Growing up firstly with my mother , then in foster care and finally with my grandmother; I have various memories of the holidays. Very young, my mother did her best to give us a traditional Christmas morning . I don't think she was much a fan of wrapping gifts . I remember the tree strewn under with half wrapped gifts and many toys not wrapped. Oftentimes the wrapped ones were gifts that had arrived by mail from our Pennsylvania grandparents. We would open gifts at mornings first light and play til lunch.
Later we would be picked up by my grandmother Lillian and all get dressed up to go to Aunt Sis' house. Aunt Sis and Uncle Jeeter lived in a very nice part of Houston. Their house was magical at Christmas. Aunt Sis was such a kid at heart because her and my step-grandfather, Francis Bennett, grew up in terrible poverty in an orphanage. In the entry of Aunt Sis' home was a large marble foyer with an animated santa Clause that lit up and said "ho ho ho". Behind him was a large winding staircase that went up to the second floor. This was decorated with garland, baubles and pinecones. The chandelier was dripping with ornaments . To the right was a formal sitting room with its light blue fabric walls and powder white carpet. She often had a large tree here . Straight ahead was the casual living room that had big chairs that I would spin around in . The tables would be set throught the house. Two tables in the living room, a table in the formal dining area and a table in the kitchen. Along the bar bordering the kitchen there were pies and pitchers of tea and wine bottles and egg nog .
In the room with the largest tables was a very tall tree that was at least 12 feet high and 5 feet wide. Underneath were animated deer, Santa's , Angels and flashing lights. The restroom was probably the most unique place of all oddly. Aunt Sis had the walls with embossed red velvet, the lighting was pink and the toilet paper was pink. When you would open the door to the restroom then close it a box on the wall would be activated that played classical music. Another words, there was no wayy to go to the restroom discreetly as your bathroom visit would be announced with the sound of music .
Uncle Jeeter often would take pity on us kids as we were bored after the food and festivities were winding down. He would let us play in his office that was located in a room off the front foyer. As a lawyer, uncle Jeeter had accumulated books, desk toys, pencils and pads of paper. Us kids would play "office" and make a complete disaray of his large desk and all the neatly placed items on it.
After the meal and dessert the whole family would gather in the large living room and play dime Bingo...yes.. Bingo. I think my family would find any excuse to gamble. After Bingo the men would usually shuffle away to play real Poker with big dollars and drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes. I recall the funniest part was how Aunt Sis would encourage my Grandpop Valle to sit at the head of the table and roll the wire ball that contained the bingo letters. He would often call out the letters and numbers in Italian and everyone in unison would say "What Pop".. "English Pop"!
New Year's was very different from Thanksgiving and Christmas. Often New Year's meant sitting around in our pajama's watching Dick Clark and waiting for the ball to drop. Most of the family was from Philadelphia so east coast time remained the standard for the New Year. To this day I consider 11pm central to be the time to exclaim "Happy New Year" !
The idea of getting in a car and driving somewhere to watch 6 minutes of fireworks seemed crazy to my grandparents as did giving us kids explosives (fireworks). Watching them on the TV from 3,000 miles away was good enough for them and we were just as happy .
After the holidays the chore of taking down the tree began almost immediately after January 1. It was if we were ready and had been ready top get on with the new. New beginnings were celebrated in the family. I recall when my grandmother went back to school and got her high school diploma at 50.. That was a new beginning to be celebrated just as much as any holiday; as was each of my uncles numerous marriages. No one judged... we celebrated.. raised a glass to it.. for a new start in no matter what form it came was a cause for hope and renewal.