Holiday memories from your favorite Bella Books authors
It’s that time of year again! The halls are gay! The music is gay! The apparel is gay! The yuletide (whatever that is) is SUPER gay! And, we’re happy to celebrate these very gay holidays with you! In that spirit, we’ve gathered some of Bella’s authors’ favorite holiday memories to share with you!
Memories of Midge
Catherine Maiorisi: Every holiday, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve and day, were spent at the house of my Aunt Midge, my mother’s older sister and the matriarch of the family. It was my uncle’s house too but he was a shadow in the strong light of the four-foot-eight dynamo that was Midge. Warm, funny and controlling, her motto was ‘the more the merrier’ and holiday (and often Sunday) dinners included twenty to forty people. Everyone was welcome. In addition to traditional American food like ham and turkey, Midge and my mom made lasagna, homemade ravioli, manicotti and/or other pastas plus other Italian dishes and desserts.
But Christmas Eve dinner was always seven to ten fishes including clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, eel, scungilli (Neapolitan dialect for conch), calamari (squid), baccalà (salted cod), and smelts. And for me, tuna salad made from canned tuna because I didn’t like fish.
Midge moved quickly and did everything at double or triple time. So one Christmas Eve she quickly breaded ten pounds of shrimp, put them on sheet pans, poured olive oil over them and put them in the oven. It wasn’t until we sat down and started eating that my mother, who was competitive with and always critical of Midge’s cooking, complained that the shrimp tasted like soap. Midge scoffed. Then others echoed the complaint. It turned out the plastic gallon of olive oil was yellow and so was the plastic gallon of dish detergent. Instead of olive oil, Speedy Midge had drenched the shrimp in dish detergent.
Everyone, including Midge, had a good laugh and moved onto to all the other fish and vegetables and desserts that Midge and my mom had cooked and baked. Midge is gone. But the soapy shrimp story lives on as a part of her legend.
Laina Villeneuve: Christmas is made magical by tradition, and one of my favorite traditions was the night we would put up the manger scene. My parents assembled their creche over many years, and it included two palm trees my father treasured. His grandmother had gifted his family a set of four from her creche, two of which he was allowed to take when he assembled one of his own.
Several years ago, after my grandmother passed away, my father asked if there was anything I wanted. For many years, I had been thinking about how I didn’t have a manger scene to set up with my children. I asked for my grandmother’s, and my father gifted me not only the pieces, but a book with the story behind the collection and a special box to hold it all, a spot labeled for each piece: the individual sheep, the standing shepherd, the kneeling shepherd, the camel with the repaired leg, the kings, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, and my favorite, Gloria the angel who has a string that suspends her from a tack in the ceiling.
This year, my eldest son opted out of the tradition, but my ten-year-old twins, after the traditional bickering about who got to take out which piece that I’m sure sounds exactly like me and my siblings, settled into setting up the scene. Box in her lap, my daughter pulled out one of the palm trees whose branches were pushed down for storage. Gently, just as my father has done every year, she arranged the fronds, getting them just right before placing the tree by the stable. She looked up and said, “These are special.” Indeed, they are, those inherited trees that tie my children’s creche to the one of my youth, unfolded each year to contribute to memories, old and new.
New Mexican Christmas Memory
Riley Scott: Christmas has always been one of my favorite days of the year. While most of my early years were surrounded with my family, lots of traditions and Christmas cheer, my wife and I moved across the country in 2016. Those first couple of years were a bit difficult in finding our own Christmas traditions, but they’ve helped to form some of the sweetest memories. On our second year in Florida, I was nostalgic for a taste of home (New Mexico). After a quick call to my grandmother, I was gifted her authentic biscochito recipe and did a bunch of online research on how to make authentic tamales. My wife and I set to work, creating a New Mexican Christmas feast and spending time together. My wife strung up lights on our newly purchased home, and with just the two of us and our dogs, we had the most magical time, discovering that Christmas cheer is really all about love.
