Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

Happy July, y’all. I can’t believe we’re here. We always seem to wait forever for summer in New England (certainly this spring dragged, for several reasons), and then when it’s here, it feels rich and fleeting. The trees are lush, the roses and daylilies are showing off, and I’m cranking up the country music on my morning runs. Though, really, I’ve been doing that for months.

I was raised on country music, as you may know (or assume) if you know that I grew up in West Texas. My hometown had a half-dozen country radio stations, and my parents had a stack of George Strait cassettes that we nearly wore out on our long summer road trips. (I shocked a colleague at Harvard, years later, by telling him – and I am still confident in this assertion – that I could probably sing, on demand, at least 50 of George’s 60 number one hits.)

George was and is the king of country as far as my family is concerned, and I love a lot of his male compatriots: Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Randy Travis, the guys who sang in Alabama and Diamond Rio. I have a soft spot for Brad Paisley (especially “She’s Everything”) and I still adore Garth Brooks. But this year, I’ve been spending my miles mostly listening to the women of country music.

I loved them all as a child and teenager: Reba, Martina, Trisha, Shania, the women of the Dixie Chicks (now the Chicks) and SheDAISY. I marveled at LeAnn Rimes (what a prodigy!) and based my high school graduation speech around Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.” I can still sing you most of Faith Hill’s hits from that era, and Deana Carter’s dreamy debut album takes me right back to middle school.

I’ve never stopped loving country music, but I did stop listening to it for a while. I grew older, my tastes expanded to include folk music and Broadway show tunes and so much Christian pop music (bless it), as well as jazz and big band and the classical stuff we sang in choir. I left Texas, stopped driving to work (and thus listening to the radio as often), and married a fellow Texan who was a real snob about country music.

With all that, I’ve been on hiatus from these ladies for a decade or so. But I’ve been tiptoeing back: I heard the Highwomen at Newport Folk 2019 and fell completely in love. Last spring, I loved Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Songs from Home” on Instagram during quarantine, and a few weeks in, I went down a Jo Dee Messina rabbit hole. This winter, in the depths of job-hunt woes and loneliness, I rediscovered Martina McBride. And since then, I have been pounding down the harbor walk singing along to classics like “Heads Carolina, Tails California” and “Take Me As I Am” and “She’s in Love with the Boy” and “Independence Day.”

These songs are a particular brand of badass feminism: it wears mascara and uses (a lot) of hairspray, and it doesn’t let a man (or anyone else) tell it what to do. It celebrates grit (“I’m a Survivor”) and individuality (“Wild One”), and it champions both true romance (“Perfect Love,” “We Danced Anyway,” “Wild Angels”) and the need to leave sometimes (“Ready to Run,” “Consider Me Gone”). There are power ballads and tender love songs; there are girl-power anthems and some good old-fashioned honky-tonk. These songs reconnect me to the teenager I was, but they are helping me shape and discover the woman I am now.


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anne books pei
I’ve been an Anne fan for many years.

Like thousands of other girls, I met that spirited, imaginative redhead when I was a child, when my mom gave me the first three Anne books. I read them over and over, delighting in the stories of Anne’s arrival at Green Gables, her mishaps and adventures as she adjusts to life in Avonlea, and her later experiences at Queen’s and then Redmond College. Later, I moved on to Anne’s time at Windy Poplars, her newlywed life in the House of Dreams, and adventures with her children at Ingleside.

I also love L.M. Montgomery’s other heroines: Emily Byrd Starr, Sara Stanley (better known as the Story Girl), Jane Stuart (of Lantern Hill). But Anne is and always will be my favorite.

All this to say: I have wanted to visit Prince Edward Island for years.

pei red fields summer

We made the drive in one long day, through Maine and New Brunswick. We reached the Island well after dark, flipping through our printed-from-Google directions, winding our way down well-paved but barely lit back roads. When we finally reached our wee guesthouse on the North Shore, we collapsed into bed, thankful we’d made it.

