Reflections of a Southern Yankee: Ghosts of Christmas Past

As I approach my 51st Christmas, I can’t help but reminisce. All of the trees that were put up and decorated have long since returned to the earth. The once brightly colored crumpled up remains of wrapping paper are occupying a landfill somewhere. The gifts given and received throughout the years are mostly gone, or sit somewhere, likely forgotten or unused. The echoes of parties and get-togethers have faded away. It is only the memories, or as I like to call them, the ghosts of Christmas past, that truly remain.

I can see the ghosts of my grandparents. They are taking a small, brown-haired, chestnut-eyed little boy to see Santa. They try their hardest to give the child the best Christmas that they can, despite the fact that his own parents decided to have nothing to do with him. On Christmas Eve, while the boy sleeps, lake effect snow from Lake Erie accumulates outside. In the living room, the elderly couple, who chose to raise their grandson, places gifts under the tree that stands in front of the large picture window. Early the next morning, the excited little boy runs down the hallway, turns the corner and smiles the biggest of smiles as he takes in the wonderful scene before him. For the rest of the morning, the youngster plays with his new toys while his grandfather snacks on an assortment of Christmas nuts while watching TV, and his grandmother prepares an Italian meal to be enjoyed later when cousins, aunts and uncles join them. These are the ghosts of my Christmas past.

As the ghosts of my grandparents fade away, they are replaced by new ghosts – my adoptive parents and the adoptive grandparents who came with them enter the picture. Christmases have now gone from a cold and snowy upstate New York to a cozy home in the mountains of Virginia. There, Christmas can be sunny and 65 degrees, or it can be bone chillingly cold. But, no matter the weather, the young boy and his father can be seen dragging the freshly cut tree through the woods toward their home. On Christmas Eve, the young family attends church which is filled with greenery, flickering candles and the singing of hymns. Every year or so, another “ghost” would be added to the mix – first a sister then a brother and so on and so forth until there were eight children in total. Needless to say, Christmases went from quiet to crazy. Now the big brother, Christmas is less about that little boy and more about his younger siblings. These are the ghosts of my Christmas past.

With bags packed and gifts wrapped, the family piles into the van. They are headed to the Eastern Shore of Virginia where the now teenaged boy’s adoptive grandparents are living in an old farmhouse close to the Chesapeake Bay. Several hours later, the red and white van turns onto the long dirt driveway that leads to the white farmhouse. The van stops and the side door is thrown open as excited children jump out and run to the awaiting hugs and kisses from their grandparents. There is a chill in the air but a warmth in their hearts. Opening the door to the sunroom off the kitchen unleashes the aroma of my grandfather’s cooking. The smells of ham, turkey, cooking sherry and oyster stuffing tease their noses. The sounds of laughter and chatter fill the air. These are the ghosts of my Christmas past.

There are many more ghosts of my Christmas past that come to mind. Individuals who have drifted both into and out of my life. I have even watched my own two sons accumulate memories and ghosts of their own Christmases. 

As I approach my 51st Christmas, I can’t help but feel some sadness for the loved ones who were there on Christmas morning and are now gone but never forgotten. I cherish the memories that will stay with me and even haunt me – but in a good way. They are the moments and memories that I carry in my heart. They are the ghosts of my Christmas past.


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