Memories of Laughter
Ann Roberts: My greatest and most vivid holiday memory is Christmas Dinner. This was a big event at our house. Relatives, co-workers, and friends all came for the dinner, where the good china, the crystal, and the silver were used. Translation: good Midwesterners who migrated to the Southwest with all of their Midwestern beliefs.
Each year there were always some new people because my mother was of the mind that everyone should have a place to be on Christmas Day. Anyone who was alone or whose family didn’t celebrate (like all of our Jewish friends), got an invitation. There was usually at least one person I’d never met. We all dressed up and while everyone arrived in the early afternoon, the younger people usually stayed up until midnight playing games with the second shift of people who only came for dessert. The laughter is what I remember most.
On average, there were always about 18 people for dinner, but the year I came out, I’d met a LOT of people whose families weren’t around or available. That year we had 35 people for dinner in my parents 800 square foot living area. Once you sat down, you didn’t get up! Eventually the responsibility of Christmas Dinner was passed to me and my wife. While our family membership morphed as relatives passed and siblings married, co-workers changed, and friendships evolved, the spirit of togetherness has been a constant. This year, for the first time ever, it will just be the two of us, but we’ll be surrounded by memories. However you celebrate—if you celebrate—may the season bring joy and peace to your life.
My Most Memorable Christmas
Katherine V Forrest: I was fifteen. Living in my birth country of Canada. After eighteen months of bedridden suffering, my mother had been dead from cancer for a year by that Christmas, and my father would be taken by a heart attack in March of the following year, crushed, I’m sure, under the agonizing loss of my mother and our descent into poverty from her medical bills.
My seventeen-year-old brother had left school and gone to work at Chrysler Corp. In six months, orphaned of two parents, I would follow him, to become a telephone operator at Bell Telephone of Canada, which in those days accepted sixteen-year-olds into their workforce.
That Christmas of my fifteenth year, what would be my final one in my family home, we did have a tree, evergreens being plentiful in Canada. But like previous years, given our economic circumstances, there was scant little under it. I believe I received a pair of socks from my father. There was also a small rectangular package from my brother, and since he had only started work, I expected not much of anything, perhaps a chocolate bar.
I unwrapped it to find a handsome hinged leather case. In absolute wonder I opened the case and gaped at a Helbros wristwatch, at its square gold face, its thin, light brown leather strap. My heart all but stopped at this unexpected, unimaginable gift. Keys to a Cadillac would not have lifted my spirits more, could not have meant more to me than his extraordinary gift to me in those bleak days of my life.
Bob died in 1993. With every single Christmas since then I have thought of him. My most memorable Christmas by far is my most wonderful memory of him. To this day I have the watch.
Memories of my first “white” Christmas
Karin Kallmaker: My first “white” Christmas was when I was four or five. My grandparents lived at 2,000 feet and that year the snow line dropped that low in the Sierra Nevada foothills. My father was thrilled – he said we’d get to build a snowman, and throw snow balls, and sled on the hill behind the house.
The reality was that they got a few inches and by the time we’d arrived for Christmas Day it was half melted. Nevertheless, my dad stayed outside and along with my brother and me, we all “played in the snow.” The snowman was not even as tall as I was, and gray because so much grit had been scooped up too. The snow balls were mostly ice with pebbles. They hurt a lot. My dad weighed too much to sled with only an inch of snow under him. My brother and I tried with a plastic saucer and a trash can lid until one of us hit a rocky patch (there were many) and required first aid.
What I remember most was the aroma that poured out into the cold winter air every time we opened the door to go inside. That’s what Christmas smells like. That delicious, complex smell of roasting turkey, boiled potatoes, baked dinner rolls, buttery cookies, gingerbread cake, and steamy wet coats and mittens drying on a line in front of the smoky wood fire.
All my life that’s been what the holidays smell like, and I remember it more vividly than anything. Well, except for the Mary Poppins costume my mom made for me, which cemented my lifelong love for Julie Andrews. But that’s another story.
