11. December 2014 · Comments Off on A VERY TAYLOR CHRISTMAS · Categories: Other

When I was growing up, my family celebrated Christmas in a way that I’ve come to see was a little different from many other families.  We didn’t have too many special traditions, but I can clearly remember the ones we did have.  We had a Santa tradition and a breakfast tradition; otherwise, we mostly did what every other family did.

My memories really begin in the small house in San Lorenzo where my parents, my dad’s mother, and my two siblings and I lived from my age 5 to 7.  I was the eldest; my siblings were Pat, 15 months younger, and Chuck, 3½ years younger than me.

When I was 7, just before my third sister, Sylvia was born, we moved to a project apartment in Oakland.  The three oldest children shared a bedroom and, when I was 9, I moved into the room with my grandmother.  My youngest sister, who was then 2, moved into my bed in the shared bedroom; she had until then slept in our parents’ room.  Another sister, Roberta, was born when I was 12, and our traditions continued with her.


The Santa Claus Tradition

I guess I stopped “believing” in Santa Claus when I was about 8, but my sister and brother still believed so I continued the fiction.  By the time our baby sister was 8, and old enough to doubt Santa, there was a new toddler, Roberta, and my first child was born when Roberta was 11.  So there were five or six years when we had no children believing in Santa.

Despite that, every Christmas we had a tree, usually set up and decorated by the whole family a week to ten days before Christmas Eve.  We didn’t move to a home with a chimney until I was 14, but we’d hang stockings anyway, often from doorknobs or tacked onto the wall.  All the children got a stocking with their names embroidered, painted, or simply written on them.

The stockings were stuffed by Santa, of course, so we didn’t have access to them until Christmas morning.  They were usually the first thing we were allowed to look at since most of us children were up by 5 a.m. and our parents preferred to sleep a little later.  It seemed that Santa would take the stocking down, fill it and hang it on the children’s bedroom doorknob, or prop it against the door.  We’d open our door and find our stockings, then spend the next half hour or so in one bedroom or another, inspecting the candy, fruit, fake jewelry and comic books Santa had left in our stockings, each of us eagerly looking over what the others had gotten.

When we were sated on the stockings, we were allowed to awaken the parents and cautiously make our way into the living room, where we discovered all the gifts that Santa had left for us.  Prior to Christmas morning, there were already many gifts under the tree, but they were all for and from the family.

But the best part of Christmas morning, in my memory, took place after the gifts were opened.  I think it started when I was about 5.  My dad would come across his stocking, left somewhere that only he could find.  Every year we kids expected Santa to have given Dad wonderful things, just as he’d left for us.  But each time we were doomed to disappointment…and laughter.

Every year, Santa would leave my dad strange, odd things that he slowly pulled out of his stocking.  He’d reach down into the stocking and feel around, telling us what he thought he was feeling.  Then he would pull out something different.  He would find what seemed to be a candy bar, but it would turn out to be just the wrapper.  He would pull out a banana peel and pretend he thought it was whole, or a block of wood that could have been a box containing jewelry, or an onion that he claimed would prove to be a pomegranate.  Once he pulled out a piece of coal which we kids had never seen before; he said it was a chunk of chocolate and we believed him, but when he bit into it, he found out differently.  Once in a while there was a note from Santa in Dad’s stocking, accusing him of having come too close to catching him.

This tradition continued for many years.  When my youngest sister was 11 my own son was born, and every year after that a new grandchild appeared until there were eight little ones, all excited and amazed when Santa left Grandpa his annual stocking.  One year, before Dad’s youngest grandchildren were old enough not to be taken in, Santa even left a tape recording.  When Dad played it for us, it said something like, “Ed, you’ve tried to catch me every year and every year I’ve escaped.  But no matter how hard you try, you’ll never catch me!  Ho ho ho!”  We parents recognized my dad’s voice, but the little ones were thrilled.  But once there were six or seven years between the youngest of that generation and the oldest of the next, the tradition had finally worn thin.  Two of my siblings had moved away and were bringing up their families in other states, and the tradition just disappeared.

But a few years before Dad’s death in 1998, while our holidays were still large, with many little ones and at least three of Dad’s children attending, my sisters and I realized that few of the youngest kids had ever seen his stocking performance.  We decided to bring back the old tradition before the youngest kids were too old to enjoy it.

Without telling him, we filled a stocking for Dad with the same types of things he’d always gotten when we were little—orange, banana and potato peels; blocks of wood; rocks; candy wrappers, etc., and a note from Santa.  We even included a tape recording, with a boyfriend of mine doing the booming Santa voice.  By now, the children included two 13-year-olds, a 10-year-old, three 8-year-olds, a 6-year-old, and 3-year-old twins.  I’m not sure if they, the fourth generation, could really appreciate the stocking the way my sisters and I, and the third generation, did.  And my father, who loved it.


The Breakfast Tradition

Our Christmas breakfasts, which usually included all the families after we were grown, took place after the gifts were opened.  Dad and our grandma always cooked tripe, an English specialty, along with scrambled eggs, ham, and toast.  Our grandmother often got out of bed even before 5, when the little ones thought they were the only ones awake, and started the tripe cooking.  It was cooked thoroughly until it was tender, and served in a white sauce.  Only natural-born Taylors liked it—even our mother, who had eaten it every year, barely tolerated it, and anyone marrying into the family almost invariably refused it after one test bite.  But we didn’t care.  Later, when the little ones came along, most of them also loved it.

Christmas afternoons were devoted to riding new bicycles up and down the block, calling up friends to describe the new Barbies or the lovely cameos or charm bracelets we’d received.  Before dinner, which we ate in late afternoon on Christmas Day, several of the oldest usually took the smallest ones on a walk to the park.

Dinner was usually an expensive honey-baked ham or a butterball turkey, but sometimes one of us talked Dad into trying something different such as prime rib or even beefsteak and Yorkshire pudding.  Once in a while, our Irish mother suggested corned beef but she was always voted down.  Dad and Grandma did the cooking, and Mom and the girls cleaned up.  Mom was the baker in the family, and she’d usually made a pumpkin pie and a mincemeat pie.  The mincemeat, though, appeared to be another Taylor-related dish which only she and one or two of the in-laws liked.  None of the natural-born Taylors would eat it.

We often played games in the evening, at least those of us who liked games did—my dad, me, my son, my youngest sister, and up to five in-laws and/or children.  One year I designed a board game that I hoped would interest our mother—she was not a game person, but now and then she’d toss in a word or two that let us know she was paying attention.  I called my game “Genre,” a game for readers and writers which most of us were.  Mom agreed to play it, as did seven or eight of us, and when we finished my mother announced she thought the game was “okay.”  I considered that high praise from her.