Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Reflections - 2010

As the holiday season begins to wind down, I find myself reflecting on the choices I made for myself (and my family) this year.  Although it's just my daughters, my mother, and me, we have established a few holiday traditions over the years, most of which were pushed aside this year in lieu of a "different" kind of Christmas.

One of my oldest holiday traditions is to create a "card tree" on my laundryroom door with the Christmas cards I receive in the mail.  I use to get so many cards that I couldn't get them all on the door, but now, with the Internet and all, it's been a few years since that has happened.  (Sometimes there's tinsil around the door, or bows between the cards, but none of that, this year!)

Without going into a lot of detail, I'll just share that our recent Christmases have been somewhat less than the joyful occasions they should have been.  Sure, we exchanged gifts, attended church on Christmas morning, had a big dinner, and went through all of the usual motions of the holiday.  But, our three-generation, all-female, basically isolated Christmases, which are always hosted in my home so that my mother can participate, have begun to take their toll on me - emotionally, and physically.  So, this year, I devised a plan to change the pace (and the scenery), and gifted my daughters and myself with a Christmas trip to New Orleans.  I'd been working on the idea of a holiday trip for several months, and had explored several options, but the overwhelming guilt of knowing that taking the trip would mean leaving my mother alone on the holiday, kept me from actually booking anything until December 12th.  By that time, my original plans to book a Caribbean getaway for the three of us had become out of reach, financially, so after a few days of scrounging around the Internet, I settled on New Orleans, a city that was then boasting temperatures in the 70's, which sounded great to us, since we were in the frigid 20's and 30's.

My daughters arrived home late on the 23rd - actually just before midnight.  The next day, we proceeded with our plan to have Christmas with my mother, and to make it as much like the actual day, as possible.  We picked her up and brought her over for gift-giving, dinner, and caroling.  We showered my mother with gifts, as we always do, and she loved them all. My oldest brother, Ed, who just lost his wife last month, surprised us all by showing up, something that has never happened before.  So, as an added blessing, my mother actually got to spend a holiday with two of her children, for the first time in over a decade.  We all had a good visit, but as the evening grew late, the girls and I realized we needed to start preparing for our departure the next morning, so we got ready to take my mother back to her assisted living home.  On the way, we took our traditional "light ride" (as we call it) through Newport News Park.  Normally, we do this on Christmas night, and it doesn't take long at all.  Little did we know, this is apparently the thing to do on Christmas Eve.  The line and the ride through the park ended up taking almost an hour and 1/2!  When we finally got back home, my daughters tried to get me to open gifts that they had for me, but I'd requested that we not exchange gifts, so that we could spend more freely in New Orleans, so I refused, and that was that.

On Christmas morning, I was up early getting my bag packed when my cell phone rang.  It was a recorded message from Delta Airlines, letting me know that our flight to New Orleans had been CANCELLED.  I won't take up much space in this post writing about the ensuing drama from this, but I'll just say that you've never met DETERMINATION until you've met me.  We made it to New Orleans on Christmas, albeit many hours later than originally planned.  The Big Easy was freezing cold, with temperatures in the 40's and cold, cold winds blowing, but still, we had a fun trip, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of New Orleans!  
My daughters and me on the streetcar in New Orleans.

We returned home late last night.  My oldest flew out first thing this morning, to return to her home in NY, and my youngest left this afternoon to drive back to DC.  (They both have to work tomorrow.)
So, that was it.  The Christmas that really wasn't.  This year brought none of our usual traditions (except the light ride) - no opening one gift on Christmas Eve (when I usually still tend to give my daughters new pajamas...lol - no Christmas morning casserole - no putting up or taking down the tree (I didn't even decorate the house, since the girls wouldn't even be here to enjoy it).  I could go on with what we didn't do, but I won't.  What we did do was spend 4 days together, sharing the experience of traveling together for the very first time since my daughters have been "grown".  We made new memories - some good, some not so good - but we made them together, and I hope my daughters will share some of the stories from this trip with their children, some day..  Not much about the past five days has felt like Christmas, but knowing that one of these days, my daughters will (hopefully) be married, with families of their own, I'm glad we took the opportunity to do this now.  Still, though, 2010 kind of seems to me like the Christmas That Wasn't, so I think if I had it to do again, I would definitely not choose to travel on the actual holiday.  I'd stay home, have my "traditions", and then leave on the first thing moving on December 26th!