The next morning, we woke up and headed for Anne’s place.

pei view l.m. montgomery homestead

Our guidebook suggested starting our journey at the L.M. Montgomery Homestead, where a tiny bookstore-cum-exhibit-area stands behind a white picket fence. (The photo above is the view from the bookstore.)

l.m. montgomery homestead cavendish pei

The site is run by descendants of Montgomery’s family, the Macneills, and one of them, David, gave us a brief history lesson before sending us out into the garden.

green gables path pei

A narrow path (red clay, just like the roads Anne loved) winds through the trees, past the stone cellar of the Macneill farmhouse, the old well, a 100-year-old apple tree, and several plaques bearing extracts from Lucy Maud’s journals, about her old home.

The path forks, with one branch leading to the wee Green Gables post office, below. (Lucy Maud’s grandmother was the postmistress, and she used to help sort the mail – which came in handy when she started submitting manuscripts!)

green gables post office cavendish pei

The other trail continues down the hill and across a few fields (and a highway) into what is known as the Haunted Wood.

haunted wood path pei

I enjoyed every step of that walk down twisting paths lined with trees, including the slim white birches Anne loved so well.

birch trees haunted wood green gables pei

There’s an old log bridge over what I am certain is the real Dryad’s Bubble (the spring), and at the end of the path, you look up the hill – and Green Gables is right there.

green gables cavendish pei

We climbed up almost in silence, and I felt positively reverent as I entered the house. There’s no guided tour, though there are guides present to answer questions, and you’re free to wander through both floors.

green gables parlor cavendish pei

I spotted so many details that felt familiar: the black horsehair sofa in the parlor, Matthew’s little room off the kitchen (with his suspenders hanging over a chair), the big, cheery kitchen (with geraniums on the windowsills!).

green gables sewing room cavendish pei

Upstairs is Marilla’s room, a larger sewing room (above), a back room off the hall for a hired hand, and – best of all – Anne’s bedroom, “sacred to the dreams of girlhood.”

anne's bedroom green gables pei

This room, especially, was rendered in loving detail. Anne’s carpetbag, her boots under a chair, the yellow chair by the window, the low white bed – even the hard red velvet pincushion – are all here. And hanging on the closet door is the famous brown gloria dress with puffed sleeves.

katie haunted wood cavendish pei

It was so easy to imagine Anne sitting at that window, elbows propped on the sill and eyes full of dreams, or gathering flowers in the garden, or running down the hill to meet Diana on the log bridge. She seemed so near the whole time we were on the Island, as we drove past furrowed red fields, dark green spruce woods, or rounded a corner to glimpse the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

We loved everything about the Island. But one of the best parts was this green-and-white farmhouse among the trees. It felt at once brand-new and familiar – because, even though I’d never seen it, I’ve been going there for years.

More PEI photos and stories to come.

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george strait

Recently, a colleague pointed me to the wonderful in-depth Texas Monthly article on George Strait’s long career and his farewell tour. (The image above is from the article.) I didn’t make it to George’s tour stop in southern MA, but I devoured every word of the feature, which included a complete list of his (60!) No. 1 hits over the years.

I must have shocked my colleague – a native New Englander, more of a rock-and-roll guy than a country fan – when I said, “I could probably sing you forty of those sixty number-one hits, from memory.” I didn’t add that I could also sing (at least) twenty of George’s songs that never made it to the top of the charts. His music is a constant thread, woven through the background of my childhood memories.

I don’t know how my parents discovered George’s music, but I do know they have loved him since the early eighties, nearly all my life. Our stack of George Strait cassettes grew gradually over the years: Ten Strait Hits, Greatest Hits Volume 2, the Pure Country soundtrack, Ocean Front Property, Lead On, Easy Come Easy Go. Later we added (on CD) Blue Clear Sky, Carrying Your Love with Me, One Step at a Time, The Road Less Traveled. And every year, we put on Merry Christmas Strait to You (along with Elvis’ Blue Christmas and Kenny G’s Miracles) as we decorated the Christmas tree and hung the stockings. (Now I play it each year as my husband and I hang ornaments on our own tree.)

Every summer of my childhood, we packed the car with suitcases and stuffed animals, and pulled out of the driveway before dawn. It is nearly 700 miles from my West Texas hometown to my grandparents’ farm in southwest Missouri, and we always made the trip in one day, the long gray miles of highway sliding by to the sound of George’s voice. Especially in those early years, when reading made us carsick, my sister Betsy and I would sit and listen, leaning our heads against the car windows, listening as George spun tales of love and loss and family, mile after mile after mile.

