I usually get very nostalgic and sometimes sad around Christmas. This started long before my husband died, but his death certainly adds to the sadness. I think it has to do with remembrances of Christmas past, when my dad's side of the family got together to celebrate.
Most of my dad's three brothers (a fourth died when I was a toddler), three sisters and their children would gather at Thanksgiving at my Aunt Vera's. She's dead now, and so are all but two aunts. I miss the missing ones most during the holidays. Like they say, when the generation ahead of you is gone, so is the umbrella between you and eternity.
I can still see those long tables set up in Aunt Vera’s basement, laden with the yummy foods my aunts would bring. That's how I learned that mac 'n cheese didn't originally come in a box, the way my mom made it. My Aunt Rubye made the most mouth-watering mac 'n cheese I’ve ever tasted.
After lunch, we’d draw names. Then we'd get together again around Christmas and exchange gifts. Grandpa Hobson used to buy something for everyone, but because there were so many of us, he couldn't spent much on each. They were token gifts, but I appreciated the thought. My mom, however, didn't. He often gave the women hosiery, but at 5'9-1/2" tall, her legs were too long for any of them to fit. She always resented that.
As the family grew, exchanging gifts became expensive. My cousin Ed had five children, and announced one Thanksgiving that he could no longer afford to buy the extra gifts. He suggested we let the kids draw and exchange, and that worked out fine. I can't remember when we stopped the name-drawing altogether.
After Aunt Vera died, my Aunt Rubye and I took turns hosting the gatherings. In fact, I had already hosted a few of the Christmas parties. Once I had a friend come in dressed as Santa Claus. We took pictures of the kids (and a few grownups) sitting on his lap. No one knew him, and because Ed had not arrived yet (like income tax refunds, he and Diane are perpetually late), everyone assumed it was he. You should have seen the looks on their faces when Ed and Diane walked in!
One Thanksgiving stands out because of a game. It was my cousin Pat's idea to play "Oldyweds," based on the then-popular TV game show, "The Newlyweds." She picked out three couples who had been married for various lengths of time. Pat sent the three husbands into one room, their wives into another, and everyone was instructed to contemplate three questions. One of them was: "When was the last time your spouse made you mad?" When my Aunt Violet recalled the last time Uncle Alvin had made her mad, she got mad all over again just thinking about it.
When I moved out here to the country, I tried to keep up the Christmas gathering tradition. It was hit or miss, because aunts and uncles were aging and cousins became scattered far and wide. Everyone had so much to do during the holidays, so many church and school obligations, that it was difficult to get many to come. So I stopped. It took a cousin's funeral to get us started again last year.
This year, only two families showed up, but I still had a house full. There were 15 of us, including three first cousins. It was worth the exhaustion I felt after three days of housecleaning and decorating.
We decided to try for a November date next year so more folks could come. We also agreed we should get together more often. We’re talking about a summer get-together, when the kids can play outside and visit my critters.
Since we're considering a summer gathering, though, I may try to persuade one of my cousins who has a swimming pool to play host. There's nothing like seeing a bunch of old geezers in swim suits to get the nostalgia juices flowing.