If I could travel through time today, I would have no interest in traveling forward. No, I would opt for backward time travel to make a surprise Christmas Eve visit with my family in my hometown of Richards, Texas in 1956 because, you see, the people gathered in that small living room belonging to my grandparents on my daddy’s side “raised me up.”
My mom Selma and my dad Glenn are sitting on a traditional beige three person sofa with my other grandmother who I called Dude. My mom and dad are in deep discussions about the Christmas cantata they are having at the Baptist Church where my dad leads the singing because he has the loudest male voice that can carry a tune and my mother plays the piano because she has had this job since she was a teenager.
My mother’s oldest brother, Marion, who is currently unemployed and living at home with us in Dude’s house, sits in one of the dining room chairs brought to the living room for our family party to open gifts that night. My mother’s other brother Toby also sits in one of the dining room chairs with his cane leaning against it. Toby is also unemployed and living with his mother which means that I live with him, too.
My grandmother Ma sits in a living room chair that goes with her sofa in a prominent spot next to the Christmas tree my grandfather cut from our woods three miles outside of town. The assorted colors of bubble lights on the tree are bubbly…the tree has several ornaments I remember from other Christmas trees in this same living room. A few icicles were thrown in a haphazard manner to give the tree a kind of beginner tree look, although Ma has decorated her trees in this fashion for years. I know this for a fact because I helped her throw the icicles.
Selma’s tree, on the other hand, at Dude’s house was definitely the more polished decorating effort. My mother loved precision and a plan – her Christmas tree was a perfect example of both. The tree was always beautiful.
To the left of Ma sits my grandfather Pa. He sits in a special chair that also belongs in the living room but looks to be the most uncomfortable seat in the entire setting which seems to me to be unfair since he has been on his feet all day at the barber shop cutting hair and giving shaves to the farmers who want to look good for their families at Christmas.
My grandmother Dude has also been standing on her feel all day helping people find last-minute gifts at the general store where she works six days a week all year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I am sitting on the floor next to the gifts under the tree when Ma motions for me to begin playing Santa Claus and passing out the gifts. Ma insists that I wait for each person to unwrap their gift before I hand out the next one. I am impatient with the process and have the temerity to tell Ma. She laughs and says I can pass out gifts however I want when I have my own house and Christmas Eve party but in her home, the gifts will be opened to suit her.
Today is a rainy cold December day in 2017, and I am now more than 60 years past that Christmas Eve in Texas but I still can see those people, all of whom are now gone, as if they were here with me in this moment.
I have been listening this week to Celtic Woman: Homecoming in Ireland which I recorded earlier this week. I love their Irish voices and the concert which ends with one of their most popular songs: You Raise Me Up.
You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
you raise me up to walk on stormy seas.
I am strong when I am on your shoulders,
you raise me up to more than I can be.
If I could speak to my family again in that little living room on Christmas Eve, I would tell them that I am grateful for how they individually, and as a group, “raised me up” to be more than I can be. I stand on the shoulders of people who raised me in love and kindness and with the belief that decency and respect for others are the values that matter most in life.
At a time when we are looking for standards for how we should treat each other, I think love and kindness are a good place to start.
Stay safe during the holiday season, and stay tuned.