My girls on Bourbon Street in NOLA

By the way, about those gifts that my daughters were NOT supposed to have gotten me:  Before we went to the airport on Christmas morning, my youngest daughter convinced me that I had to at least open the gift from my oldest, because it was something that I'd want for the trip.  Under pressure, I opened it, and was surprised to find that I was the proud new owner of a NOOK!  Of course, after that, I had to open the gift from my youngest, which turned out to be a lovely new blanket-scarf, the heavy type that I'd been wanting for a long time.  So, even though I still wish they'd stuck to the agreement, I am truly happy and thankful to have two such thoughtful and loving daughters, who are now able to bless me with so many nice things. :)

Me with my new shawl and NOOK reader. :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mysterious Monday - A Yarborough Ancestor?

On a recent trip to Louisburg, NC, I was given the opportunity to begin looking through some of the belongings of my deceased cousin, Geral Yarborough Sargent, the same cousin whom I wrote about in a previous post. My cousin Geral was a "double Yarborough", in that her mother was a Yarborough, and so was her father (though they were not related).  The Yarborough name is very common in and around Franklin County, in both the Black and White communities. The Caucasian Yarboroughs were a wealthy family of slave-owners, thus leaving a plethora of freedmen who chose to adopt the YARBOROUGH/YARBORO surname after 1865.  Cousin Geral's father, Hillard, was from one set of these Y's, and Cousin Geral's mother, Mattie Yarborough, was the daughter of my formerly enslaved great-grandparents, Calvin and Priscilla.
On the day of my visit, I found several photographs of people who may possibly have been my ancestors.  Most, I'll likely never know the identity of, but hopefully, my cousin Geral's "adopted daughter", Madie, will be able to help me with a few.  But, for this Mysterious Monday, I'd like to post what appears to be the oldest of the photographs.  I have no idea who this woman is/was.  She has some features that lead me to believe that she was probably an ancestor of Geral's, but on which side?  For all I know, I could be looking into the eyes of my own great-grandmother, Pricilla, but I think it may be more likely that this could be Cousin Geral's paternal grandmother, Matilda (Hill) Yarboro.  Matilda was born on January 1, 1844, and died 98 years later, on her birthday, in 1942.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blog Caroling - Just in the "Nick" of Time!

This is my first time participating in blog caroling.  I have so many favorites, it's hard to choose which one to post, but I've decided to go with one of the tunes that really warms me up, since it's such a cold night here in my neck of the woods.  We are awaiting our first big snowfall of the season.  I'm hoping for a "snow-day" off work tomorrow, during which I'll surely cozy up in front of a warm fire.  For that reason, my tune for tonight is.... (drumroll): "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire", otherwise known as, "The Christmas Song".

Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Santa's on his way;
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother's child is going to spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you

For those who'd like to sing along, I offer this version, sung (of course) by none other than Nat King Cole.

Woo-hoo! Just as I was finishing up this post, the news came through!  SNOW DAY tomorrow!  Yay for me! :)


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Fruitcake, YUCK!

Okay, folks.  I have to admit I've been a bit of a passive reader during this year's Advent season of blogging.  It's not so much that I haven't wanted to post, but I've been doing most of my reading from my phone while on the run, so I just haven't really had the opportunity to post.  But, the FRUITCAKE topic is one that I just can't let pass me by.  Reading all of your posts has dredged up some very "sticky" memories for me, and I just have to share!

Fruitcake - YUCK!  Just thinking about it really grosses me out, so this post won't be long.  However, along with the stomach-churning reminders of my youthful encounters with this holiday atrocity, I have a fond recollection of one of the many "secrets" that I shared with my brother, Arthur, whom my regular readers might remember left me when he was 23, and I was 22, as a result of primary liver cancer.

Every year, right around Christmas, at least one white cellophane-wrapped box with pictures of fruit, and the horrifying label, "Fruitcake" would appear in our house and be placed on the buffet table in the dining room.  Occasionally, there would also be someone's foil-wrapped idea of a "present" to my mother, their principal, or my father, their mailman.  These lovely tokens of terror would also be placed on the buffet table, alongside any other (supposedly) edible gifts, and there they would sit, until one day -- it would happen.  My brother and I would be sitting at the kitchen table, innocently finishing up our dinner, and in would walk one of our parents (usually our mother) with two slices of the multi-colored, putrid-smelling, icky-sticky FRUITCAKE!  Arthur and I would moan and groan as they set them before us, telling us how "good" the stuff was for us, and how nice Mr. and/or Mrs. So-and-So was to give this to us.  As with all foods our parents put before us, we were told that we had to stay at the table until we ate it.  (Usually, this admonishment came along with the reminder of all the starving children in Africa, who'd had nothing to eat for days and days, and how GRATEFUL they would be just to have a tiny piece of this FRUITCAKE.  My brother and I would always give each other a knowing look which said, "If only we could send it to them, we would!" But, we knew better to let the words come out of our mouths, because in those days we would have been sent immediately to get a switch off the tree! But, I digress...) 
Anyway, my brother and I were pretty smart (and stubborn) kids.  Although I do have a vague memory of someone trying to physically force me to take a bite of something one time, I don't think it was fruitcake.  (I think that was those big, round hominy grits.)  Instead, our parents were just content to let us stay at the table for as long as it took for the fruitcake to disappear, and since it would have taken 100 years for the stuff to begin to disinegrate, Arthur and I had to come up with other ways to get rid of it, without letting it ever touch our lips.  So we did.
Plan 1:  The Dutch Shoes - Arthur and I ate at the kitchen table, usually alone. Adjacent to the kitchen was the dining room, and on the dining room floor sat a pair of large, wooden shoes that my parents had brought back from Holland.  We were pretty much forbidden to touch or play with these shoes, but for us, they served an important purpose; they were an excellent hiding place, and we used them on more than one occasion!  So, while one of us would be on the lookout for approaching parents, the other would wrap the fruitcake in a napkin and slip quickly and quietly into the dining room, to stuff the fruited-wad into one of the shoes.  We were always smart enough to leave a few large crumbs behind on the plate, so that it appeared that we actually ate the stuff, but we never, ever did.  Then, we would call to our parents that we were ready to get up.  One of them would come to make sure the fruitcake was gone, and we'd be allowed to leave the table. Later that evening, or sometimes the next day (if we remembered), one of us would get the lumpy package out of the toe of the shoe and take it with us to the bathroom,where it was finally flushed away to fruitcake heaven.

Plan 2: The Under-Table Stick - This wasn't nearly as elaborate a plan as The Dutch Shoes, but sometimes, a kid's just gotta do, what a kid's gotta do!  So, when the parents weren't too nearby for either of us to get up and into the dining room without being noticed, we'd just pretend to be eating the gummy stuff, but as we were gagging (Arthur) and crying (me), we'd simply be sticking the pieces of fruitcake to the underside of the table, a piece at a time, until it was "gone"! 

Addendum to Plan 2:  Years later, when we were in our teens, our parents got a new kitchen set.  I happened to be at home the day that the old table was removed, and guess what was revealed when it was turned upside down to be carried out of the house? :)

Needless to say, if you want me to consider you a true friend, don't ever send me a fruitcake!

I don't have a picture of the fruitcake (thankfully), but here we sit, Arthur and I, at that very kitchen table.  Aren't we just the picture of innocence? :)