After spending a few days with Dad’s family, we’d load up the car for another long day of driving, this time to my mom’s hometown, outside of Dayton, Ohio. We’d leave early to get a jump on the day, sometimes stopping for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel after we’d been on the road a few hours. We always brought along travel games – Yahtzee, Uno, Outburst – but so many of those miles unfolded to the sound of George’s voice. We occasionally slid in other albums for variety – a cassette of Elvis classics like “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Jailhouse Rock,” an album of Eagles hits like “Take it Easy” and “Desperado” – but my memories of those trips are laced with “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind” and “Ace in the Hole” and “Baby Blue.”

My sister and I memorized all those songs before we knew what they meant, before we knew that some relationships are “easy come, easy go,” that “you can’t make a heart love somebody,” or what “The Fireman” was really doing when he “put out old flames.” My dad always took Mom’s hand in his during “I Cross My Heart,” and he’d reach back to the backseat and squeeze my hand or Betsy’s during “Love Without End, Amen,” which is about a father’s love (and which still makes me cry).

We laughed at the “grits and red-eye gravy” line in “My Heart Won’t Wander Very Far From You,” tapped our toes at “Adalida” and “Lovebug,” and I loved hearing the names of towns I knew during “Amarillo By Morning” and “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” Even though I was years away from falling in love, I used to get a lump in my throat at “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye” and “Nobody in His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her.” I couldn’t explain the melancholy, though I knew even then that many of the best love songs are sad ones. But we listened to those songs, over and over, till they became as much a part of me as the hymns I sang at church every Sunday.

Recently, browsing Waterloo Records in downtown Austin, I found two of those vintage George Strait albums – the Pure Country soundtrack and Greatest Hits Volume Two – for next to nothing, and I snapped them up. “The Chair” still makes me smile, “Heartland” still sets my toes tapping, and especially as George has conducted his aptly named farewell tour, my eyes well up at “The Cowboy Rides Away.”

His music is safety, stability, a steady voice matched by a twinkle in his green eyes. It’s those road trips when I was a child, Dad driving and Mom in the passenger seat, painting her nails or flipping through a magazine. It’s those hours spent unraveling strands of white Christmas lights in the living room, singing about how “there’s a new kid in town” or “for Christ’s sake, it’s Christmas.” It’s Wrangler jeans, a white cowboy hat and a crisp, starched button-down shirt. It’s a man and his guitar, singing about love and heartbreak and faith, with a little gambling or rodeo thrown in once in a while.

Thanks for the memories, George. You’ll always be the King.

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We put up our big, beautiful Christmas tree this past weekend, listening to Elvis, George Strait and Charlie Brown while we did so (it’s tradition).

christmas tree

My husband picked up takeout from our favorite Indian restaurant, while I unraveled and strung the lights.

lights christmas tree decorating

I am my mother’s daughter – I love small white lights, lots of them – and also my father’s daughter, because I love the mismatched, heirloom, handmade, funky ornaments on my tree.

Most of our ornaments have stories, and every year, I snap a few photos to share with you. Here are this year’s gems:

fenway ornament apple

I bought this ornament for J the first year we lived in Boston, from a handmade craft market downtown. It makes me smile, especially in light of this year’s World Series win. (Hanging above it is an apple that I think came from my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Drake.)

angel christmas tree ornament

This angel also came from a teacher – Mrs. Hicks, who directed a pull-out program called Project Challenge at the school I went to in first grade. My name and the year are on the back.

suitcase travel christmas ornament

My mom gave me this suitcase last year. Three of the four cities (Rome, Paris and New York) are places I’ve visited and love.

moose christmas ornament

During my year in Oxford as a graduate student, I had an American friend whose nickname was Moose. I found these silver moose ornaments at Northlight, a Scandinavian housewares shop on the High Street, and bought one for him and one for myself. (They’re difficult to photograph, because they reflect everything.)

telephone booth christmas ornament

This ornament came from a Christmas shop in my West Texas hometown, but it represents my love for the UK (and its red phone boxes).

Do your ornaments have stories? I’d love to hear them.

