Sunday, December 14, 2014

Anything Else You Want to Give Me

My family and I have always made Christmas wish lists or now as we call it, Gift Suggestions. Several years ago, my niece Nora generated a shared Google Document that we all put our wishes on, and some of us even link it to the gift online. Brave new world! 

When we were children, and encouraged by letters from my generous aunts who lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, and Washington, DC., my siblings and I sat down around Thanksgiving and created lists with “wants”  to send them. This task, with obvious benefits, my siblings and I dragged our feet on and turned into a ridiculously arduous and drawn out assignment for no other reason than we were obviously ungrateful wretches.:-)

Celebrating a number of Christmases with my aunts Ava, Eleanor, Lois, and Harriett in Virginia made a lasting impression on all of my family. The aunts always provided a festive atmosphere and even though these occasions have faded and blended together over time, my siblings and I always smile when we think of those years "up" in Virginia. Until 1964, my grandparents shared in our annual visit, but already older [in their 70s] when I was born, their shadowy figures play elusively at the edges of my memory.

Regardless, my amiable aunts took the lead and blessed my childhood with fond moments, a lot of them surrounding Christmas.

With a family of four to raise and cautions savers, my parents had little in the budget for Christmas presents, and my aunts stepped in with generosity and kindness to give to us. I’m not suggesting that it was not what they wished to do, but I know that their unselfishness was a great help to my parents. They gave to us with such largess; they made and purchased gifts and provided us with clothing, especially what they handmade for my sister and me. {In Gratitude for Eleanor}

Margaret styling it in her handy clam diggers; I'm showing some slip. Ha. 
A day or two before Christmas, we made the eight-hour road trip to Lynchburg. When we arrived, after my dad’s focus on “making good time,” their three story house greeted us with the Christmas spirit. Decorated with greenery on the hearth and mantle, a twinkling tree in the corner of the living room with small goodies for us hanging from the branches, stockings on the chimney [we didn't have a fireplace in Atlanta for Santa], and a wreath on the door, their home welcomed their sister, her husband, and their four children, the only nieces and nephews they had.

Even though the house on Westover where they lived seemed huge to me, it still had to absorb fourteen people, and ten of them were adults. My brothers slept in the basement on hard, canvas cots with scratchy, green wool Army blankets, and my sister and I tucked ourselves on a daybed, covered in Grandma's quilt, under the eaves in Aunt Eleanor's attic bedroom. Mother and Daddy rested on the sofa bed in the living room [that must have been fun]. The house had two bathrooms -- I don't remember anything about the morning shuffles associated with those parameters. Thankfully for all, our Christmas visits lasted just a few days. 
The real gift of Christmas for us was the love and adoration my mother's sisters gave to us. 

Usually on Christmas Eve, we dressed for services at Fort Hill Methodist, a church within walking distance of their house. 

After that service, we four performed for my aunts and grandparents– Christmas carols [all of my siblings sing well – I’m the weak link], or we read passages from the Bible of the Christmas story. 
Not sure what my mother’s motivation was – could have been anything, but when I asked  my brother Hunter, he said, “her fantasy.” My guess is it was a way of sharing her children with my childless aunts.

We grudgingly put on these performances since mother always made us practice until she was satisfied, and she was an exacting maestro. In all, we were probably pretty lame in our execution of this tradition, but our aunts applauded enthusiastically and bragged on us like we were talented. 

Another Christmas Eve tradition, mostly my mother’s, was the admiration of the wrapped presents themselves – the paper, the ribbon, the size. Mother loved sitting near the tree and extracting wrapped presents and exclaiming over their beauty: "Isn't this exquisite?" she'd ask us. We totally didn't get it and rolled our eyes with a lack of understanding of the care and thoughtfulness that went into wrapping gifts. I miss the way she used to show such appreciation and enthusiasm for a beautifully wrapped gift. 


On Christmas morning, we immediately ran to our stockings and unloaded them [my aunt Lois used to put these huge nuts in them, probably a king nut, confusing my little “what was Santa thinking?” mind] and then we waited patiently [except not really] to open presents. For what seemed like hours, mother and daddy and the aunts sat leisurely around the breakfast table sipping their oyster stew. Ewwww. This tradition I could do without, and I was totally grossed out by the concoction anyway. I did, however, have a fancy for those salty oyster crackers that accompanied this dish, and for some reason, mother only allowed me a limited amount.  

