Janet Sheridan: The gift of a Christmas memory
December 24, 2015
Years have passed without several of my important people, and I've lost some of the details that made them unique: their laughs, their intonations, their facial expressions. But Christmas helps me remember. As I bake cookies, hang ornaments, or listen to the gentle notes of carols, memories of those who shared my Christmases bring them back to me in their entirety.
Recently, my sister Carolyn reminded me of a Christmas memory I'd like to share with you. I think of it as The Dance of the Reindeer.
On Christmas Eve, we usually drove to our grandmother's house in Provo. Inside the small, orderly home filled with relatives, warmth, and the smell of baking, we'd tussle with our cousins until told to "settle down or else," which we did only when Grandma's cookies and homemade candy appeared. Then, silenced by chewing, we'd listen to those unfortunates whose parents had convinced them to recite, sing, or play Christmas tunes on their band instruments. When food, talent, and patience were used up, Grandma would read the story of the first Christmas from the Bible, and then we'd drive home through fields crusted with snow-diamonds under a sky filled with stars.
As soon as we arrived home, Mom announced bedtime, and, with a minimum of grumbling, we left the warmth of the living room and went to bed: Bob and Lawrence in one small, unheated room and Carolyn, Barbara and I in another.
I don't know what our brothers did, but we sisters partied.
We talked and giggled, climbed in and out of each other's beds, watched out frost-etched windows for Santa, and took turns trying to sneak into the living room because we needed to go to the bathroom — really bad. We hushed one another only when the grandfather clock in the living room chimed, because we'd been warned not to get out of bed again until it sounded six times.
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One year, Barbara, in first grade, listened intently as the clock struck, then said, "Oh, no, I counted 11. Way past six. Now we have to wait until the big hand makes it to six again. I forgot. How many does it go to before it can start over? A hundred, isn't it? That'll take forever."
But the Christmas when I was eight, just as we began to doze, Carolyn startled us awake: "Listen, can you hear that? Shh, there's a noise on the roof. Be quiet!" We sat up in our beds, straining our ears, until we heard a faint clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop on the roof. We held our breath and listened as the clops grew louder and more frequent — a herd of deer tap dancing over our heads — until, gradually, the hoedown calmed into silence.
Only then did we squeal with excitement and wonder if we dared wake everyone to tell them what they missed. Eventually, after much debate, we decided rousing the household would be unwise and drifted into sleep.
The next morning, after the chaotic joy of presents, Barbara remembered: "We heard them," she announced into the general din, "We did."
Only Lawrence caught her remark. "Who'd you hear?" he asked.
"Rudolph and those other ones."
"Huh," Dad said. " What did they sound like, fellers?"
As the three of us re-produced the sound of dancing deer we heard in the night, the others listened, exclaimed, questioned, looked at one another, and chuckled.
Later, Carolyn, older, more skeptical, and not above threatening Bob with physical harm, discovered the truth of our nighttime visitors: Lawrence had saved two deer hoofs from the successful hunt he and Dad experienced that fall. Then, on Christmas Eve, waiting until our slumber party lost steam, he climbed onto the roof and clopped until he could clop no more.
In doing so, he gave us a meaningful gift: a Christmas memory of prancing reindeer, laughing parents, and an older brother who took the time to create fun and excitement for his sisters.