You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Fireplace

Save the wrapping paper — Mom

On rare occasions, Mom removed the plastic covers from the living room furniture. Only then did we take comfort knowing we wouldn’t, by accident, slide off our seats in the cool months or stick to them in the hot. This also gave us another reason to love Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter Sunday.  

Turkey, stuffing and Mom’s apple, cherry and pumpkin pies—even with bellyaches after—made Thanksgiving a treat. Bonnets, baked ham, and searching for Mom’s lavish baskets overstuffed with candy, sweetened our Easters. But only Christmas was an all-hands-on-deck family affair. Dad braved the blistering evening snow and a shaky ladder hanging garland and multi-colored lights around our front door, while the rest of us stayed warm by the fire listening to Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole croon Christmas carols. Mom and Laurel set up the Nativity scene on the mantle, keeping Baby Jesus off to the side. David and Caryl hung stockings emblazoned with our names—pets, too—above the fireplace. Michael draped our fragrant Douglas Fir with strings of lights with at least one near impossible to find faulty bulb that threatened to disrupt our holiday cheer. Deecy and I decorated the tree with tinsel and family heirlooms beside ones soon-to-be. And we crowned our masterpiece with an angel and prayed she’d watch over us. But secretly I prayed she’d bring me a bounty of gifts, whether I was naughty or nice. 

We placed our presents under the tree, and after guzzling eggnog and stuffing ourselves silly with Mom’s homemade cookies, we hustled off to bed to attempt the unthinkable; to sleep the night before Christmas. But convinced we heard the clatter of reindeer hoofs on the roof made even a glimmer of hope impossible. 

The morning, however, confirmed what we heard was what we heard. Not only did Baby Jesus appear in the manger, but our meager offerings multiplied into a colorful mountain piled high and wide. And the stockings were stuffed so full their seams screamed for merciful relief as they hung on for dear life. Even with weary eyes, it was all a glorious sight to behold.

“Our not-so-secret-Santas” spent the wee hours packing and wrapping to make our Christmas yet another one to remember. But there was one thing that stood in the way of us climbing gift mountain; Church. Damn. We had to endure the torture of looking but no touching until after. And once unleashed, it didn’t take us long to rescue the stockings and tear into every package under the tree. Despite Mom’s plea of, “Save the wrapping paper,” we left only shreds in our wake. 

As our family grew, so did the Everest of gifts. This posed no problem for Mom, as it meant more shopping. That was our gift to her. And although the house could handle the ever-increasing numbers, the fireplace could not. The stockings spanned the entire face, two or more to a hook before spilling over onto both sides. The site inspired many comments from those who entered our festive home, but the one heard most often was, “You’re gonna need a bigger fireplace.”

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Published by A Cup of Tea on the Commode, a memoir

The parent/child role reversal might not have been unique to me, but how I dealt with it was. "A Cup of Tea on the Commode" chronicles my multi-tasking adventures, filling my mother’s last years with love, laughter, and joy. Though not always successful, I came pretty damn close.

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