The Pain of Memory Lane

In my last post, I teased at a very sad story in my life. Some readers expressed interest in knowing a little bit more. Here is the story.

The holidays, especially Christmas, was always an important time around my house growing up. I lived with my Mom, my Grandma (Gran), and my Mom’s boyfriend. Every year, we would host Christmas and Thanksgiving at our house. For Mom and Gran, it was always a big production.

Thanksgiving was always big. My Uncle would come over around noon and we would play catch outside with the football, or baseball, depending on the weather. Mom and Gran would already have the turkey started, as well as the ham. One of my two Aunts would come over, and usually by about 4:00pm, dinner would be on the table. There was turkey, stuffing, hand mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, ham, green beans, and of course, pumpkin pie to finish the meal. Everyone would share stories of their lives growing up in Ireland, and it was fascinating. Even my Mom’s boyfriend would join in and tell stories of his family, although not from Ireland. His mom would even come over for Thanksgiving dinner sometimes, until she passed away. After dinner, we would all help clear the table, and usually we would all gather back up and play a board game. It was always the same, either Monopoly or Scattergories. Somehow, Gran always won. I think it was fixed!

After thanksgiving, Mom and her Boyfriend would always go out and pick up a Christmas tree. That was usually the next week. I would rush home from school just to help decorate it. There were so many ornaments to hang, and Mom always had the two or three that only she was allowed to place. She would wrap the tree in lights, and then it was my turn, she would place the special ornaments afterwards. We always had a blast, and Gran would have her Johnny Mathis album playing while we decorated. While we worked inside, my Mom’s boyfriend, or my Uncle, sometimes both, would decorate the front porch. There would be garland and lights on all the railings. Icicle lights dangled from the ceiling. Even the front bushes would get lights, sometimes color, sometimes white.

Then Christmas day would come. That was the biggest of the whole season. Both my Aunts would be there, with their children. My uncle would always be the first to arrive. They would unload all of their presents under the tree. It would always be so full that you wouldn’t know where to sit. Everyone would be at the house no later than 11:00am. I always got to open ONE present before they arrived. It was always from Santa. Nobody was allowed to open anything else, until noon. At noon, we would get the speakerphone and call our family in Ireland. It would be 5:00pm there, and we would share a toast. Not me, I would have a glass of pop. Once the toast was done, it was time to get into the gifts. I was always “Santa’s little helper” and had to hand out all the gifts. We would go one at a time. We would laugh and cry, and be so happy for everything, they were the happiest memories I have of my childhood. Mom always had a challenge for herself, year after year. She would place a snack tray of sausage, cheese, crackers and shrimp on the table. She would then try and make the hottest cocktail sauce she could, just to watch my Uncle cry.  After presents, it was dinner time. Yes, it would take that long, but nobody cared. There was ham, and roast beef, occasionally another turkey, with potatoes, and anything else my Mom could think of. Mom and Gran made the best team when it came to the kitchen. There was never a holiday where someone didn’t like the food.

Gran died in November 2001.

Mom did her best as she became the Matriarch of the family. And she did a hell of a job, and the tradition continued year in and year out. But something was always missing.

In September of 2007, my mom had a stroke. It was unconfirmed at the time what the leading cause was. While in the hospital, she developed pneumonia, and ended up bed ridden for a little over a week. We found out halfway through that week, that the stroke and pneumonia were caused by Liver Cirrhosis, which was a direct result of alcohol abuse. The doctor said that if she hadn’t had a stroke, then it would have been a massive heart attack, possibly a week later. All three of those turned out to be a deadly cocktail, as by a week after being admitted to the hospital, my Mom was gone. She was 52 years old. I was 18. It was, and still is the worst day of my life.

Since Mom died nine years ago, we haven’t had a family Thanksgiving, or a family Christmas. My family has somewhat grown distant. Yeah, we all talk, and get together occasionally, but rarely all at the same time. I am married now, with a child of my own. I try to make her happy, just like my Mom did with me. It just kills me everyday, that she will never get to experience the joys that I had when I was growing up.

Thank you for taking this trip down memory lane with me. I cried several times while writing it. I hope that this gives a better understanding why the holidays can be a tough time for some. It certainly explains why I have all but become a Grinch, but I am trying to break myself of that habit. Happy Holidays to all of my readers, and I hope I didn’t make you all cry too much.

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