9 Years Old For a Night

In my blog “A Special Visitor,” I wrote about Santa’s visit to my daughter, Ella. Santa is my friend Jan. It had been a while since we caught up, so after pictures, we chatted for a while. We were trying to figure out how long ago we had met. I can answer that with certainty now – it was 12 years ago. I know this because of something that came up in my Facebook Memories.

At one time, Facebook allowed you to write “Notes,” which were much like the blog option that was on My Space at the time. Tonight, back in 2008, I had one amazing night. Here is the contents of that Facebook note (with occasional elaboration from me in italics):

9 Years Old For a Night

(I’m not sure how I was made aware of the Proud Fathers class that was offered by the school district. My sons were 6 and 1 at the time, so I may have read about it at the daycare my son was going to. I remember that the flyer stated that the class was designed “to help strengthen the significant role that fathers and Very Important Males play in the successful development of their children. This program is open to all dads, grandfathers, uncles, and other Very Important Males.There is no handbook to parenting, and I thought this class would be extremely beneficial to me as a father. Jan was one of the many dads who was in the class and we hit it off immediately.)

Many of my friends, who are also My Space friends, know that I have been taking a class through the GISD called “Proud Fathers”. It is by far the best thing I have ever done. I have learned more about myself, my dad, and my kids in 8 weeks than you can possibly imagine. It is a state funded program, so it is free and is a 14 week class.

(It was interesting to look back at my childhood and how my father parented to see how that affected my parenting style. In one of the classes, there was a cartoon in the workbook. It was two guys standing in a driveway looking at two piles of boxes. The caption of the cartoon read, “They’re things my dad gave me. Some things I am going to keep and some things I’m going to throw away.The point of the cartoon was tied to an exercise. We listed the various things our father’s did when they parented. From that list, we kept certain things we liked about his parenting and got rid of the things we didn’t like. It was a fairly eye opening exercise.)

(Within the course, there was a day that was set aside for what they referred to as a “playshop” week. The week before, the fathers all threw around ideas on things we could do with our kids the following week. I remember all of us being excited as we began tossing around ideas. The more ideas came out, the more and more excited we got.)

Last week, we made plans for our “playshop” week, which was tonight. We had the parachute out and were bouncing balls off it, letting the kids run underneath it, and making the “mushroom”. We had a fishing game, where each child threw a line in (behind a big marker board) and someone from behind would attach something to the end, like a book or toy. We had kid bowling. We put our kids on one of those boards with the wheels on the bottom and pushed them into the pins (my idea).

But the best part of the night was the dodgeball game!

You can only imagine, the adults and the kids going at each other. It was a BLAST! The only difference with the way we played was you had to get hit three times before you were out. These kids were killing us dads! It was awesome! For a half hour we were all nine years old, doing our best to catch the balls hurled at us. Well, just like elementary school, I sucked! I was laughing to hard to care. I was amazed at the way these 6 year old kids were beaning me! We finally had to quit when someone hit the blinds in the back of the room and busted a few slats. We probably should have played it in the gym, but we figured a smaller room was safer.

Playing with your child – what a wonderful place the world would be if more parents did this! Dante’ and I bonded – especially when we were on the same team. Dimitri and I bonded when I drove him around on a tricycle made for an adult and child (Jan reminded me of this when he was at the house this weekend!). It was an awesome night. The joy that I experienced is something that I cannot wait to feel again. I may even have to schedule a play date…dodgeball anyone??

(Needless to say, it’s been 12 years since I played dodgeball. I really need to gather up a team to play!!)

When is the last time you played with your kids? If you can’t remember, boy are you missing out.

“Spending time with your children is one thing you will never regret”

A Surprise Visitor

Here we are less than 2 weeks away from Christmas. No doubt things have gotta be pretty hectic up at the North Pole as they prepare for their long night of massive deliveries! That, however, didn’t stop a jolly old elf from making his way to our house this weekend!

Recently I mentioned in a blog how sad it was that Santa is being placed behind glass or in snow globes due to the pandemic. Many Santa visits are being done virtually on the computer. Sam and I were a bit disappointed that because of the pandemic, we may not be able to even get Ella’s picture with Santa. Someone must have sent word to the North Pole, because we had a special visitor drop by the house Saturday afternoon.

