The pungent aroma of enamel paint recalls memories of Mom touching up the baseboards and sills throughout the house. It was a pre-holiday task—the first of many–she began soon after Thanksgiving, that culminated in our annual Christmas Eve open house when friends and relatives dropped in for season’s cheer.
As teenagers we attended Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; however, only my older siblings were “allowed to stay up” and mingle with family and friends who dropped by for holiday cheer. Awake upstairs in bed, my sister Judith and I listened as each doorbell chime welcomed more people gathering around the dining room table, nibbling Mom’s hors d’ oeuvres and sipping Daddy’s potent eggnog while carrying on multiple conversations.
One Christmas a Lionel Train set with transformer, tracks and cars was gifted from Frank and Lillian Ely, owners of a reputable women’s and men’s shop in Doylestown. They employed Daddy as a driver when required; and on weekdays Mom prepared their lunch and dinner. The Lionel train became a standard addition every Christmas, relegating the eggnog punch bowl, cups and goodies to the buffet server.
Too young for eggnog and other spirits, the chatter mixed with the Lionel train whizzing around the track, were the sounds drifting upstairs into our bedroom. The distinct voice of Uncle Sheridan—a Philly cop whose off-color jokes were better than any stand-up comedian—was commanding laughter from the adults collected around the dining room table.
Our patience gone, we’d creep down to the landing and look across the living room to the stockings tacked on the fireplace.
We’d holler, “Did Santa get here?”
“No!”, a chorus of adults hollered back from the dining room. “Go back to bed!”
It’s December 2020; this year there will only be three of us. We’ll continue our Stratton Christmas without an open house. Judith will again conjure Daddy’s eggnog recipe and bake dozens of fancy cookies. Decorations will adorn the mantle, shelves and the outdoor front entrance. But the chatter from friends or family will be absent, a silence throughout the rooms and walls of our home where our ancestors always celebrated the holidays.
The Covid-19 virus is the Evil Grinch who’s stolen Christmas from people we know and for hundreds upon thousands of others whom we do not. I’m an optimist praying America’s nightmare of struggle and agony and grief and sorrow and pain and loss will dissipate.
Please be safe this holiday season so all of us will be here next Christmas.