Stirring up memories
Gatherin' 'Round the Birthday Tree
December 25, 2005
and starry, the early Christmas morning sky of the Texas
Panhandle glittered above. Way before
dawn, when the sound of hoof beats on the roof had scarcely faded, the two
little Nordyke girls, like children everywhere, were out of bed and pulling on
our parents’ sheets begging to be up, begging to see what Santa left.
knew to pull the sheets on Daddy’s side.
Mother would only send us back to wait “just a little while,” but Daddy was
as anxious as we were to begin his favorite day of the year.
suspect that some years he was lying there waiting for us and that if we’d only
held off for a few minutes he would have come and fetched us. We never had the patience to try that theory out.
could not go straight to the stockings.
We had to pass those tempting, bulging beauties, barely casting a glance
to see if the hoped-for doll was showing her curls out of the top, or maybe—oh
joy!—was so big that she had to be seated under the tree.
first stop was out the front door, down the porch steps and onto the
frost-crunchy Bermuda grass to look up at that starry sky. First we looked to the east, then the north,
west, south, and, finally, straight up.
While we turned Daddy told us how when he was a little boy, “just a
lad,” he always said, on the lonely farm in west Texas,
he’d come outside every Christmas morning with his own Daddy. But after they looked at the stars,
Grandfather Nordyke lifted his shotgun and at shot off a single round in each
direction. He did it every year, but he
never, never explained why, no matter how many times his seven children
asked. After the echoes of the shots
faded from the rugged hills, the family trooped back into the house for their
farmer-sparse but joyous holiday.
often than not, Daddy would go on to
tell his shivering daughters about the one very special Christmas morning when
after shooting off the four shots, Grandfather again lifted his gun and gave
another round. He had something special
to celebrate that year—inside the unpainted house, born that very Christmas
morning, was his own tiny son—the baby boy who grew up to be my dad.
now we were shaking in our bathrobes and houseshoes
and all too eager to get back into the house where Mother had hot cocoa with a
marshmallow (a big one, none of those little ones at our house) waiting by the bright
Christmas tree and the new doll.
done our “big Christmas” the night before at my grandmother’s. Christmas morning was for the stockings, the
dolls and the books. Always the
books. I can track my Christmases today
by looking at the flyleaf of my childhood books. “Merry Christmas, 1946,” that’s the Bobbsey
Twins, the Little House books came
later, Kipling’s Jungle Book, Little
Women, and don’t forget Nancy Drew.
the time it was fully light, the present were done, the wrapping put
away—Mother saved the pretty bows, but we could never find them the next
year—Daddy, Nan and I were lost in our new books. Mother was starting on dinner.
noon, things changed. It quit being
Christmas. It became Daddy’s
birthday. He was clear on that
point—Mother thought obnoxious.
Sometimes, strolling from the living room to the dining room to check on
dinner’s progress, he’d rub his hands together and mummer, “Me an’ Jesus.”
Mother remonstrated. “Not in front of
the girls.” But she laughed after she said it.
friends dropped by in the afternoon with gifts for the family and a birthday
gift for Daddy—woe to the poor soul who offered him a combination gift—he’d
greet them jovially, “Come on in! We’re glad you could drop by on our
birthday!” He’d gesture to the shimmering
tree, “’Bout the best birthday tree we’ve ever had.”
might be the traditional Christmas turkey and dressing with Mother’s special
fresh cranberry sauce, but dessert was always the same—a big and glowing
birthday cake. (Daddy said he’d never
had even one when he was growing up. He
never missed one after he was grown!)
year, early Christmas morning when I go out to look at the stars before we open
gifts, I’ll remember my grandfather and I’ll remember my daddy. I’ll look in each direction, and then when
I’m through, I’m going to turn around and look each way one more time. For the Christmas morning when my grandfather
shot the special, joyous extra round was Christmas, 1905—exactly 100 years ago.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network