I’m not sure where he parked his reindeer, because I didn’t see them. I heard sleigh bells on the porch and when I opened the door, there in the flesh was Santa Claus! We let him in immediately, and apologized for not having milk and cookies because we hadn’t done our grocery shopping yet. Believe it or not, this didn’t phase him at all!

He made himself at home, sat down in a comfy chair and began his visit with Ella. At first, she wasn’t sure what to make of him. She sat on the floor next to him, looking up and giving him the once over…

It didn’t take but a minute or two for her to figure out he was the real deal! She proceeded to crawl up on Santa’s lap and tell him everything on her Christmas list! She may have added a few things to her list at the spur of the moment, I mean, she had his undivided attention, so you may as well shoot for the moon!

After some time, and very good conversation, Santa got a call from Mrs. Claus and he had to be on his way back to the North Pole. He mentioned he had to stop on his way back for egg nog and reindeer treats. Before he left, he passed out candy canes, and thanked Ella for being such a good girl all year. He reminded her to be in bed nice and early Christmas Eve. With that, he wished us Merry Christmas and was on his way.

He was gracious enough to let us snap some pictures of his visit! I mean, it’s not every day Santa makes home visits!

I have to be honest … I think this is the start of a wonderful friendship…

The Ghost of Christmas Eve Past (and Yet To Come)

Grandma and Grandpa E (2)

For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve was always spent with Grandma and Grandpa P. when we were kids.  I don’t necessarily know that there was any particular reason for this, I only know that from a very young age, this was the tradition. I also remember that dreaming of a White Christmas was hardly ever necessary.  If my memory serves me right, as a kid, there was maybe one or two Christmases that were we didn’t have snow.

The excitement for Christmas Eve was a bit different from Christmas Day.  Grandma and Grandpa always seemed to ask for our Christmas list early …. like July early!  She obviously planned ahead and shopped throughout the year, which must have saved her a ton of hassles finding things.  We usually were dressed and ready to go to Grandma’s house by 2 or 3pm. We would leave knowing at least one thing we were getting – a winter coat.  She got us one every year (which we hated, because she’d take us out shopping for it as early as October!).

Christmas Jackets

Christmas Eve dinner was always the same with very little variance.  Ravioli was the main dish.  There would be a feast that included breaded steak, sausage or meatballs, dinner rolls, and just about every other things you could imagine. Grandma prided herself on being able to make dinner that could feed an army! Grandma always made her Ammoghio (pronounced Moy-Gyoo) sauce to go on top of the steak.  This was made up of olive oil, tomatoes, some seasonings and a WHOLE LOT of garlic!  I never ate it as a kid, but as an adult – I love it!  Everyone who ate it smelled like garlic for like a week!

Amogue

There was always a dish with olives (green and black), sweet pickles, and veggies.  You would also find a big bowl with pistachios, and another one filled with nuts of all kinds.  The nuts were still in the shells, so you had to crack them open with the old silver nutcracker that was probably older than my grandma!  I can’t remember, but I think there was also a bowl or two of M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses out to snack on, too.

For dessert – there were ALWAYS cannoli! Early on I think she made them from scratch (I may have her recipe somewhere), but I really remember her getting them from the Italian bakery.  There were also always plenty of cookies!  Grandma spent days baking them and by the time she was done, I think she had like 400 dozen!  She used to store them in these big tin cans that Better Made Potato Chips used to come it.  She always made chocolate chip for me, oatmeal for my brother, cut out sugar cookies and these little ice box cookies that none of us ate … well, I can’t say that … we fed them to the dogs and they seemed to like them a lot!

I recall the year that my grandmother bought my brother and I every Star Wars Figure that was out.  There were one or two that were very difficult to find, but she found them.  We each got a set!  Then there was the year she bought us the Atari 2600!  This was long before the fantastic graphics of Play Station or X-Box.  The games on this thing were very primitive as far as graphics went!  Oh, the hours I spent playing Sea Hunt, Pac-Man, and Pitfall!!  Even after all of the gifts were open, there was always an envelope for us.  For many years there would be a crisp $100 bill in it.  $100 was a LOT of money and I was always amazed at how new the bill was – it was almost like she had printed it herself!