When we finally did gather in the living room for the opening of presents, we oohed and ahhed over the number of presents [amazing amount as my aunts wrapped every little thing to make it seem like more; for example, if they were giving us two pair of socks, each was wrapped lovingly and separately]. We gleefully enjoyed the opening of the presents as much as the present itself, well we might have enjoyed the present more. :-)
That's I with my back to the camera -- I look a little grabby.
Note: My Aunt Eleanor always received the most gifts, some of them store gift wrapped; as a beautician, she had loyal clients who purchased slips, nightgowns, scarves, and gloves from Miller and Rhoades or gave her boxes of Russell Stover candy, which she graciously shared with us.

As the presents were handed out, we each waited [again, not patiently] to see what each had received, and the paper from the package and the bows and ribbons surrounded us. Afterwards, my aunts folded and saved the salvaged paper as well as gift boxes for the next year. A singular piece of wrapping paper could appear consecutively for years, and they got just as much mileage, if not more, out of those stick on bows, Frugal they were and what a great example to us.{We still save boxes, bows, and gift bags.}

Before all of this, our trip, our performance, the decorations, and the gift giving, my aunts wrote letters to us in Atlanta and asked us to make gift suggestions. Some of the gifts were a no-brainer – clothes!!! -  but they did like to get us a couple of things that were “store bought.”

Now here’s the rub --- as much as we desired the gifts, loved what they bought, and appreciated what they did for us, mother had to force us to make our lists.



This ritual of sending “the aunts” our “wish list” had to only been done under duress. Why? What ws that deal?

Mother nagged and nagged us to get our lists done, and from time to time, a letter dated from the first of December would arrive from Lynchburg, and my sweet Aunt Eleanor would write, “We really need the children’s lists as we have lots to do to get ready.”

What was wrong with us?

We were children and had no concept of the trouble and expense and time that the adults put into making our Christmas memories.

They did make them – wonderful ones. I hope they knew. I pray they knew. They were the best.

We miss all of them so.


These two lists of mine, saved by Aunt Eleanor and resplendent in their preposterous-ness, we found among the memorabilia that my sister and I continue to sift through.

1965 Wish List

Sweaters – white
Clothes – hip huggers, Poor Boys – different colors – such as blue black red white pink, pants such as with big belts, dresses, skirts, blouses, shoes – lafers {I assume I mean loafers} brown size 7AA, kneesocks, white, etc. coat, any color you think would be good
I got a charm bracelet for my birthday – I need silver ones.
Records – Elvis Presley, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Herman’s Hermits,
Watch, television, radio
Jewelry box [I crossed out jewelry three times before I spelled it correctly]
Money such as 5 dollar bills, 10 dollar bills, 20 dollar bills
Gold necklace with my name spelled out
Anything else you want to give me.

1971 Wish List

Any kind of clothes
Pants, size 9
Body shirts, watch, crochet vest, underwear
Posters any type
Albums – The Carpenters, Carole King, The Who, Rod Stewart, Chicago, Cat Stevens
Bracelets, plan [I mean plain] gold or silver
Chokers, gold or silver
Silver chain belt
Money – any size
Anything will be acceptable [did I think I sounded mature? Bwha]

I didn't want much, did I?  Hey now, they were suggestions.

Merry Christmas.

Always the cutest, I pose with one of my many packages. 



  1. Love this. Your aunts were so precious and your memories are priceless. I love your Christmas lists. You could have left the years off, and I would have known when they were written as they are like a time capsule.

  2. Had to laugh about the bows. My mother wasobsessed with the bows from Underwoods, a local jewelry store. In fact I think I just put one on my sister's gift! LOL No telling how old it is!

  3. money - any size <-- ha.ha.

    oyster stew for breakfast? oh, gah!

    (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I might as well add in Happy Valentine's Day too. ;-)

    Oh, how I like these tellings. I'm hoping for a book of shorts stories ya know? That's on my list. To Darlene from miss Harriett. Any size.