Christmas past and present

Michael Raffety

12-24-14

For many years our family would get our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We would go to a choose-and-cut Christmas tree farm that was not part of the association and therefore had very affordable prices — $15 for white fir at that time.

My wife would not join us trudging up the slightly muddy hill. She stayed in the warm hut and chatted with folks who used to be clients when she had her CPA practice.

The kids always worried I wouldn’t get a big enough tree. My wife always worried it would be too big. Fifteen feet was about the max. One year we came back home and found the tree with all its decorations had fallen over. Ever since I have tied it off to the balcony rail with string or fishing line.

Now we all go down to my son and daughter-in-law’s house in Stockton for Christmas. So, we skip the tree at our house and enjoy their tree. My daughter-in-law does a different theme each year for the tree. Our son does the outside. He is determined to win the neighborhood contest for best exterior. He has won that recently, but has to keep improving each year to keep ahead of the competition. He even got on the homeowners association board to make sure he is one of the decorating contest judges.

So, the two of us plus our daughter all spend Christmas at our son and daughter-in-law’s house. I usually bring stuffing made from my mother’s recipe that she wrote down from what her mother did just by memory. Our daughter makes Christmas morning breakfast. It’s nearly lunchtime by the time she is ready to serve it up. By that time our daughter-in-law’s brother has taken off. This year the little sister is working as an activity director at a skilled nursing facility and may have to work. This was the first year she missed Thanksgiving with everybody. The oldest brother is a gunnery sergeant in the Marines and it’s never a certainty if he will be there at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I only made it home once for Christmas during the four years I was in the Navy, taking a bus from Florida to Portland, Ore., where my aunts lived. That was the first time I met my youngest cousin, who has since become one of my favorites. She has also become one of the most successful, now owning, along with her husband, several apartment complexes.

We were pleased to be able to travel to San Diego to attend his promotion to “gunny.” As a side note, he is Cambodian. When his captain introduced himself to us, he said he was a Korean who had been adopted by folks from Idaho. Until he told us that I had thought he was a really tall Cambodian.

All the Marines in his unit and in the building where he worked were very friendly, making a point to say hello to us. They all thought well of my daughter-in-law’s oldest brother.

He has been a drill instructor at the Marine basic training base in San Diego and deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Being a DI is a very intense job with long hours. He took us on a tour and showed us the obstacle course the recruits go through. I never would have made it over the obstacles even in my youth.

When I went through Navy boot camp in San Diego one of the guys in our barracks escaped over the fence, which we thought was really dumb, since the only thing on the other side of the fence was the Marine boot camp. The Navy has since closed the recruit training base in San Diego. Now all recruits are sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Center — brrrr.

Recently my wife found a Christmas booklet bound together by yarn that my daughter did in elementary school in 1991, addressed to “Mr. Photography Man. My dad who captures life in his photographs and for making a difference in my life.”

It also included this description: “Dad is like a kitten. He’s soft like a kitten fur. Dad’s gentle like a kitten on your lap. Loving like a kitten purring against your heart. A kitten makes you feel good when you’re sad. Kittens make you warm when you’re cold outside. Kittens are softhearted like dad. That’s why I think dad is like a kitten. Don’t you think so?”

Later on it included gift certificates, such as washing the car. I’m not sure I ever cashed in those gift certificates, but when she comes over for the usual Sunday dinner I’ll cash in the gift certificate for a hug.

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