By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
This past weekend I celebrated an annual tradition – putting up Bob’s Christmas Birthday Tree. Yes, today is brother Bob’s birthday and like most kids who had the misfortune to be born around the holidays, his birthday usually morphed into a birthday/Christmas celebration. In his case, his birthday was the day our mom chose to put up our Christmas tree each year. So really, between getting screwed out of a proper birthday party and being a middle child it’s really a wonder that he didn’t develop a twitch. This year as I put up my tree I thought about a friend’s comment last week – that she hated the holidays because it brought back such sentimental memories. This time of year does make us miss those who are far away and especially those who have shuffled off this mortal coil, but I guess I have the opposite reaction. I admit not all Christmases are created equal, but I love that the holidays cause me to pause and reflect on the special ones I’ve had over the years. One of my favorites is of the year our daughter came home from her freshman year in college. We made plans to attend Christmas Eve church services followed by dinner at a swanky restaurant, but as the hour approached we all decided it was too much effort. Instead we donned our jammies, ordered Chinese takeout and watched “Christmas Vacation” on TV. Now THAT was memorable – we still laugh about it today. And of course, some of the best Christmases were spent watching our grandsons when they were toddlers, racing out on Christmas morning amazed that a tree that had been barren the night before was now laden with intriguing boxes and bows, confirming their notion that Santa Claus really DOES exist!
My fondest memories seem to be of “coming home” to our parent’s house for Christmas. I pondered that this weekend as I was putting the Santa Claus with the fake nose and glasses on my tree (somehow it always reminds me of Bob). As I think back, Christmas seemed so easy then. Our mom did all the planning, shopping, wrapping, cooking, serving, and I’m embarrassed to say, cleaning up. Like a lot of young adults, college and our careers took us in different directions, but most Christmases we gathered at mom and pop’s and immediately began to act like little kids. We laughed, drank, ate, drank, sang, drank. On Christmas Eve mom would put out a large buffet and around 5 o’clock friends would begin to arrive to share in our “spirit”. Usually those spirits flowed until the wee hours of the morning, and then our parents would arise on Christmas morning to prepare for the arrival of our grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins for brunch. Our father often commented that he felt like “a hippopotamus in three feet of mud” on Christmas morning. But mom would always put on a spread and Dad would fix his famous Christmas Ice Cream Fizz*. Again, we kids were of minimal help. So of course I think about those years as fun – I didn’t have to do any of the work!
This pattern held true for many, many years right up to my favorite Christmas memory. In 1981 we gathered once again at mom and pop’s house – Jack left his restaurant in Tahoe for a night, Bob and Linda came up from Orange County and I made the one hour trek from the East Bay. It was a Monday – I remember that because we had Monday Night Football on and Don Meredith kept singing “Turn Out the Lights”. For whatever reason, we were more giddy than usual that year. Then at some point after dinner someone suggested that we serenade the neighborhood with Christmas Carols. GREAT IDEA!!!! Mom didn’t approve of our shenanigans and I’m sure had images of being run out of town. But the rest of us grabbed another drink and off we went. Now you need to know that Bob and Linda actually performed professionally at that time and are both great singers. Jack and I can carry a tune. As for Pop…well, let’s just say that dad had more gusto and enthusiasm than actual talent. But he was an extremely good judge of character so he knew which neighbors would find us amusing and which might throw old shoes at us. So off we traipsed, arm in arm around the neighborhood singing our hearts out. Most everyone laughed, some gave us cookies and some even offered to refill our glasses (which was really not necessary at that point). We sang for about an hour, which I think is how long it took us to run through our Christmas Carol songbook. Then we collapsed in gales of laughter at home. The next morning, sure as rain, Pop was up making us his Christmas Ice Cream Fizz. We didn’t know it at the time but it would be the last Christmas we would spend at mom and dad’s house. The next year Bob and Linda were expecting their first child and from then on, when we could, we gathered at their home in Southern California. But I’ll always remember with fondness the rollicking good time we had that final year.
Hopefully you have some wonderful memories that sustain you during this holiday period. If so, consider yourself lucky. And finally not to be forgotten – please join me in wishing a very happy birthday to my very special brother. Hopefully he won’t have to put a tree up today.
*As a special gift to our readers, once again this year I am providing the recipe for Pop’s Christmas Ice Cream Fizz. Trust me, it will make that time you have to spend with your brother-in-law that borrowed your lawnmower and/or $5000 much more bearable.
POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ
Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes
Add 6 jiggers of gin
Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream
Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)
My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg. Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.
Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a rosy hue on everyone and every thing!
Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg. As we got older we would conspire with Pop and ditch the wine glass for a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.