Christmas Eve always began with the hustle and excitement I anticipated all year long growing up in Powhatan, Virginia. Our tree had been up and decorated right after Thanksgiving and the anticipation would build each day as Momma and Daddy would make the preparations for the best time all of the year.
When Christmas Eve came around, Momma had a mountain of presents ready to be loaded into our car for our journey to Richmond and time with family at my Aunt (pronounced Ain’t) Scarlett’s house. We would make the 45 minute ride — each of us four kids chatting on about what Santy Claus was going to bring us — while Daddy would chime in reminding us that we had to get home and in bed in time or he fly right over our house and miss us! We would cry and promise that we wouldn’t delay the ride home! Not us!
Arriving at Ain’t Scarlett’s house was filled with fanfare and kisses and love — we would walk into her little house filled with family and friends we had not seen in awhile! It would take a good 30 minutes or more to get in the house, get our coats and boots off, find Grandma to hug and kiss, while being stopped by Uncles and Aunts demanding their kisses. Oh, but when Ain’t Scarlett kissed you and hugged you — the love oozed out of her and straight into your heart — you knew you were loved!
The house was filled with amazing smells — Ain’t Scarlett’s meatballs, ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, Ain’t Lorraine’s potato salad, Pinto Beans, Cornbread — and on and on! The table was filled, every inch, and overflowing with all the Appalachian goodies I can remember! And then, you turn the corner into the laundry room and the washer and dryer are covered in table cloths with pies and cakes of every variety…we never left hungry…and if you did…well, it was your own fault!
We never did get out of Ain’t Scarlett’s house any earlier than 1 a.m. and that was after Momma helped clean up — even then Ain’t Scarlett would take the left over mashed potatoes and make all of us remaining kids a potato cake! Then, finally, Momma would helps us get our boots, mittens, and coats on for the long journey home. We were tired and Daddy would always start encouraging us to look up in the sky, as we rode along the Richmond roads, to see if we saw him — that fat, red-suited elf — flying reindeer through the sky.
Sometimes by the time we arrived home, it had begun to flurry — we carried the many packages in to the house given by Aunts and Uncles and Cousins and Grandparents — Momma and Daddy would shew us off to bed and then they began their part.
I shared a bed with my sister, Angela, and I remember crawling in between those cold sheets and snuggling up under neath of the quilt that Mammaw Shook had made me — falling asleep and dreaming of the morning to come — so giddy with excitement. We would strain our ears listening for that jolly ole’ elf to land on our roof, but usually sleep won over the thrill of hearing him and the hooves scraping the roof.
The fondest memory of all and one that brings such warmth to my heart is that of Christmas morning — waking beneath that warm quilt — and I could smell the aroma of Christmas. It was that of Momma’s Turkey which had been cooking on low all night — it was the deliciousness of smelling Daddy cooking eggs and bacon and gravy and biscuits for breakfast — it was the essence of love permeating the house and sweetly reminding me that I was ever so blessed!
As Earl Hamner once said, “the family got not tokens of love, but love itself.”
We were abundantly loved and cared for and cherished. We were not told this, but rather it was demonstrated to us through the aromas that filled our home. God had blessed us — richly — with each other!