Merry Christmas, Mima

25 Dec

For as long as I remember, on Christmas Eve morning my parents, my two siblings and I would pile into whatever car my dad happened to be driving at the time (except for when he and I went out car shopping together in which case we always returned home with some completely impractical 2-seat convertible, meaning we would have to take my mom’s Saab for the trip because my mom has basically always driven a Saab) and head up north to New Salem, New York to celebrate Christmas with the Wehren half of the family.  My dad would drive, my mom would be in the passenger seat, and my sister Lucy and I would take our turn at the dreaded middle seat.  (Aaron never had to sit in the middle because he was “older and taller,” whatever, so unfair.)  The trunk would be full of suitcases and neatly wrapped presents.  My mom is excellent at wrapping presents.  We’re talking crisp corners, multi-colored ribbons which were often times the ones that if you dragged the sharp edge of the scissor over they would end up all curly like a pig’s tail, and cool cards always signed, in my mom’s unique handwriting, Love; Mom and Dad although my Dad did none of the shopping and basically was just as surprised as we were by the contents of each of the boxes.  Inevitably, on the seemingly arduous ride up (it was only 2 1/2 hours, a walk in the park by my post-India travel adventures but seemed like forever when I was 8) we would stop at the Sloatsburg Travel Plaza off the New York Thruway for some Burger King and Sbarro.  My dad always got a stomach ache.  And then it was back on the road.

Once we got off the highway at our destination, we would wind our way through Voorheesville and New Salem.  For most of the time we went up there, the town only had one stop light so it was pretty much smooth sailing.  We would drive past the two houses where I have this vague memory of a story I was told about two teenage kids, some phone calls and a police visit; we would drive past the high school and the police station; past the Smitty’s and the middle school with it’s fancy wooden playground and then arrive at my grandma, Mima’s, little house behind a bigger house, about 6 houses down on the left.  (My uncle Pat used to live in the front house.  As a little kid I was pretty afraid of Pat and his house because he always wore army clothes, never smiled, and basically kept the lights in the house off at all times.)  Sometimes Mima would  hear us coming up the driveway and would meet us out front and sometimes not, but we knew she was home waiting.  As we got older we would grab what we could and make our way in, but as little kids we would barrel into the house always making sure to close the outer door before opening the inner one so as not to allow Something, Mima’s rather sassy cat, to escape.  The rest of the afternoon and evening was full of tree decorating, eating the candy Mima always kept around but couldn’t eat (she was diabetic) and lots of talking.  Lucy could usually be found in the corner reading a book.  We gave Mima a new ornament yearly, and we always, always, got to open one present on Christmas Eve.  When I was younger, I would pick one that looked like a book and leave the bigger and oddly shaped presents, the more exciting ones, for the next day.  I always loved those Christmas Eves.

After dinner the 5 of us would leave Mima and head back to the hotel for a good night sleep before we headed back to her house for a full day of Wehren-family fun.  When we got older, and after Uncle Pat passed away and my Aunt Vida moved into his house (she painted the walls colors and turned on the lights!) me, Aaron and Lucy would all sleep there, taking care to pack pajama layers because Vida basically doesn’t believe in turning the heat above 65 degrees.  Brr.  Christmas day was always full.  My cousin Jessica and I generally got matching sweaters.  I seem to remember one year we got matching red leggings and a sweater with a reindeer on it which we changed into immediately and wore around for the rest of the day.  We loved getting matching sweaters.  I think that stopped when we were about 11. There were gifts, there were stories, there were mashed potatoes, there was the inevitable argument among the Wehren siblings about religion, education and politics (they are all varying degrees of extremely liberal).  My dad always went back to the hotel to take a nap in the middle of the day.  I think it was all a little much for him.  The next morning we would all meet at a nearby diner for breakfast before we headed home to Jersey.  That was the typical Chirstmas.  But there were a few incidents that I will always remember.

There was the time when my cousin Jessica and I decided to go back to the hotel with my dad during his afternoon nap.  We wandered the halls, playing games, pretending someone was following us through the halls of the hotel.  We didn’t know what room he this mystery man was staying in but we knew he was after us.  At one point, riding the elevator from one floor to another, we got impatient and hit basically all the buttons.  We got stuck in the elevator for about ten minutes.  To this day elevators still make me uncomfortable.

