Lately I've been daydreaming about Christmas when I was a child. I see the big house on the avenue that I was literally born and raised in. On Christmas eve, I sit against the staircase rails with my brother beside me admiring the 8ft. tree decorated by Zedo and Mom. As kids we were never allowed to take part in adorning the tree since the icicles had to be hung one by one on each branch and be exactly the same length, and of course, children just didn't have the skill or patience for such accuracy. I smell the wonderful aromas floating from my Baba's kitchen and can't wait until the family arrives so we could sit down to dinner.
Now my Zedo had strict rules about who was invited to share our traditional meal. Only immediate family was permitted, with the exception of Belle and Oscar, very good long time friends, who ironically were Jewish. I see Zedo sitting at the head of the table. All the adults have a glass of Kimmel raised high as Zedo delivers his holiday speech in Slovak. When he finishes speaking, he places the golden liquor to his lips, signaling everybody else to do likewise. Now my brother and I stand up and wish our family the blessings of Christmas and a Happy New Year, in Slovak of course.
Dishes of honey are spread around the table and each guest has a white wafer called 'oplatky' in front of them.. All the children form a line by Zedo's side and receive a cross on their foreheads made from the honeyed thumb of our patriarch. Next everybody at the table dips their oplatky in the honey and partakes of it.
Baba and Mom begin serving the mushroom soup which is the appetizer that begins every Christmas eve supper. Zedo receives his bowl first. When the two women return to their chairs, the mushroom soup is consumed by all and the dishes removed.
Now for the main course. Babalki, navy beans, lungos, and cabbage! These meager staples are meant to remind us of the fact that Jesus was born in a stable without food or comforts.
After the meal, all the women go to the kitchen to wash and dry the dishes, while the men sit in the living room puffing cigars. Zedo amazes the kids by blowing white rings of smoke that rise towards the ceiling, We all try to poke them before they dissolve in the air. Some of us stay with the men to hear their stories of the old country, while some head to the kitchen to listen to the women's talk of favorite recipes and church stuff.
After the company leaves, my brother and I climb the stairs and get ready for bed. We hurry so we can watch Mom from our seats against the staircase rails making countless trips to the enclosed front porch to bring in all the presents. When all have been carefully placed under the tree, Zedo shakes some bells and poinds on the wall to let us know that Santa has come and gone.
As we fly downstairs, the first place I head for is the mantle where the stocking are hung. Every year the same things are hidden in them; an orange the size of a melon, a coloring book, a fresh box of crayons, and a chocolate bar. Out of all the gifts, the items in my stocking were always the best as far as I was concerned.
My brother and I enjoy giving packages to Zedo, Baba, Mom, and Uncle Tom. We've spent the few dollars we'd saved throughout the year to put smiles on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. I don't mention our Dad because he died when we were very young, but from what we've been told, he loved everything about Christmas.
After opening our presents, we scurry up to bed, recount our blessings in prayer, and are lulled to sleep by the muffled voices echoing from downstairs. Peace settles over the big house on the avenue where tradition has once again been celebrated and all are safe and sound.
I know I can never return home again. All my family is gone,and the big house on the avenue was demolished decades ago. Never MEANS Never as far as the Christmases of my childhood.
But they will always be FOREVER in my memories and in my heart!
Merry Christmas to ya'll!