Recalling Not-so-traditional Christmas Memories

Recalling Not-so-traditional Christmas Memories
Do you feel that recalling some of the more traditional Christmas memories at times becomes too painful – the nostalgia, too much to bear? I do. Unless I’m in a story-telling mood with my grandkids, I prefer to recall the not-so-traditional memories from the past – you know what I mean – the memories that make you laugh out loud.

The Urban Sombrero

One such example occurred on Christmas Eve in St. Joseph’s church in Beaverdale, PA. We were attending Midnight Mass and Mom was wearing a huge hat that could have doubled as a balance bar for a high-wire circus act. She carefully stepped up to kneel for communion, when her high heel slipped and she fell sideways and almost beheaded the person next to her with that huge, flying saucer-like sombrero. We got the giggles so badly that we had to bow our heads in a somber attempt to hide our laughter. One look at her though, and we knew we better straighten up or there would be no joy during that Christmas.

Missing Ingredient

At the know-it-all age of about 14, I read somewhere that you could enhance the longevity of a Christmas tree by adding a little sugar and bleach to the water bowl under the tree. The sugar and water nourished the tree’s needles while the bleach kept the solution from spoiling.

When our house began to reek from the fermenting mixture, I remembered that I had forgotten to add the bleach to that concoction. We searched everywhere for the cause of that odor. We blamed the dog, the sewer and even blamed each other until I crawled under that tree a week later and discovered exactly where that aroma was coming from. We laughed about that for years, but Dad would not allow anything but water in that metal bowl after that fiasco.

Change and Vision

Pap Potchak would make a traditional stop at our house every Christmas morning. My uncle Pete would take him from house to house in our family as he treated the grandkids to some change he carried so carefully in his black money pack. When he handed the money to my sister Stacie’s new doll that stood next to the tree, we all got a kick out of it. The doll stood at the same height and had a similar hair style as my sister. When he discovered that it was a doll, and not my sister, he mumbled something in Slovak that we didn’t understand but we imagined he wasn’t very happy with himself over his mistake. God, I miss him and my uncle. Those Christmases were so special.

Shoe’s On the Other Foot

The youngest sibling, Dan, was forever getting his shoes on the wrong feet or worse – at times wearing two differently styled shoes. On one trip to Mass, my older sister called out, “Look Mom, Dan has two different shoes on again.”

My poor mom, already frazzled from the hectic schedule she imposed on herself, asked my dad to turn the car around and head back to the house to find a correct shoe to make a pair. My sister then pulled out a shoe that she had hidden behind her on the car seat. She spotted the infraction at the house and took the spare with her, but didn’t say anything until we were close to the church. We were all relieved and Mom was happy that the shoe was in the car. Dad didn’t appreciate the joke as much though, until a while later. I think he felt mom’s anxiety at this time of the year and it took him a while before he appreciated the humor in the whole situation.

A Clean Sweep

No Christmas memory is more hilarious than the time my wife sent me to the hardware store in town to purchase a broom. It was Christmas Eve morning and the store was only open till noon, and she was bent on cleaning house before all of the other chores would occupy her time.

While waiting in line at the counter, I spotted a former student of mine in line, in front of me. He was a huge guy. He stood about 6’ 4” and weighed about 250 pounds. His size and thick glasses were a dead give-away that this was Brandon Smith who had graduated a few years earlier.

I took that broom by the handle and held it like a baseball bat. As a joke I started to swing it at him, hitting his behind. It reminded me of the old fashioned paddling teachers used to give kids in school. These were not love taps. I struck his behind and said something like, “Let’s get this line moving, it’s way too slow.”

Boom, boom, boom – I hit him like I was driving a baseball well out of the park, for three consecutive home runs.

Imagine my surprise when Brandon turned around and I discovered it WASN’T HIM!!! The astonished look on his face was only surpassed by the look on mine, which was surpassed by the look on the store attendant, which was surpassed by the look on the guy behind me. Not a word was uttered. I froze. The attendant froze, and the Brandon look-alike turned and finished his transaction.

To this day, when I go in that store, the clerk still says,” It’s OK, he doesn’t have a broom in his hands today.”

Merry Christmas!

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA