The left side of the huge room was lined with vinyl rocking chairs circa 1950 0r 1960-ish. By the corner window, that faced the garden, was a dusty bookshelf and a table full of framed family photographs (also very dusty). On the back wall hung a now antique, aqua-colored rotary phone with the long, curly cord. I rarely heard it ring, if at all, and I’m not sure if it was ever dialed. There were already-read newspapers and magazines piled up in one corner of the room. On the back wall was a long sofa that I sat on occasionally, but it sunk it quite a bit and so it was hard to get up, even as a kid.
This was the room where the men hung out, while the ladies cooked, and talked about farming and politics and God knows what else. On these visits to my mother’s parents’ farmhouse, they each took a chair and rocked and talked for hours. At some point I would walk in and visit my dad, grandpa and uncles for a few minutes when I got bored, especially if my cousins were not visiting at the same time. I would sit on my Dad’s knee and he would continue his conversation while patting my back. Then I would rise and walk out the back door, step down the three wooden steps of the rickety back porch, and leave out the metal gate, into the fields. There was usually corn or maze growing, and I would walk through and pretend like I was lost. Every spring wildflowers popped up, and I would return with a bouquet, ready for a Mason jar half-filled with water, for the table centerpiece.
Christmases at my grandparents’ house in Shiner, Texas are hard for me to recall now. When I was a little girl I remember riding home with the gifts, that were not many. My grandma usually gave us girls some sort of figurine and ALWAYS, every year gave each one of her grandchildren a box of chocolate covered cherries. In the car on the way back to our house I would eat the sugary white stuff and the outer, chocolate shell, then deposit the cherries back into the plastic compartments in the box. I never liked the cherries (still don’t). I still have one of the figurines she gave me back in the early 80’s. I assume she got it at the Dollar General. It is a girl with an orange bonnet and brown hair, wearing a blue dress. She is holding up one side of the skirt and I always imagined her twirling, even though she is made of porcelain.
I recall being in that huge room with all of my aunts and uncles and cousins together. That was the only time I remember being in the room at night, with the overhead light on, instead of just natural light from outside (which wasn’t much). I think there was a cedar tree for a Christmas tree but I cannot completely remember. I just remember being happy with everyone together. And I think the boys usually got long johns. Seems like maybe I got a nightgown once but I would have to confirm with my mom -although she probably would not remember. I assume there as food too, but I cannot recall what we ate – I was too excited about the gifts. As we got older we received money instead – five dollars, I believe. And of course, still the cherries too.
All of these memories came up because my cousin posted a photo of me, herself, her sister and our other cousin on Facebook the other day. It was taken on the porch of our grandparents’ old house, when we were teenagers. My cousin Loretta commented, “Chocolate covered cherries anyone?” and all the snapshots started filing through my head like a slide show, of times spent there and all those boxes of cherries, scattered around the room.
I think by the time I was 11 or 12 years old we moved the family Christmas to a local hall, which was rented one weekend close to the holiday, and the gathering in the big room at my grandparents’ house came to an end. Instead everyone brought potluck and everything sort of changed. We just became too many, and older.
I miss that old house. I spent so many times there, visiting with my grandparents and watching my aunts, mom and grandma make food in the eat-in kitchen without plumbing. I can still taste my grandma’s melt-in-your mouth beef stew and super lemony iced tea. And I can still see everyone in that big room, their faces happy with the blessings of the season. And their bellies full of chocolate covered
but maybe not the cherries.