Certain things immediately take me home, and now and again I crave these items. Sometimes I medically need a Big Red (the soda, not the gum), or greasy Tex-Mex enchiladas with properly seasoned rice and beans. The one thing guaranteed to make me feel like I’m home, though, no matter where I might be, is a dinner of prosciutto, provolone and other assorted Italian deli meats, cheeses and olives. That’s really the only way for me to get into the Christmas spirit.
Every year for Christmas Eve I would help my Mom (okay, to be honest I usually complained the whole time) clean and set up the house, along with my sister, for the family to come over. Sometimes we had Christmas at Poppa’s or my aunt and uncle’s, but the food was always the same. A full selection of deli meats and cheeses, spiced olives, salty “dried” black olives, chips, tamales and rolls for those who wanted to make a sandwich were always laid out in a buffet. There weren’t a whole lot of sweets, though sometimes we would make fudge or there would be chocolate dipped butter toffees or baklava. We weren’t a big dessert family, which baffles my husband. The food was fantastic and everyone had to eat at least one full plate of food before presents could be handed out. My mom always had half a sandwich still on her plate when the rest of us were done and my aunt always seemed to be the one saying “Hurry up and eat, Liz Ann!” My mom has the innocent yet shifty eyes down pat.
Next, Santa would be chosen. One year it would be me, then the next my sister, then Quetha or Mom, or maybe even Harry. I don’t recall either Uncle Gino or Poppa ever playing Santa. I think Gino was excused because he usually had a million masses to say around Christmas, and as for Poppa, I can only assume that it was to keep him from peeking at his presents as he passed them all out. Poppa loves to poke and pick at his present to sneak a peek. Once all the cards and presents were passed out the feeding frenzy would begin. Everyone had a different method. I like to read all my cards first and thank everyone at the beginning for their kind thoughts before ripping into my presents, because I had bad habit of not checking the tabs before opening stuff. It got to the point where I would open something and just hold it up with a generic “Thank you!” and then wait to see who said something. I’m better about it now, but I’ve also begun my Uncle Gino’s habit.
Gino loved to open the presents so he could save the paper. He would very carefully peel off the tape and unwrap the present then fold it up to take and use later. I never saw any of the paper again, but I never heard of a cache of wrapping paper found stuffed in a closet, so he must have done something with it. Personally, I just like to acknowledge the hard work that went into wrapping my gifts, so that’s my excuse. Now and then, though, I still just go for it.
I remember the first year my husband and my mom’s beau joined us for Christmas. Everything was normal and fun through dinner and mom finally finished her sandwich so Lisa could hand out presents (she really loves to be Santa). Everyone seemed to do cards first that year, and then the countdown happened. I won’t lie. There are strange animal noises at times as we open our gifts. They aren’t all Lisa. I don’t think the men were ready for us. We had trained up my sister’s (now ex) husband, so he was never phased by a Christmas with the Bernasconi’s, but had forgotten to warn the doctor and Ryan. They just leaned back and sat wide-eyed for the first while. Ryan recovered faster, being younger and more resilient, but eventually the doc got into the spirit of things and opened his gifts as well.
The rest of the evening you can imagine. More gifts and food and a lot of conversation and reminiscing. The occasional argument was inevitable and the best year – as far as zany family moments go – was the year my mom and aunt had the bubble war while washing dishes. The worst was the year I made Mom cry because I wanted some dumb toy (can’t remember what it was now) and I threw a hissy. I still regret that year.
Next came Christmas Day! That’s a whole different post all about my dad, his awesome soup and Galaxy Quest.