As an adult (technically) now with my own family, Christmastime evokes memories of my childhood. Simpler times when everything was new and I had yet to become the jaded critter that I am now.
Christmastime at the Carter house was always fun. And warm and green, because we lived in Florida.
My Mom and Pop knew how to do Christmas right. Mom cooked for an army. So much food! With my parents being natives of the Cayman Islands, West Indian dishes dotted the Christmas dining table landscape. Every year was truly a feast.
Pop worked for IBM, back in the day when the tech giant was a true giant. And, boy, did the IBM office in Tampa, Fla., know how to throw a party; especially for us kids.
A huge spread, Santa Claus, gifts — truly a good time. While I despised having to get my picture taken with Old Saint Nick — I’ve never been a fan of the fat guy in red, to be honest — it was worth the minor hassle to enjoy all the spoils of the annual IBM Christmas party.
The last Christmas I spent with my parents was in 1989. I’d just finished college and was ready to strike out on my own, although I had no real idea where I was headed at that point. What stands out to me the most about that Christmas were the hugs my Mom and Pop gave me before I eased into my Oldsmobile and turned back north to Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Mom was a premium hugger, but that post-Christmas send-off was different, as if she knew that things were about to change forever. Pop was not a big hugger, usually little more than what we call a “bro hug” these days. But his squeeze that day, like the hug from my Mom, was different, like he didn’t want to let go of me.
It’s in the Top 3 of hugs I’ve received all time.
Pop was the ultimate gift-hider. We never, ever found any of the gifts he bought for us ahead of Christmas Day. And, trust me, we searched high and low. Attic, his car’s trunk, his “junk room,” garage nooks and crannies, his bedroom closet; we checked everywhere. Nothing.
Cue Christmas morning. Gifts galore. Stunning.
Two gifts that I received from my parents stand out in my memory. Each signified a life change.
The first standout gift was given to me at Christmas 1984. It was a set of black American Tourister luggage. A big suitcase, a smaller bag, and a suit bag with a shoe holder; the standard stuff. I’d been accepted to college in Tennessee and would be on my way by August 1985, hence the practical present from Mom and Pop.
The look on my Mom’s face that morning is what remains with me to this day. There was a hint of sadness behind her broad smile.
I still have the big suitcase case and the smaller bag. The suit bag experienced an unfortunate accident years ago in the Atlanta airport and didn’t last long after the incident.
Fast forward to 1989 for the second turning point gift. As I said, that was my last Christmas with my parents before I moved out permanently, and they gave me a set of flatware and silverware. We still have both sets — a few pieces are missing — to this day.
Seeing that gift, it hit me that my childhood was officially over.
Pop has been gone for 20 years now and Mom for 15. Some years, the holidays are a littler tougher than others for me, but I treasure the time God gave me with them and the joyful memories that are still fresh and vivid.
My prayer for you this holiday season is that you’ll have the chance to make some lasting, wonderful memories with family and friends.
Merry Christmas from the Carter family.