Christmas 1948

Christmas 1948

By Rob Mohr

Christmas 1948

It seems, at times, like yesterday—my childhood, the people I loved, and those who loved me beyond any reasonable expectation. My father’s younger siblings, two sisters and four brothers, had gained in me a new play toy. And, my mother’s two sisters and four brothers followed suit. My aunt Margaret, who showered me with affection, took me to movies and, always, bought me ice cream. My memories of my early life are rich and textured.

Every Christmas, my two sisters and our very large Chow, Hippopotamus Tam, (I named him because he was the fattest in a litter of eight) were loaded up and driven from Asheville to my grandparents’ home in coastal South Carolina, where we arrived midst enough cousins to ensure we had the makings of two baseball teams. We played tennis on my grandfather’s clay court, walked in the fields and woods, and picked up pecans from the twenty-seven trees that filled the field beside the house.

On Christmas Day–during the exchange of gifts (a very formal affair, we all had to be well dressed)—we filled my grandmother’s living room with palpable energy. During the meal that followed, my maternal grandmother’s love and wisdom nourished us all. As a ritual, my aunt Beatrice always complained “that beast should not be seated at a civilized table.” That was me, who smiled, knowing that I was loved and that her words were a secret embrace.

This Christmas feast included a full-size baked country ham (if you have never tasted a cured Christmas ham, you have missed a bit of heaven) and a turkey that had been specially fed corn and shelled-and-cracked acorns for six months or so. There were multiple dishes of dressing filled with pecans and sage, and vegetables, crowned with sweet potato casserole topped with whipped cream. For dessert there were pecan and apple pies. And for the adults, wine was always served around the table that seated twenty-six. This Christmas I was given a glass half full while the smaller children ate around the kitchen table. I felt very grown-up.

After the meal, before we could escape, we all retired to her large living room, which had a handcrafted French piano, and sang all the old Christmas songs which featured my mother’s and her two sisters’ soft voices as they took turns playing the piano. The adults all told stories of their early experiences, which added dimension to our understanding of those who loved us. My uncle John Edmund, named for his grandfather, excited us all with stories of the girls he knew at Davidson. As I heard his rich voice, their images emerged in my mind of young women who were all very intelligent, vivacious, and perfect in form. This was the moment I first realized I needed to start noticing. 

Over the years seated with family in this true living space, fixed in my memory was an almost full-size oilgram of The Night Watch by Rembrandt. His magnificent painting dominated the space. This painting, in time, led me to become an artist. 

Our Christmas was idyllic, yes, but back then we did not fully realize how blessed our families were. I know now, with mature eyes, our annual family Christmas was a gift of the best fortune the gods could bestow. A treasure that rests forever in my heart.


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