad would bundle, head to toe, to check the outdoor lights,
And even when it took him hours he always got it right.

Besides the windows’ candle glow the trees and shrubs were gleaming.
Up on the roof a lighted star would set us all to dreaming

Of manger scenes and shepherds, too, of Peace, and Joy, and Love,
Of elves, and snow, and "Ho-Ho-Ho", and reindeer high above.

Our wait was nearly at its end once aunts and uncles came.
While Grandma bustled, Grandpa napped and baby did the same.

Then sunset found us seated ‘round the table, candles flickered.
While Dad would say a prayer of thanks, we prayed they’d all eat quicker.

At last the meal was over, coffee drained from every cup.
Each belt was loosened up a notch and Grandpa’s feet propped up.

Then, starting with the youngest, on to each and every one,
The family gifts were opened until Grandpa, too, was done.

Then we passed around the cookies, but the best were first unpacked
To be set aside with carrots and cold milk for Santa’s snack.

By then it was past bedtime for the youngest of us all,
And the rest were getting sleepy when “To bed!” we heard Mom call.

But we had hoped for just one peek, our eyes forced open wide.
“A little longer, PLEASE!” we begged, and that’s when Grandma cried,

“You’ve never seen that jolly elf or caught him by your tree?
We’ll fix all that this Christmas Eve, just leave it up to me.

In houses without chimneys how he’ll come is hard to say
So Pa will guard the kitchen door if Santa comes that way.

“And I will watch the hallway door, it’s closer to the tree.
I’ll hear those hoofbeats on the roof before he can spot me!

“I’ll hide myself completely in that corner by the chair,
And I will be so quiet that he’ll never know I’m there.

“We’ll watch and wait and listen for a sign that Santa’s near.
Then Grandpa’s famous whistle will wake you while he’s here.

“We’ll catch old Santa in the act when he comes by tonight.
Just close your eyes and say your prayers when your folks turn out the light.”

With Grandpa settled near the door and Grandma’s watch begun,
It wasn’t hard to fall asleep to dreams of Christmas fun.

It seemed no time ‘til we awoke to Grandpa’s whistling tweet.
Then we heard Grandma cry, “Come quick!” and sounds of stamping feet.

We didn’t pause for slippers as we tumbled down the stairs
Where we saw Grandma pointing past two scattered kitchen chairs.

“Pa almost had him! Go, you’ll see!” We heard some bells a-jingling.
Out to the snowy porch we ran, our bare toes fairly tingling.

And there stood Grandpa, hands on hips, a smile from here to there.
“I almost had that slippery elf!” His words puffed frosty air.

“Look up now, past the rooftop. He took off ‘round that tree!”
The oldest shouted, “There he is!” We short ones couldn’t see.

How close we’d been! Yet back inside our toes told us to go,
But not before we spied his tracks- deep bootprints in the snow!

Beneath the glowing Christmas tree were presents piled up high.
But dolls and cars and games galore still left us with a sigh.

If only we could all have seen St. Nick as he stood there,
As close as Grandpa by the tree and Grandma in her chair.

To see him close enough to touch that red suit, soft and furry.
To see his smile, his snow-white beard… oh, why must Santa hurry?

But Mom and Dad reminded us how far and wide he’d roam
Before his Christmas rounds were through and Santa could head home.

Reluctantly, we turned for bed, and that’s the moment when
We saw the empty glass and plate where cookies once had been.

No doll or dress or bicycle, no toy from Santa’s pack
Would ever thrill us half as much as spotting Santa’s tracks.

If Christmas is for children, as so many people say,
Then there’s nothing like a grandma and a grandpa on that day!

* * * 

Grandma Brehl generated memories, too, but they'll be shared some other time. For now, here she is pictured at the center of our lives. Dad and Mom are directly behind her, Uncle and Aunt to the sides, and baby sister in Mom's arms. The squirt in the dark plaid jumper is yours truly.

Can you imagine anything further from the images of Billy Crystal and Bette Midler in the recent release, PARENTAL GUIDANCE? I haven't seen the movie, but it sounds like a story of modern day memory-making. Times change, but it's still true...there's nothing like a grandma and a grandpa at Christmas!

Happy holidays, everyone.

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