IMG_0095

One Christmas Eve I remember particularly well.  Unlike previous years, when we came in the house, we were ushered immediately downstairs.  Usually, we went into the sun porch off the back of her house, where tables would be set for dinner and food would be out.  This year, dinner was in the basement.  We hardly EVER went in the basement, so I wasn’t sure what was happening.  In the middle of dinner, we heard a noise from upstairs.  Someone was walking (actually stomping, I think) around upstairs.  I think she had my great Uncle Ralph some in and do it.  My grandma said that Santa was probably up there leaving presents.  It was well before midnight, and you know how kids are – we knew that Santa came at midnight and we questioned it.  Grandma said she had called and “made special arrangements with Santa”.  Looking back on it now, I can totally see Grandma like Don Corleone of the Godfather making “special arrangements” with Santa!  At any rate, soon after the noise was gone, we were allowed to go upstairs and into the porch.  I am sure I am over exaggerating when I say that the porch looked like Toys R Us!  It was loaded with presents and a bike for both my bother and me.  I don’t even know how we got the presents home!

After dinner and presents, my brother and I would go watch movies, play the video games, or with our toys, while the adults went back into the porch to smoke and play cards.  Pinochle was what they usually played, although I seem to remember one year they also played gin rummy.  Depending on the people who were present, sometimes dad will play his guitar, Uncle Sam would play his accordion, or grandma would sit on the old Hammond organ and sing songs and play. Grandma played by ear and had no sense of tempo (or time signature for you musical folks), so she was either hitting wrong notes or playing ahead or behind everyone else.  From a child’s perspective, the music wasn’t very good, so my brother and I would go to another room.

crocked

When I had finally learned how to play pinochle, I was a welcome addition to the card table.  My dad played, but he was usually done after a few games, so I gradually took his place as a “regular” at the table.  I LOVED this!  We could play forever!  Grandpa and mom were always partners.  He would often over bid my mom because he thought he had a good hand, then they would lose the hand.  They would get so mad at each other.

e6

I remember before I started playing, they would play cards until well after midnight.  My brother and I would be struggling to stay awake, our job was to remind mom and dad of how late it was getting – God forbid Santa not come because we weren’t home and in bed! Dad would constantly remind us that he paid for Santa to bring toys, and Santa would “circle the house” until we were home and in bed before delivering the toys.

When I began working in radio, it seemed that I was always on the air on Christmas Eve.  One of the “on air” traditions that I started was to call grandma and ask her how the preparations for dinner were coming. She would go into detail about what was on the menu and what time dinner was.  She would often razz me on the air and warned me not to be late.  She was an instant hit.  It was amazing how many people would call and ask if I was gonna check in with Grandma!

j4

Over the years, the faces of Christmas Eve changed.  Some years there were more relatives than others.  Aunt Rose became a staple after Uncle Sam passed away.  After Grandpa passed away, friends of the family often came by and the pinochle games continued.  As the years passed, there seemed to be more reflecting on Christmas Eves of the past with laughter and sadness.

Over the last few years, Christmas and Christmas Eve has undergone many more changes.  While many of the voices of Christmas Eve have been silenced, those wonderful memories warm my heart.  I look back at the memories fondly, and I also look forward to the new memories that will be made.  This year, my two amazing sons will be with us Christmas Eve morning to open presents with us.  They are older, but still full of excitement.  When they saw the gifts under the tree their reactions were typical for their age.  Dimitri, 11, saw the big box and said “Whoa, is that for us?”, while Dante’, 16, said “Is this all of the presents, or will there be more?”

I sit writing this as everyone in the house is still asleep.  Sam and I have joked around at what is in the big box under the tree more than once.  The camera is ready to capture the moments from this Christmas Eve, ready to provide them both with memories to look back on themselves in years to come.  I hope that someday, they will look back at Christmas Eve as one of their favorite holidays, just like I do.

Mom Dad Keith and Chris 1980