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I am not a golfer, unless you count the occasional round of miniature golf. I don’t have a patented swing, a pair of special shoes, a collection of polo shirts emblazoned with the names of famous golf courses. I don’t own a set of clubs.

But I spent hours this weekend, as I do every year, watching the Masters. (And cheering wildly at Adam Scott’s long birdie putt on the 18th hole, then holding my breath through the two-hole sudden-death playoff. What a finish!)

masters logo flowers

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

I know that for most non-golfers, watching golf is a dull prospect. Even my sports-loving husband is no golf enthusiast, though he’ll happily watch hours of baseball on TV (which I find unbearably slow, though I like going to games). When we started dating, I bemoaned his indifference to the one sport my dad loves above all others. You can’t spend even a weekend at my parents’ house without a discussion about golf.

When I was growing up, I thought everyone’s dads kept a couple of putters in the corner of the living room, handy for a bit of practice while dinner was cooking. My dad, though he spent lots of weekend days playing with my sister and me, usually kissed us good-bye and headed to the course on Saturday morning or on Sunday after church, slathering on sunscreen or pulling on a windbreaker, depending on the season. He wore the same tattered green and white stocking cap for many winters, till I knit him a striped one in the colors of my high school. Polo shirts make up a significant part of his wardrobe, and you can always find a copy of Golf World on the kitchen counter.

When Dad wasn’t at the course on the weekends, he’d turn on the TV to catch the tournament du jour: the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, the British Open, lots of smaller competitions. I learned the names of the greats early on, chief among them Jack Nicklaus (“the Golden Bear”) and Arnold Palmer (“the King”). I spent hours watching them swing their clubs against long stretches of velvety green, shading their eyes to follow those tiny white balls through the deep blue sky. Nick Faldo, Ben Crenshaw, Gary Player, Greg Norman: these men were the giants of my childhood. I still cheer for Fred Couples and Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, because they are the players I know and love.

I never took to playing the game the way my sister did: Dad taught us both how, but only Betsy played competitively in high school. But Dad (who played in high school and college, and still boasts an impressive zero handicap) did instill in me his deep respect for the game. Having lived with a serious golfer for many years, I understand the skill and patience required for these men to play the way they do. I love that golf is a sport people can play for their entire lives. And I deeply admire many of the pros I grew up watching, who are good men as well as good golfers.

dad masters surprise

When my dad turned 50, my mom surprised him with tickets to the practice round at Augusta (above). They traveled to Georgia to walk the course, see the famous azaleas in bloom, watch the competitors prepare for the upcoming rounds of play. A framed yellow Masters flag now sits in my parents’ living room, next to the trophies Dad has won at various local tournaments.

Every year, around the beginning of April, Dad calls and says: Do you know what starts in a week or so? And I smile and lower my voice, and whisper reverently: The Masters.

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“It feels strange to approach Easter without a pageant,” my mom said on the phone this week. “Even though we haven’t had one for a while.”

They haven’t. The last one was in 2006. But I knew what she meant.

For nearly a decade, the weeks before Easter meant stacks of sheet music and long racks of costumes, palm fronds and orchestra music. They meant weekly rehearsals, then twice-weekly ones, and finally two weeks of piling into the car and heading to the church building nearly every night, for dress rehearsals and then five performances in four days.

It meant stashing our street clothes and backpacks in Sunday School rooms, running up and down the halls between scenes, while my mother (who was there too) fretted about lack of sleep and takeout meals and homework left unfinished. (It never was.) It meant Dad growing a beard so he wouldn’t have to glue on a false one, then pulling out the clippers to shave it off as soon as we came home from the last performance on Sunday night.

This year on Palm Sunday, in our tiny church here in Boston, we stood in the pews and waved our palm fronds as the children marched in a ragged line waving theirs, all of us singing “Hosanna.” Later in the service, we did a quick tour through Holy Week: the Last Supper that became the first communion for the disciples, Jesus’ anguish in the garden as he faced what he knew was coming. We talked about Pilate’s reluctance to sentence Jesus to death, how the crowd clamored for Jesus’ blood and how Pilate capitulated. We heard about the darkness that covered the earth for three hours in the afternoon, the way the soldiers mocked Jesus, the words of the two thieves crucified with him, the slow, quiet carrying away of the body to lay in a new tomb.

