Let me say at the beginning that I had the best parents in the world. Period. Mama and Daddy always gave everything they had to make sure that their children were amply provided for, working hard and long to make ends meet.
Christmastime was always memorable at 26 Sims Street. We'd pull the fake tree down out of the attic, put those big-bulbed strings of lights on it, place the ornaments, and cover it with foil "icicles". It was killer, and usually placed so nobody in the room could see the television.
We'd all go to bed early on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning was an exercise in patience and torture. We couldn't open presents until Mama and/or Granny cooked breakfast, taking time to make--not pop open--biscuits and milk gravy, sausage, eggs, and grits (our house was decorated in Early Cracker Barrel). Then--then--we'd have to clean the kitchen up before we moved on to the gifts. Christmas Day was the one day of the year that Mama never had any problem getting help with the dishes.
Then, the glorious moment I'd been waiting for. Daddy would play "Santa" and pass out gifts, one by one, to different family members. I remember getting Hot Wheels, a Daisy BB gun, a bow and arrow set, slot cars, and trains. Mama always made sure I got some cologne--even when I was small--so I'd smell like a "boy-dog" when I went to church.
After the wrapping paper was strewn about the living room and I was anxious to get outside and shoot something or set up my track inside the house and wreck something, Daddy would invariably serve up the last gift: Guilt.
The family would be waist-deep in ribbon when Daddy would regale us with his tale of growing up in the North Georgia mountains. They'd cut a tree off their land and decorate it with whatever they had. Grandpa and Grandma Berry's house, as long as they lived, never had anything other than a fireplace for heating, a woodstove for cooking, no running water (only a well), and an outhouse for...well, you know.
Daddy would remind us that a "good" Christmas for them was one in which they got an apple, an orange, some hard candy, and some nuts. I'd look around at all the stuff I got and think about Daddy or Mama at my age, just happy to have some fresh fruit for Christmas.
This year I'd just love to hear Daddy tell that Christmas story one more time. And, as a grown man, I'd still feel guilty for all I have and take for granted while there are countless others just happy to have food for Christmas.
As fate would have it, this year at our house we'll have what Daddy and Mama called (before Dolly Parton) a "hard candy Christmas". Circumstances out of my control determined how it would be. But it's okay. My family will all be together this year for the first time in years. My sweet wife, all my children, Mama and Susie, and my granddog, Chief.
It's a good, good Christmas.
Maybe it would do us all some good to have a "mountain Christmas" one year. And watch some little boys and girls play with toys mysteriously delivered for Christmas, while Mamas and Daddys didn't have to worry--at least for that day--what they'd feed their children and where they'd find it.