By Mary C. Curtis
The best Christmas memory is often the simplest. Mine is the search for the perfect tree — just me and my Dad — every Christmas Eve. This late start on holiday decor might seem strange for those who are finished shopping and trimming by Thanksgiving, but remember, the 12 days of Christmas begin on Dec. 25. My family was old school that way.
By the 24th, the stage in our Baltimore row house was set: the platform with the trains that ringed the base where the tree would stand, the ornaments — each with its own memory — unearthed from the back of the closet. That left only the star of the show.
As the youngest of five children in a big, busy household, for me the best part was enjoying alone time with my father. Yes, I was a daddy’s girl. We would drive from lot to lot in the cold, looking for a tree that would be a perfect fit alongside the staircase. It had to be full — no gaps — before one strand of tinsel or colored bulb would adorn it.
My dad and I were perfectionists. He always said that I was the only one he could trust to tell him the brutal truth about each tree we considered; I would never settle for good enough. He would hold the candidate in question and slowly twirl it. If a vendor tried to explain away a bare spot by saying we could turn that side to the wall, we would be out of there. No matter how late it got, we would persevere — and we were never late for midnight Mass.
My father died years ago. He never got to meet my son, who has his grandfather’s sense of humor, style and same wanting everything just so. Never settling is a lesson that’s stayed with me. And though striving for perfection might mean a few disappointments, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?
By Faith Maginley
I drove home for my college’s winter break each year, often arriving to find my mom cooking a cauldron of collard greens, baking sweet potato bread and boiling a pot of fresh-picked cinnamon leaves to give the house that sweet-spicy, festive aroma. She always made sure the tree and outside lights were blazing. Luther Vandross crooned our song, “Every Year, Every Christmas” (on repeat) from the CD player. Upon hearing my old Honda pull up, Ma would come out of the kitchen rockin’ one of those African-style housedresses, arms outstretched.
She passed away February 2005, my last semester of college. For the first time in 24 years, I wasn’t going to be home for Christmas. Sure, the house was still there, but there’d be nobody listening for my car to pull up. No one to leave a “Merry Christmas Baby Girl” note on the table for those times I showed up post-midnight, well after sleep had taken over.
I didn’t want to be alone, but I didn’t want to fake merriment, either. I headed to my sister’s in Atlanta. We went to church Christmas morning, and our cousin came over afterward for a dinner of Kroger fried chicken and heated-up vegetables. We mixed hot cocoa and bourbon and called it “Bitches Brew” after Miles Davis’ epic composition.