And the whole time, I saw, not the colorful drawings of my childhood Bible or the gritty, blood-soaked images of Mel Gibson’s film, but my own home church, the one I still go back to when I visit my family.

breaking bread

I saw the sanctuary transformed, the pulpit moved offstage and replaced by an elaborate, multilevel set with a black-curtained orchestra pit off to the side. I saw dozens of men and women I knew, hands and feet and faces darkened with stage makeup, the older people walking more slowly without their glasses, everyone but the smallest children wearing head coverings, making them surprisingly difficult to identify.

I saw the story of Jesus made alive by my people, by Robert and Lisa and Shane and Greg, by Diana and Max and Keith, by Ravona and Tracye and Jana and my dad. I saw George, dapper in his black tuxedo, conducting the music and directing the action. And I saw myself – first as a servant of the wise men, later as a musician in the house of mourning when a young girl died, then as the bride in the wedding at Cana. And always as a villager, part of the choir-crowd, observing and listening and singing the songs that took us from Bethlehem to Galilee to Jerusalem to Golgotha.

I saw myself cheering when Jesus raised the girl from the dead, shouting “Crucify him!” with the rest of the crowd, watching wide-eyed as he took his last breath on the cross, hearing the centurion say, “Surely this man was the Son of God.” I saw myself bursting into song with the others when Jesus emerged from the tomb in a glittering white robe. And I saw myself crowded onstage next to my parents and sister, all of us raising our hands for the last chorus of the triumphant final song, “Hallelujah to the Lamb.”

hallelujah to the lamb

They said we did the play as a witness, to tell the story of Jesus to those in our community who had never heard it. But more than anything, we were making the story come alive for ourselves.

I have heard the story of Jesus all my life, through sermons and readings, songs and Sunday School stories. It lives in my heritage, in my very bones. But acting it out, stepping into it as a participant, held a power no other telling ever has.

For a few nights, I left behind my routine of homework and flute practice and school social politics, and entered a different world: a hot, dusty place simmering with political tension, a world of farmers and laborers who were waiting for a Messiah. They and their leaders were divided and confused, but captivated, by this gentle man from Galilee with fire in his eyes.

Each year we make the journey again, from the wilderness to the city, from the upper room to the garden, down the Via Dolorosa to the cross. We realize again the depth and power of the love we cannot explain. Our hearts leap within us when Sunday comes, and we can say: He is risen.

And every year I remember how it felt: the smell of the makeup, the feel of the wooden stage under my bare feet, the sight of Jesus walking among us, healing and teaching. The sound of Pilate thundering, “Whom shall I give you?” and the crowd’s answering roar. I hum the songs, their melodies now inextricably intertwined with that story. And I remember the joy when he stepped out of the tomb and the lights flared into brilliance, and we knew this man was just an actor on a stage, but we also knew in a deep-down-knowing way: He is risen indeed.

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I’m over at Jessica’s site, Quirky Bookworm, today, talking about my passion for rereading as part of her Love of Reading Week. (Jessica is a fellow Shelf Awareness reviewer, and I’m so thrilled to be a part of this fun series.) Head on over and check it out!

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You need to know two facts to understand what I’m going to say next.

One: my sweet paternal grandmother died on Jan. 30, after a brief hospital stay with pneumonia and a subsequent stroke. Two: one of my regular freelance gigs is writing the alumni news pages (birth and wedding announcements, news of moves and job changes and awards, and yes, obituaries) for the alumni magazine of my alma mater and former employer.

I am, unquestionably, grieving Mimi’s death. I always wished we got to see her (and that whole side of the family) more often. My dad is the only one of her three sons who moved away, and so my branch of the family has always been the far-away cousins, the not-quite-strangers from Texas who came for a week every summer and for Thanksgiving or Christmas every few years. I am deeply glad we made the trek up there for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, that my husband got to see what a Noah family holiday was like, all of us crowded into the warm living room or leaning against the counters in the chilly kitchen, sipping iced tea and snacking on leftovers from whatever big meal we’d just finished. I wish I had gotten to go to her memorial service, though everyone understood that I couldn’t make it, that it was too far away and too expensive and too much of a logistical nightmare.

There was a nice obituary in the Neosho Daily News, which resembles the obits I write for ACU Today: born on this date, in this place; grew up; graduated high school; went to college (or not); got married (or not); had children (or not); is survived by those children or grandchildren or a spouse or other relatives. In newspapers and alumni magazines, that’s usually all we have time and space for. And I’m grateful to whoever wrote Mimi’s obituary. They got all the facts right and mentioned a few details, like her 27 years working for the school district and her love of teacups and her attendance at many basketball games through the years.

But if I were writing Mimi’s obituary, I would tell you this:

She had blue eyes as clear as the summer sky, and yet rainy days were her favorite weather. (The morning of her funeral dawned cloudy and gray; it started to rain that afternoon as they scattered her ashes at the farm, and it poured, my mom said, all night long.) She loved antiques and iced tea and costume jewelry, and she had narrow, pretty feet, and a whole closet full of shoes.

She got nervous and fluttery when guests came over, and yet a houseful of people was her favorite thing – kids and grandkids swirling around each other in the kitchen and living room, playing pool or Ping-Pong in the basement (that was stocked with enough canned goods to feed the whole town in the event of a nuclear blast), shooting hoops on the ragged basketball court in the side yard. She jumped from one topic to another in conversation, sometimes leaving half a dozen sentences unfinished in a row. It could be exhausting to try to follow her, but it also made me laugh.

She worked at the local high school when my dad and his brothers went there, and they walked through the office door calling “Hey, Mom!” so often that her nickname became “the Hey Mom.” She loved long road trips with my grandfather, taking their time poking through little towns, always coming home with a stack of vintage tins or linens or delicate teacups, or anything related to the Sunshine Biscuit company, where her father used to work.

She was Midwestern thrifty and Lutheran faithful, and before every meal she and Papaw would join hands, bow heads and repeat the simple prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.” They distributed sacks of candy and fruit to needy kids every Christmas, and then came back to the farm to watch their own kids and grandkids open presents and dig into their stockings, which always included a little jar of black olives and a box of Cracker Jack.

She believed in thank-you notes and birthday checks, in reusing what you could and saving what you couldn’t. She hung her walls with faded family photographs and plate racks, and paintings done by her sister. She loved her three sons and six grandkids and three great-grandkids with a fierce but quiet love, and every day I ever spent at her house began with the teasing question, “Did you sleep with your eyes closed?” and ended with “Good night, sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite you!”

She was scatterbrained and funny, exasperating and lovable. She had a long, full life (a cliche, but it’s true) and I am thankful she didn’t suffer long. (She walked with my grandfather through his three-year illness and oh, we are thankful she didn’t have to go through that again.) She is in a better place, I know (again a cliche, but it’s a deep-down, beyond-words kind of knowing). I will see her again someday (this I know, too, with the same kind of knowing that falters in cliches because we don’t have the words to say what we really mean). But she was my Mimi, and I will – I already do – miss her.

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Stockings at Mimi's, Christmas 2004

I remember clutching a small cream-colored taper in a plastic holder, the smell of sulfur and melting wax as the ushers paused at each row to light others’ candles, so we could then turn to each other and light our own. I remember standing up and holding our candles aloft, and sneaking a glance behind me at the big sanctuary filled with flickering light as we all sang “Silent Night.”

I remember my dad making up his own lyrics to Elvis’ “Blue Christmas.” Years later, we still sing “Let the red raindrops fall on a green Christmas tree” and “I’m here without you, but you’re not here with me.” (Makes sense!)

I remember reindeer made from toilet-paper tubes with crooked noses and twigs for antlers, and a tall skinny Santa made out of a wrapping-paper tube.

I remember Mom’s huge collection of Santas on the sideboard in the kitchen, and drinking eggnog with Dad by the fire on Christmas Eve.

I remember a long line of stockings down the mantelpiece at Mimi’s (see above), and Santa coming while we were all at church on Christmas Eve. (I never did figure out how my grandparents managed that.) I remember apples and oranges and walnuts, and giving my cousins the jars of black olives my sister and I didn’t want. I remember everyone opening presents at once, ribbon and wrapping paper flying – such a joyful, chaotic difference from the quieter way we did it at home.

