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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Home. It’s where we live. If we’re lucky, it’s where our family is and where our hearts truly are. It’s a place full of memories and, hopefully, full of love. I have and have had homes like that; places where I raised my sons and later saw them leave to begin their own lives and ultimately create their own homes.

But I have a secret to tell here. When I think of “home,” I most often think of the four-room apartment where I grew up in mid-town Memphis. There were five of us living in that apartment, but the rooms were huge and we never felt crowded. I lived there with my Mother, my brother, and my grandparents until I was almost thirteen years old. It’s where those solid, ingrained memories are, and it’s where I travel to so many nights in my dreams.
We lived on the second floor of a three-story apartment building on Madison Avenue. It was an unusual type of building with two sets of apartments located on each floor at the front of the building and two sets similarly located in the back of the building. Our apartment was in the back. The front set of apartments and the ones in the back were not connected except by the hallway on the first floor. Needless to say, that was one long hallway! I used to love to roller skate down it and even ride my bike, but that was amazingly often discouraged by the doctors and dentists who mostly made up those first floor suites. I really never understood that. It was my home, after all!

And home it was. My Mother had to move the three of us in with my grandmother (Babby) and my step-grandfather (Poppy) when we were very young. They never complained, and I think even enjoyed the fact that we were there. I know Babby did. She loved to cook and bake, so having more people around to eat her scrumptious food made her feel wanted and useful.

As I mentioned earlier, the rooms in this apartment were enormous. We had our own long hallway to connect the front rooms (living room and eat-in kitchen) with two enormous bedrooms in the back. The bathroom with its classic four legged bathtub was located half-way down the hall. The hall itself was wide enough that my brother and I could play ball, build forts and even put in the dollhouses which he would sometimes make for me out of cardboard boxes.

There were two special features of the apartment. One included a screened-in porch that was accessed through French doors leading from the living room and that also had a door leading into the kitchen. It was a great play area for us. In the winter, we used a special plastic covering to go over the screens that would allow us to play and be fairly warm. The porch itself was as big as the kitchen area, and our imaginations allowed us to create all sorts of wonderful places on that porch.
The other distinct addition to the apartment was the fire-escape landing that we shared with our neighbor across the hall. It was off of our ‘back door’ and was large enough to have seating if we wanted to, but we never did. We did, however, have a clothes line strung from one side of the building to the other and which we used each week. There were two; one was ours, the other our neighbor’s. My brother and I would often take bread crumbs out to that landing after meals to feed to the birds in the winter months. We never did that, of course, if there were clothes on the line!

One of the two large bedrooms had a fireplace in it. Unfortunately, it was unusable, but the mantel and the fireplace itself were still beautiful. My brother and I would hang our stockings on the mantel in that room every Christmas waiting for Santa to come, and we’d always worry how he was ever going to make it down our chimney, since it was blocked. He always managed to get there, however, and one night I even heard him! I actually woke up in the night hearing sleigh bells, but when I told everyone the next day, nobody believed me. I knew after I grew up and know even today that it couldn’t have possibly happened, but I will swear till my dying breath that I heard those bells. I can still hear them now if I close my eyes and think about that night.
I’m not sure how Mama did it, but every year we got almost all of the things we had asked for from Santa. Looking back, I think she must have saved up all year to do that. I never asked her about that as an adult, and I really wish I had. Nevertheless, she made sure that Christmas was exceptional for us. There was always a real Christmas tree that my Poppy had helped her carry down that great, long hallway and up the stairs into our apartment. This event would occur after we’d gone and chosen one at least a week before Christmas. There’s nothing like the smell and the look of a real tree. It had to be cared for very specially, and each of us took our turns so that it would still be beautiful even after Christmas day. The decoration of the tree was a special event, which involved everyone in the household and took time to complete. Mama always decorated the apartment herself, often with beautiful things she had made.

Every Christmas morning was a true time of wonderment for us. On that morning, I was always the first one to awake. (I still am!) Mama would wake up immediately afterwards and make us wait in our beds as she went to "prepare" the living room. She would turn on the tree lights and put on Christmas music to add to the atmosphere as we walked into that room to see our long-awaited gifts. A huge Christmas breakfast would be prepared by Babby, who would turn around almost immediately to begin the dinner preparations. She was such an outstanding cook, a quality that I really wish I had inherited.
I know that everyone has their own memories of Christmases past - some good and some possibly not. But the love that we five people shared in those "growing up years" in that apartment made each Christmas a very unique and amazing experience for me and for my brother.

“Still, I suppose we all see our youth as the Eden of perfect days…”¹  Perhaps my memories are a bit distorted by time, but that apartment is still and always will be my “home,” and I will always be certain that I heard those sleigh bells on that glorious Christmas Eve!

Yes, I’ll be home for Christmas. I’ll be here in the home I’ve created and where I’ve lived for almost thirty years. But I’ll also be in that heart-felt home of long ago – most certainly in my dreams. 

¹McCrumb, Sharyn, King’s Mountain: a Ballad Novel, St. Martin’s Press, NY. 2013. Page 63.

 @2013 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland