Where do I hang my stocking?

Oh, oh, oh, oh. There’s no place like home for the holidays- Take a bus, take a train, go and hop an aeroplane, put the wife and kiddies in the family car-cha, cha, cha.

I AM PARTLY responsible for wearing out that Perry Como recording. Every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, my sisters, brothers and I have chirped those words, at first with angelic, childlike voices and later with reminiscent, tipsy mockery, but always right along with good ol’ Perry.

I am of sound mind-most of the time-and consider myself quite happy. On December 25 of this year, my husband, Mark, and I will have been married exactly 351 days. In that time, we have moved from our native Kansas City to Dallas, bought a house and settled nicely. Though it took me a while to adjust to the buzz of this new city, I’m getting along just fine. I even drive on Central now.

But there’s one concept that has taken me quite some time to accept-the concept of home. Unpacking our wedding presents and belongings last January, I began to build our home, making a place for each knickknack. When the last box was unpacked, I stood back and took a long, pensive look. “There, it’s home,” I decided. But then I bumped into the wall while trying to find the bathroom one night. I got lost several times on the way to the grocery store. Once, I honked and waved at a woman driving a yellow station wagon, realizing too late that it couldn’t be my sister -she was in Kansas City. How embarrassing. How frustrating.

Then, there was always the phone thing. Several times, while talking to my family, I’ve scrambled my Kansas City home and my Dallas home. “Hi, Mom. Mark’s in a wedding in Kansas City in July, so we’re coming ho-, um, ah, to Kansas City on the second.”

And I wasn’t the only one with a mistaken sense of home, either. Once, while talking to my mother on the phone, she said that the next time Mark and I were “home,” she had some things for us to take back “to Dal-, um, ah, home.” On more than one occasion, my father has asked me when we were “coming home for a visit.” How does one visit home?

Our home is where we take our shoes off at night, get dressed in the morning, pay electric bills, rake leaves and do all the other things that add up to daily living. It’s also where Mark and I are together, and no matter where that happens to be, it will be home.

There is, however, one exception to our new concept of home. Home, for the holidays, involves more than the two of us. It’s a feeling. To me, home for the holidays happens to be at 22 E. 68th St., in Kansas City. To Mark, it’s at 215 W. 61st St., also in Kansas City. There is Christmas at the Guignons’ and Christmas at the Larrabees’ – somewhere the twain shall meet.

My family celebrates Christmas sort of like the Poles celebrate a wedding -it lasts for several days and takes many bottles of wine. Christmas Eve is the big holiday kickoff, with turkey and all the trimmings. Besides the “core” group (Mom, Dad and the five of us kids), there have always been at least three or four extras for dinner. Usually, we have to add so many leaves to the table that Mom’s end stretches into the hallway. This year, with a grandmother, sons-in-law, a niece and nephews included, there will be 15 of us seated around that table. Elbow room will be tight, babies will be crying, the gravy will be lukewarm by the time it makes the rounds, but I’m not willing to give up my spot at the table. If Mark and I had wanted peace and quiet and plenty of room, we’d have planned to stay in Dallas.

Christmas mornings have changed a bit through the years. When we were young, Christmas officially started at about 4 a.m., when the first brave soul would go to my parents’ room and ask if it was time to get up yet. Between four and seven, that was usually repeated about six times. At seven, Dad would go downstairs to “put the coffee on.” In reality, he was setting up the lights for the movie camera. When he would give us the “okay,” we would trample each other running down the stairs, blinded by the glare of the home-movie lights. My first memories of Christmas mornings and Christmas gifts include lots of big, blue dots everywhere.

Now that we’re older, the past few Christmases have been spent at my oldest sister’s house with her three children, my other sister’s child and all their goodies from Santa.

Christmas with Mark’s family is a different story, but it’s equally special. Mark is the middle of three children. His memories of Christmas morning are similar to mine: waking the folks to see if it’s time to open presents, tearing down the stairs – the whole bit. But their Christmas kickoff was always a huge breakfeast prepared by the master chef himself: Dad. And unlike our mass descent upon the gifts, their “gift distribution” was always very orderly, with one gift at a time passed out and patiently opened. That evening was always spent with cousins and grandparents.

I can’t remember a bad Christmas, but a few do stand out in my mind as more meaningful than others. I remember when I was in kindergarten and found out the truth about Santa Claus. The girl who lived behind us told me the cold news while we were sledding down our driveway. I was angry and upset, until Christmas Eve when, while seated around the dining room table, we heard the sound of sleigh bells on the roof. By the shocked looks on my parents’ faces, I knew that it really was Santa. That Christmas was saved by the old man who lived next door; he tied some huge bells to the end of a rope and continually tossed them onto our roof for about 30 minutes. It wasn’t until the next day that my parents discovered what he’d done. It wasn’t until the next year that I knew.

Then there was the Christmas I realized my father wasn’t superhuman. He came from a family of two children, and both of his parents died by the time I was six. That left him and his brother, who filled the void by staying close. They either saw or phoned each other every day. When Uncle Emile died in the fall of 1971, Dad’s original family was gone. That Christmas was terribly difficult for him; he told us that his memories of childhood Christ-mases couldn’t be shared with anyone. He cried in front of us, and we tried to help. 1 grew up that Christmas.

The first Christmas both my sisters were married was 1976. It was to be the first year the seven of us hadn’t spent the night before Christmas together. After our annual feast, both sisters and their spouses headed for their respective houses. Within 30 minutes, all four of them were back, bringing toothbrushes and gifts. The house was packed that night, but like the crowded dinner table, no one was willing to give up his spot.

Two years later was the first Christmas with a grandchild. More toys were showered on that little boy than there were ornaments on the tree, but there was one gift that stood head and shoulders above the rest. It was a rocking horse. Not just any rocking horse, but an exact replica of one built 20 years earlier. My father crafted the original for my sisters when they were 2 and 3 years old. It was a lean year without many purchases from the Sears and Roebuck Christmas Wish Book. My father stayed up late at night to hand-carve, sand and paint the prettiest rocking horse we’d ever seen. When my younger brother outgrew the toy, it lay deserted in the basement and was finally ruined by the dampness. So during December 1978, my father worked continually to duplicate his effort of 20 years earlier. On Christmas Eve, the treasure appeared. Three-month-old Christopher wasn’t thrilled, but that didn’t matter.

Mark’s family has had its share of meaningful Christmases, too. The one I remember best was especially poignant, because it was the first Christmas after Mark’s father died. It was rough for everyone, and I think his mother wished the occasion would pass unnoticed. That Christmas morning, Mark’s mother, sister, brother-in-law and brother slept late, while Mark sneaked downstairs to prepare the traditional family breakfast. That was also the Christmas I decided that Mark was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my Christmases with.

A friend of mine, married a few years now, recently warned me that Christmas is nothing but a hassle after marriage; juggling between the two families is maddening, she says. Well, I won’t be maddened. This is my first Christmas to bring a husband to our family. This is Mark’s first to bring a wife. Some new traditions may have to be started – maybe breakfast at my sister’s will turn into brunch, maybe we’ll have to have dessert rather than the whole meal with one family, but when the whole celebration’s all over, it’s going to be a very special first.

I realized this in October, when Mark came home from the office with “a little bad news.” He has to work at the bank until three in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, which means that by the time we drive 10 hours to get to Kansas City, we’ll have missed Christmas dinner with my family. There was no getting around it, and we hadn’t budgeted money for plane fare. I was crushed. But after a long talk, we came up with a brilliant plan. Several weeks earlier, we agreed on how much each of us was to spend on the other’s Christmas gifts. When we added the two figures, we had just enough money for plane fare to Kansas City. We made reservations that night.

Okay, so I won’t get my Cuisinart forChristmas, and Mark won’t get his new setof woods. We’re giving each other something more memorable. We’re giving eachother home for the holidays.


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