I remember ham some years, turkey other years, but always cloth napkins and white china and hot rolls, and Mom’s sweet potato casserole and whole cranberries suspended in red Jell-O.

I remember three different sets of stockings: four red felt ones with rickrack and green felt initials, five handmade by Mom of patterned cotton with velvet tops, our names on them in gold script (and one for the dog), and now six “fancy” ones she bought after adding two sons-in-law to the family.

I remember wearing Christmas pins from Mom’s collection, which included a wreath, a candy cane, two teddy bears and a raccoon holding a sprig of holly. (He’s still my favorite; I wore him this week.)

I remember caroling parties with my friends in high school, tramping around our neighborhood to knock on doors and sing, then ringing our own doorbell to serenade whichever parent answered with their favorite carol. (Mom loves “O Come All Ye Faithful”; Dad is partial to “Silent Night.”)

I remember Mom reading the Christmas story out of her worn, black-leather-covered Bible, her quiet voice rising and falling over the words of Luke 2 we know so well.

I remember Linus and Lucy and Charlie Brown, Max the dog and the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, Grover playing Santa and Cookie Monster writing to Santa, but eating the pencil and the typewriter and the phone and even munching on the Christmas tree. (“Scotch pine delicious…but Douglas fir give me heartburn…”)

I remember hanging the big colored lights, stored all year in a blue golf-shoe box, on the back porch, and Dad saying, “Those lights were on our first Christmas tree when your mom and I got married.”

I remember the “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree in our Dallas apartment, and the ornaments made of glitter, glue and wax paper we made to hang on it. (Dad and I still talk Mom into putting a few on the tree every year.)

I remember Christmas books stacked on the coffee table, little Christmas trees in my room and my sister’s, big white lights lining our front walkway, small twinkling lights in the bushes, a wreath on the door.

I remember a Secret Santa exchange in junior high, which brought me a wee little tree I still put up every year.

I remember decorating a real pine tree with my roommates in college, stringing lights and making gingerbread ornaments and hanging stockings on the mantel in our red living room. I remember Cool Whip containers filled with Bethany’s mom’s peppermint fudge, and mugs of tea, cider and cocoa.

I remember a tiny tree with blue-and-white decorations in Oxford, and cramming 15 college students into our living room, with mince pies and mulled cider and jam tarts and lots of laughter.

I remember two carol services at St Aldates, candles and music and so much joy, and Simon’s deep voice saying quietly, “To you Christ is born.”

I remember walking across frozen roads with my new husband to the Christmas Eve service at the nearby Episcopal church, as we celebrated our first Christmas together (after three years of dating, a yearlong engagement and six months of marriage).

I don’t remember many particular gifts, but I remember time spent with the people I love most, in the warm glow of the Christmas tree, laughing and being silly and loving each other and celebrating the baby who came to save us all.

What do you remember about Christmas?

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1. George Strait singin’ about love and dancing and families, the Heartland and the heartache. Preferably playing on cassette in a car, as I sit in the backseat.

2. Uno, which we played for hours every summer with my Neno (who would sometimes shout out her own name instead of “Uno,” causing much hilarity).

3. No Children, No Pets, which I read every summer at Mimi’s house, giggling out loud at the funny parts, till she gave it to me for my very own when I was about 18.

4. Keds. Esprit clothing. Saddle shoes. Jelly sandals. The plastic heart necklace that still lives in my jewelry box.

5. Christian contemporary music, including but not limited to Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, the Newsboys, Michael W. Smith, Phillips, Craig and Dean – any and all artists from the WOW collection of CDs.

6. The Disney version of Robin Hood, still my favorite version.

7. My mom’s fudge recipe.

8. Big hairbows made of colorful grosgrain ribbon.

9. Family Matters, Boy Meets World, Full House, Home Improvement, and Saved By the Bell. Especially the last one.

10. The boxes of old journals I’ve carted around to every house I’ve lived in.

11. Spelling bees.

12. Stuffed rabbits. (I had SO MANY. Still have a few.)

13. Sunscreen and threadbare beach towels.

14. Nancy Drew, Betsy-Tacy, the Little House books, the Mandie books, the Baby-Sitters Club, anything by Janette Oke or Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery. (Some of which, as you may know, I still reread regularly.)

What takes you back to childhood?

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