Tomorrow is my grandparent’s Christmas celebration in Georgia. It will be the first time in all my 26 Christmases that I will not be present. This makes me a little sad, but more than that it makes me nostalgic. Nostalgic for the 25 Christmas celebrations I have been a part of. You see, in the last 25 years, as you can imagine, it seems like everything has changed. But, when I think about it real hard, I realize absolutely nothing has changed. That, although that tiny house on Smart Street might look different, it is exactly the same as it was on my very first Christmas all those years ago.
Now, I can’t remember my first Georgia Christmas because I was only two months old, but I can remember so many others from my childhood. I remember the Christmas in a red plaid, flannel dress, singing Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum on a new karaoke machine. I remember the year there were four kids under that roof on Christmas morning, and we could all barely move for all the presents from Santa. I remember (from home videos) the year that Georgia came to us in Idaho, back when the family was still small enough to make those trips during the holidays, back when I was the only baby, the first of the next generation.
Christmases in Georgia might seem a lot different now, but I know they’re really exactly the same. I know when my parents pull up in the driveway, the girls will come out to meet them. They don’t run anymore; they’re too old and mature for that now, but they are always the first ones on the welcome wagon. Pa will greet them at the door, like he always does. Ma will be in the kitchen cooking. When she turns around to give them a hug, she’ll look surprised to see them, even though she knew they were coming. That smile of hers, so hard to capture in photographs, truly does light up the room. Riley probably won’t be on the computer playing video games this year; he’s a big college kid now, but he’ll be there towering over everyone just the same. When the phone rings four hundred times this year, for the first time ever, no one will have to check the caller ID to make sure it’s not BSF. When my aunts arrive, they will all hang around the kitchen offering to help my grandma, and she’ll say she doesn’t need any help, like she always does. There will be divinity, and peanut butter balls, and Maw-Maw’s fudge on the dessert table; Christmas staples that will end up going home with everyone because we could never eat it all. When my uncle and his family arrive there will be spinach dip to snack on and more hugs all around. He might pick up one of his sisters and try to pop their backs and much yelling will ensue. People who aren’t lucky enough to have the day off will pop in and out to say hello and eat a quick bite. The kids will run around outside, they’re different kids now, but they’re still running. My grandfather will say grace in a way that only he can. Everyone will eat until they can’t anymore, and then they’ll go back for dessert.
When dinner is over, everyone will fight over seats on the couch. My uncle will try to pass down his Santa hat like he does every year. Presents will be passed around in a fashion that can only be described as organized chaos. Wrapping paper will be thrown across the room as kids gleefully rip into presents. My grandpa will get some glass bottle Cokes and a can (or 4) of cashews. At least one of them will be gone by the end of the day.
When the presents are opened and everything is put away, we will all sit around again, maybe go back for fifths of a delicious dinner. Someone (probably Hayes) will turn on the bird ornament on the tree; everyone knows it’s not a real bird now, but once upon a time we didn’t. Once upon a time I was convinced a bird was in the house.
Finally, the crowd will start to dwindle, but only for a little while. Before you know it, everyone will be back again, at least that’s what my grandpa says. And I believe him. Because even though I can’t be there tomorrow, I know it won’t be long until I see them all again, especially in a year with so much to celebrate.
So, even though tomorrow isn’t really Christmas, it will be for my family down in Georgia. And I really hope it’s a good one. And even though I won’t be there, I’ll be living every moment in my mind. From the sound of that old screen door closing behind each person as they arrive, to that melody of the bird ornament hanging on the tree. I have my Christmases in Georgia memorized, because when you belong to something for as long as I have belonged to that Georgia Christmas, you just can’t ever forget.