Noel at Mema's
My grandparents, Mema & Papa, lived a simple life. They lived through the depression and it changed their mindset for the rest of their lives. They never splurged on anything, and tried their best to never waste a thing. Mema's handwritten recipe books even included suggestions of what to do with the empty cans, for example: "add 1 can of Cream of Mushroom soup, rinse can out and remove label. The can can be used later for watering house plants". They worked hard all of their lives and squandered every cent they ever earned, with the intention of leaving their family with some money. They drove the same car my entire life. In my lifetime, she bought 1 new dress, and he bought 1 new suit. They were hung in the closet and never worn until they were buried. They wanted to be buried in something nice.
They had us over for Christmas Eve every year. They had a 6' artificial tree that came in two parts-- the top of the tree fit into the bottom to form a complete tree. Some years they would only use the top half, resulting in a 3' tree. One year they only used the bottom half, which ended up looking more like a decorated shrub. The lights on the tree were the same from year to year; the ornaments never changed either. The mantle was decorated with plastic holly, along with some wooden blocks that spelled out "Noel". Every year, my drunken Uncle Larry would rearrange the blocks- by the end of the night the blocks always spelled "Leon". After several years of this, my grandparents began to think that that's what they were meant to spell, so that's how they'd arrange them from then on. It was always fun explaining to dates why my grandparent's mantle said "Leon" on it.
At suppertime, the adults sat in the dining room, and us kids sat in the kitchen at the kid's table. They didn't have chairs at the breakfast table, just stools. We all would fight to be able to sit on the stool that Papa had nicknamed "Old Rickety", because it was in bad shape and anyone that sat on that stool was risking their life. I still have that stool, and it's still in bad shape. I wouldn't sit on it today; but I wouldn't repair it either.
When it came time for presents, Papa would put on the Santa Clause hat that Mema had made for him years ago. It was basically two pieces of red felt triangles, sewn together with cotton balls glued on to form a hem. I remember the last Christmas Eve that we all spent together. Papa had his hat on and was passing out the gifts. By this point in their lives, most of the cotton balls had fallen off, but none of us seemed to notice or care. We all took turns opening our presents, and Mema was the last to open her gifts. Papa had splurged that year and got her a fur coat. It was white; probably rabbit. To her, though, it was the finest mink. She put it on and paraded around the living room like a super-model, with the biggest smile on her face. She beamed as if she had just won on Oscar-- years of hard work and simple living had finely paid off and she had a trophy to show for it!
Other than the fur coat, our Christmases were pretty humble, but very memorable. When I remember Mema and Papa, my first thoughts are of Christmas Eves: the fur coat, the ratty Santa hat, and Leon on the mantle.