Memories of Christmas past...


On Christmas eve I awoke early and quietly and reflected on the Christmas's past. They were like the huge production shows, planned to the very minutest of details. The work on them started on Thanksgiving. That was the deadline for the plans. The decorations were taken down from the garage attic, that wonderful mysterious place, that held costumes and props, from the Sideshow, that now are long gone. Like the people that worked there. There were huge cutouts of a sleigh, reindeer, and Santa himself. Al had surprised Jeanie and Judy with them, when Judy was just a baby. The speakers and amplifiers were set up, and the line was run into the house, so Jeanie could play Christmas songs on the stereo, and at the same time share them with the neighbors.


When Judy was real little, the tree wouldn't appear, till she was in bed on Christmas eve. That was the time set aside for the Tomaini's Christmas. Al was Italian, and his family always celebrated, with a huge feast at midnight on Christmas eve. Jeanie would start cooking, a few days ahead of the party time. There would be beef, pork, fried shrimp, and the evening meal consisted of a spaghetti concoction of fish sauce, which was made by Al, and shared with the friends that came early to assist Jeanie, with the last minute details. The sauce was simple, but the taste for it, wasn't shared by many. It was a mixture of olive oil, cracker meal, anchovies, a lot of fresh garlic, and capers. YUCK... But that was the night, Judy would have butter on her noodles. To say she was a picky eater was an understatement. Now, if it stops long enough to poke a fork in, it is gone, just not the fish sauce. She shudders at the thought. After Al was gone, so was the fish sauce. Jeanie said she didn't know how to make it, the truth was, she just ate it to be polite, and thought it was gross too. So one tradition bit the dust. Along with the fried, and pickled eels he loved. To Jeanie they were just fried snakes. But the Italians thought they had to have them, or it wasn't Christmas.


The first time Al got them, they arrived alive, along with the live crabs, that would make crab salad. Jeanie was from the farm land, and never cooked anything like this. She was horrified, when she looked in the burlap sacks, and found live "snakes", and live "crabs". And she ask someone to please put them on the back porch, thinking that would kill them. Al must be losing his mind, if he thinks she is cooking "snakes". So that night, when he looked over the huge buffet table, and saw no eel or crab salad, he was upset, that his buddy didn't bring them. Jeanie felt bad since they were on the porch dying, but had totally forgotten they were there.


Now the fireworks start. She told him she never cooked "snakes" and if he wanted them, he could cook them. They were on the back porch dying, with the bag of crabs. He ranted and raved for a few minutes, and then the madder he saw Jeanie getting, the funnier it became. That was one rare time, that she left the room. As anyone that knew them, knew she had the final word. They ran their life as one, but he worshiped the ground she walked on, and always would make decisions together. The eels and crabs, wasn't one of those times.

Around the same time, Al had bought Jeanie, Patti and Judy a boxer dog, named Thunder. He was a very good protector, and wouldn't let either girl out of his sight. Even sleeping on the floor between their beds at night. He was just a little puppy, when he came to live with them. Anyone who has ever had a boxer, knows how inquisitive they are, and they nose into everything. He had a problem with why a tree was in the house, and was fascinated with the bubble lights. He would spend long moments, just sitting and looking at it. But he watched TV with the girls too, so Jeanie would remind him, to not go too close to the tree. She would leave the tree turned on at night, and their bedroom, was only a few feet away from where it was in the living room. Jeanie was always a very light sleeper, and would get up and check the girls in the night. At the same time checking to see that Thunder wasn't near the tree. He got to the point he would even walk way out and around it. Checking over his shoulder, to see if Jeanie was watching. And she usually was. He wanted so bad, to go take a closer look at it. But Mom said no!!! And she had the hand that doled out the food, along with the punishment. If he even went near it, he would be banished to the back porch, with the "snakes and crabs". Oh, no, not that.


The carpet had been taken up, and the beautiful hard wood floors were waxed and polished by hand. Jeanie always did her own house work. Earlier that year, they were in a car accident, and Al broke his leg. Jeanie put her hand up, and broke it when she slammed into the dash. Patti who was sitting in front of Jeanie, hit the dash with her face, and bit her tongue almost off. And Patti had a set of lungs on her. Every squall out of her mouth, sent blood flying over anyone standing within 10 feet of her. Jeanie never told them she was even hurt, she just worried about her family. Al was is so much pain, since the knee joint was split, up and down, he would have to be taken in the ambulance, so a second one was called for the others. Al had never ridden in the back of one, and they had a problem getting him in, with a broken leg that had to be extended. So the back door had to be propped all the way open, with his excess length, hanging out the back. If it wasn't so serious, it would have been funny. And he to say the least, was the biggest baby of all, howling like a wounded bear all the way there, that every bump was killing him, and he wasn't going to any hospital. Just stop and let him out. They didn't, and he went the rest of the way. Once there, they had to have a special bed added on to, so they could keep him a few days. He had a cast from his upper thigh, to over his foot. Jerry Havens made him a flat bed cart to roll around the house on, and poor Jeanie, who's hand was swelled like a balloon, by the time, let them check her out, and found out, what she already knew, it was broken. There the problem was. It was her right hand, which was also her stiff arm, that was shorter than the left. How would she take care of her family. No way could they cast it. So she had to be carried, to anywhere she needed to go. For Jeanie, that was the ultimate disgrace. She had always done everything on her own. So Jerry to the rescue again. She made Jeanie a little crutch, out of one of the set they sent home with her. They had a rule that anyone with a broken leg, gets a pair of crutches, even if they had no legs to begin with. The family still has the crutch Jerry modified for her, so she could be independent again. There was also the pair of oak ones that were special made for Al, but were much too little. He had to bend almost double, to use them. So that being the reason, for having no carpet in the living room.

The broken bones healed, but Al was a bear till they did, and Jeanie just plugged along on her crutch, taking care of her family. And finally started to put weight on it. When the tree went up, and Thunder started checking it out, Al was still limping around the house, complaining, and spending a lot of time in bed. A couple nights before Christmas, when Jeanie was getting much deserved rest. There was a crash in the living room, that sounded like a car had come through the front door. Every one in the house, was awake and running to see what happened. There amidst the tree decorations, and broken glass, bubble lights, and a turned over tree, was Thunder. He was so tangled up, he couldn't move. Looked like a bomb had gone off. He was so scared, of the wrath of Jeanie, he had an accident when she came into view. But it was the last time, he ever went near the Christmas tree. And he lived for another 10 years. When the Christmas boxes came out, Thunder was very scarce, and would spend his days in the kitchen, and nights in the girls room.


That was a year to remember. And they are missed, every day of every year since....


2004 Judy Tomaini Rock, All Rights Reserved

Published with the permission of Judy Tomaini Rock


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