Then there was the time, after Mima started getting sick so we moved Christmas dinner down the driveway to Vida’s house, when there was a lot of snow.  Like, a lot of snow.  So much snow that, when all the pipes froze due to the insane cold, we had to go outside and get snow to melt in order to wash the dishes.  Even though this was in the era when Lucy, Aaron and I normally stayed with Vida, my dad insisted we all stay in the hotel so he didn’t have to drive to pick us up in the morning and brave all the snow.  We headed out.  The snow was pretty deep and falling fast.  Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “I Like Big Butts” was playing on the radio.  My brother and I (I think this might have been the year Lucy was in Florence) were singing along at high volume.  My dad, deciding one road seemed to be a little more treacherous than he liked, decided to attempt a K-turn into a snow bank in the Saab.  Needless to say we got stuck.  Aaron and I kept singing.  My dad did not think it was funny.  I’m pretty sure my mom tried to stay neutral but was on our side.

The time (or was it times?) when Aaron would block my exit from the revolving door and I would go around and around and around, unable to enter the hotel if we were getting back, or leave the hotel if we were headed out.

Whether there was an event or not, it was always fun.  It got harder as we got older.  We all had our separate lives.  Aaron got married and started spending Christmas at my sister-in-law, Claire’s, house.  Lucy moved to Boston.  Mima got sick and could no longer really participate in conversations like she used to.  But it was always nice going up there.  Always nice to talk to Mima about what we had been up to.  I told her about my running, my studies, and my traveling.  She seemed to be proud and impressed no matter what I was up to which I find funny because Mima is basically one of the most impressive women ever.  Mima raised 6 kids by herself and managed to feed and clothe them all.  And keep a functioning house.  I don’t think Mima had very much fun but all the kids, in the end, turned out great.  Whenever I hear some politician comment on how single women are incapable of raising well-rounded children, I want to counter with the example of my grandmother.  The older I get, the more amazed by her I am.

This is my second Christmas staying in Brooklyn.  My second Christmas after Mima died.  And while it is nice to be home and avoid the holiday travel, I really do miss all five of us piling into that car, stopping unnecessarily on the way up, seeing the family we only got to see twice a year.  I miss decorating a tree with the same ornaments year after year.  I miss making fun of my dad for his Chirstmas afternoon nap.  I miss the matching sweaters.  Most of all, though, I miss Mima.  So, Mima, where ever you are, a very merry Christmas.  I miss you more today than the other 364.

3 Responses to “Merry Christmas, Mima”

  1. Jendy December 25, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Wonderfully written, Rebekah. I miss these gatherings also, perhaps more than Paul. For me, there wasn’t the same family stress as there was for him and his siblings. Some painful memories for them, hence the heated “discussions” (arguments.) I wasn’t used to the frenzy of you kids opening all your piles of presents, not really knowing or caring who gave you what, but when I finally figured out that it wasn’t really a day for me and Paul to spend quality time with his kids, I learned to relax and drink a glass of wine, and get to know Debbie and Jody!

    I also remember that snowy Christmas. I think we would have all slept on Vida’s floor except the pump also blew! We would have had about a billion people and no flush toilets or showers! So we five piled into our old “Chernobyl-bird-shit-green” Taurus wagon and attempted to drive the kids back to their Mom & Bob’s. Nope. Stuck in the snow on Clipp Rd. Not even in a snow bank. Just the road. Totally unplowed. We even had a shovel, but that didn’t help. Luckily, Bob’s nephew happened to rumble by in his 4-wheel drive diesel pickup. He took the kids home the remaining 1/2 mile to their mom, and Paul and I backed out onto 85, and made it home to Albany a couple hours later.

    So now Mima is gone; my mom is gone; Jessica has Christmas morning in her own home with Cadee and Rob; Alex has a terrific girlfriend, Kristina; young Paul is his own sweet self; and we are planning a much more relaxed gathering this Saturday. Just presents for Cadee, and food and booze for the adults! I’m looking forward to it.

    Thanks again for sharing your memories.

    Jendy

  2. Jessica December 28, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

    It’s been way to long since I have seen you. I looked forward to seeing you everything year and what antics we could get into such as the many nicknames we had for our favorite uncles. Remember fishing for something? Mima was an amazing woman and did amazing things in that house. Her only fault had to have been loving mean evil animals. I am proud to truly lucky that I was able to grow up so close to her and no day passes that I don’t wish I could call her and tell her my hopes, dreams and sorrows. Merry Christmas cuz!

    • FranklyRebekah December 28, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

      I miss you, too! It has been way too long for sure. We have to figure out a time to get together somewhere and catch up and act foolish. Ha!

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