Christmas memories seem strange on Good Friday, but then the mind often ignores time or at least is able to reconstruct its meandering corridors to bring buried secrets to the surface of consciousness.
One of my favorite Christmas gifts when I was a child growing up in Richards, Texas in rural Grimes County was not one that I received but one that I gave to my maternal grandmother Louise whose name I shortened to Dude when I was unable to pronounce Louise. Louise became Dude-ese, then simply Dude.
I was two years old when my dad and mother and I moved into my grandmother’s small Sears Roebuck designed house in Richards in 1948. We lived in that little house with her for eleven Christmases, and each Christmas she gave me two new pairs of underwear that she bought from the general store where she clerked six days a week from 8 in the morning until 6 in the evening with an hour for lunch. Two new pairs of underwear wrapped in last year’s red paper she carefully saved and used again and again, tied with a gold string and a tiny tag signed in her scrawling handwriting Lots of love, Dude.
The Christmas before we moved away from Richards I bought Dude a present at Mr. McAfee’s drug store from money I saved from my allowance. I had never bought her a gift before and was so excited about my purchase: a door chime that played Hail, Hail – the Gang’s All Here. I hadn’t told anyone about my gift, so imagine the look on Dude’s face when she opened it. Just what she needed, she said, and had me believing it.
Dude had been 50 years old when we moved in with her and was 63 when we moved away to a town 70 miles from Richards leaving her with a disabled adult son, no transportation since she never learned to drive, and very little income. My dad and mother and I came back to visit every two weeks, and whenever the front door opened we were welcomed with the chimes playing hail, hail – the gang’s all here. And on those weekends her gang was there.
I was totally unaware of what loneliness and loss of laughter and love must have been for her the other days and nights of her life at that time because I was, after all, a self-absorbed teenager whose only experience with loneliness was self-imposed and transitory. I was never at a loss for laughter.
By the time I graduated from high school, my grandmother’s life had the beginnings of her roller coaster battle with depression that would plague her for the rest of her days – a war really – on battlegrounds she fought in doctors’ offices and hospitals, fought sometimes with medicines, sometimes without medicines, sometimes with electroshock therapy.
My visits to see her became less frequent when I went away to college, and I remember being surprised on one of those visits to discover the door chimes no longer played when I opened the front door. Surprised, but totally unaware of the significance. Her gang was no longer there.
This morning I was taking a shower and for some reason the shower song du jour was Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here which brought the Christmas memories of my grandmother’s door chime pouring over me like the hot water that rinsed my hair.
Dude (1898 -1972)
In this final post I will make for women’s history month, I honor with love and gratitude one of the most important women in my life, the first woman to love me unconditionally with all her heart.
And on this good Friday I hope that your gang, however you define it, will be with you this weekend.