Granddaddy Jim and Grandma Nancy’s house is propped in the middle of a rainbow-colored road of homes, a yellow-red conglomerate of brick and concrete. After weaving through a few cozy streets away from the interstate’s chaos, you are transplanted to a festive world of serenity. Illumination from other houses bounces into our car window’s reflection. The driveway is wide and welcoming; the wreath holds fragrant pine and red velvet and faded golden bells. Grandma and Granddaddy throw out their arms and laugh in delight, happy to take our coats and bring us inside. Granddaddy Marvis and Grandma Annie’s house is cradled by a giant tree, leaves blanched by snow and the front porch covered in decoration. They are on a busier road, which makes it necessary for the inside to be hushed in merry, reflective stories and laughter. Going back and forth between those structures to glean love was a thrilling, practiced endeavor and I met it with anticipation each late December.
“Hi baby!” are the projected, excited words of Jim and Nancy. The hugs are fierce, covered in a lavender sweatshirt smelling of vanilla perfume and Spearmint, and a manly beige polo with lots of kisses to make everyone feel extra special. Risa and I always make sure to observe the coffee tables and keyboard top for new pictures, or old ones that we can giggle at on the way to the sunroom. The sunroom is usually the first stop, brilliantly lit by backyard sunshine and windows that cast light on even the smallest crook. There’s a large glass table on the left with four comfortable chairs and placemats. Dividing the room is a cute VCR-combo television with puzzles and math games underneath. To the right is a couch and several more chairs, dominating the faded pale brown flooring. In here, it cries for people to spend many hours discussing the world—which is exactly what we do. Risa and I glaze over a little when Dad and Granddaddy Jim start discussing which local football coaches are still at Roosevelt High School, but then recover when reviewing the last Redskins game. Mom and Grandma are all things teaching, which method would really assist the demise of public schools in D.C. and stories of having to knock some obnoxious kid down to size with a witty comment.
It’s really fun here, but the clock is ticking down and we have another stop.
I used to love pulling into Granddaddy Marvis and Grandma Annie’s house for the remembrance of their black Cocker Spaniel, Inky, wagging his tail at the fence. I lived to go outside and play with Inky, to stroke his fluffy head and look into his dark, poetic eyes. He was just as quiet as I was, taking in more of the political discourse and hilarious family stories of Dad’s seven other brothers and sisters and various uncles and aunts. Grandaddy Marvis was tall and reminds one of a Cherokee chief—strong, sharp features, wise; Grandma Annie was elegant and beautiful in her wheelchair, lighting up at the fact that some of her family was with her to share more love and life. They smelled like pine and fresh air, reflected in the yard toys lying around out back and the gardens created with care. We sit mostly in the kitchen, around a gorgeous old wooden table covered in news and advertisements. They offer Risa and I sections on what’s on sale at the mall, and we begin dreaming of future outfits. But we also listen to the best way to prepare greens, or what it felt like to be honored as a Tuskegee airman by the White House and President Obama.
It’s finally time to retire home.
Mom goes off to plan a list for the next day, and Dad starts tinkering in the garage with some of his new tools. Risa journeys to her room to begin her own relaxation, after we’ve traded silliness.
Our living room was, by far, the best spot for thinking and being grateful at Christmas. This was because a giant tree was caked with stunning multi-colored lights, handmade and store-bought ornaments, and a perfect gold star. Underneath the pan for water was a white and red tree skirt, and many gifts of favor glittering softly. Our dachshund Snoopy was curled at my feet in a tiny black-brown ball, and I was taking in the moment. I had family that really loved me, and whom I could always count on to be there for me. This sunk in so well during these Christmas Eve moments.
Looking back at the tradition of the Williamson family, I can’t wait to enjoy what’s in store for our Hammer family. We’ve already bought our first tree, an adorable four-foot, pre-lit beauty from Kohl’s (which was free, thanks to some post-thanksgiving Kohl’s cash), and a sweet nested bird we named Chibi Gaara (after one of our favorite Naruto characters). Today we will make a first-year ornament, do more decoration shopping, clean house, and enjoy each other’s company. Last night’s faculty-staff Christmas party allowed me to show my hubby off, and bask in the conversations about French clubs and which James Bond movies were best.
What exactly is tradition? Webster promises “an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom); a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable; the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by the word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction; cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions; characteristic manner, method, or style. What this means to me for Christmas is a collection of practices that Travis and I have experienced or that we want to experience together with loved ones and neighbors, alike: decoration, plays, ballets, opening gifts together at our place on Christmas Day and then driving to see our family in Taylorsville, celebrating advent with the church, dancing around to goofy Christmas music, and basically just praising our God that we’re alive and forgiven.