Holiday Memories: a home with friends invited
I cannot pinpoint one specific Christmas in my past that was the most memorable because every one has been remembered with some special memories. When I was young, we had a small family but had tons of relatives who all showed at our house for every holiday. We never knew how many would show up, so mom prepared for lots of people and had lots of food and lots of love for anyone who dropped by.
In 1968, my small family moved from New York to Southern California. The first year, the four of us rented a cabin in the mountains. It was cold and there was snow, but something was missing. There was no big family. The next year, we went to Hawaii. Christmas on the warm beach with no tree, snow or family just wasn’t the way Christmas should be. That was probably my worst Christmas ever.
After that, things changed. We all missed the big family thing and my parents did something about it. My mom was a teacher and her school was constantly getting new teachers from out of the area. My dad was a salesman who also worked with newcomers to the area. Naturally, these people had no families locally and had no place to go for the holidays. So my parents invited them to our house. For lack of a better word – these people would fondly become known as “my parents’ strays!”
In the years that followed, we would continue to be their surrogate family and most would show up for Christmas dinner. Years later, some brought their new families to be part of ours. It got to be the question of the season to guess how many of “my parents’ strays” would show up at dinner time and for the football game in the yard. Soon after this tradition started, the Christmas dinner expanded into long-term housing of these new family members until they could afford or have a place to live.
We always had someone living at our house, be it a “stray,” a cousin, a foster child or a friend of a friend. My foster brother continued to live there even after my father passed away and his own graduation from high school. Now, 17 years later, he still considers us to be his real family and fondly remembers those years as “the best!”
To sum up, my favorite holiday memories consist of a 15-year period where that little white ranch-style home was full of people, lots of love and lots of food. We could all get by without the mountains, the snow, the cold, the warm, or the beach for the holidays, but without the big family, with real relatives or not, it just wasn’t Christmas in our home.
Phyllis Priester lives in Dayton with her husband and four children. She has been a resident since 1995.