Tree Trimming Traditions
RJ Layer: I’ve been having an annual tree trimming party in our house for 37 years, 31 of them with my wife. (For reference, I started when I was 10. 😉) We have many friends in attendance every year and they come to place all the ornaments on our tree. Well, 12 years ago, a long-time pair of our “peeps” brought along a new “sister” to meet the group of friends. The party went off with the usual flair and as much fun as we enjoy each year. During these parties the Christmas music must continue to play and no party/dance music can begin until all the ornaments are on the tree. It was another success. The new gal was super nice and a great addition to our annual fun-fest. We looked forward to her becoming a part of our then group of six peeps. Before any get together could happen, though, the holidays passed and the tree came down—with a lingering question. Where did the three odd, old ornaments, which neither of us had seen before, come from? We didn’t ponder it for long. My wife dropped them in a separate bag and into the ornament tub they went.
The following year, with the ornaments laid out on the table, we heard giggles and questions about some of our selections. It finally came to light that our new sister, who we’ll only refer to as “Just Kim,” had thought it unheard of that people would invite other people into their home to decorate their tree for them, in exchange for some snacks and music. She’d nudged our two long-time friends to join her in rounding up the ugliest ornaments they could find. And so, 2008 became the first of many pranks to come. Every—single—year since!
There’s been a small outdoor Christmas inflatable decoration found lurking behind the shower curtain. A set of “day of the week” bikini panties, (brand new, of course) discovered in six different hiding spots. After searching for weeks, Tuesday was never found and didn’t appear until a few years later, as another prank. There was a “Peep Tree” one year on our porch decorated with actual edible candy peeps. Last year’s naughty prank discovery was two bright pink felt, anatomically correct, unmentionable lady parts. We’ve never laughed so much as we have about each year’s new prank.
This year with the pandemic there couldn’t be a party. On this last Saturday night, while sitting on the floor finishing the lights around the bottom of the tree, I heard scuffing noises outside on the porch. Assuming it was another package delivery, I laughed in giddy surprise when I opened our front door to this message:
The Bad and Good of 2020
Bad: No Party! You have to decorate your own tree.
Good: Pranks still happen. Merry Christmas!
Love, the peeps
In spite of the “no gatherings” COVID restriction, the pranksters tradition endures. We love our peeps!
To all family and friends, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa. Enjoy a merry and bright holiday season. May 2021 bring hopeful, healthy and happy days for us all!!!
E.J. Cochrane: In my mind, I can recreate almost every Christmas of my childhood because they all unfolded in very much the same way, starting shortly after Thanksgiving when we opened up the Christmas closet (yes, an entire closet devoted to one holiday) and began the lengthy process of transforming our house into an appalling showcase for Christmas. It took most of December to complete the task, not only because we had to clean the house and pack away Mom’s year-round tchotchkes as we went, but also because my mother had accumulated roughly a thousand holiday decorations (most of them tacky), all of which ended up in exactly the same place as the year before.
The mild exception to this festive rigidity came when we decorated the tree—the process itself was subject to inflexible rules, but the results were never exactly replicated. As with the myriad holiday knickknacks, Mom had collected enough ornaments over the years to trim a small forest of trees (this did not stop her from adding a box of new ornaments to her collection annually). And every year, after Dad had cursed sufficiently to make the tree stand straight and string the lights, the ordered chaos of hanging ornaments began.
Only Mom had permission to reach inside the endless boxes of ornaments, so we kids lined up, eagerly waiting for her to hand us a festive bauble, which we then dashed to deposit on the nearest branch before jumping back in line. This resulted in wildly disproportionate ornament placement, the front of the tree taking on the brunt of our enthusiastic dispersal while the sad back of the tree sat mostly neglected (a problem Mom fixed after the rest of us went to bed).
As we decorated, we always listened to holiday music, singing along with Bing Crosby and the Andrews sisters (followed by John Denver and the Muppets). And though our harmonizing sounded about as harmonious as a cat passing a kidney stone, for me, nothing ushered in the joy and excitement of Christmas like decorating the tree with my family.
Memories from Christmas Eve: Parts One and Two
Jessie Chandler: I spent my formative years living with my grandparents in a small northwest Wisconsin town called Siren. One of the earliest memories I have is as a toddler at bedtime, peering out the frosted window beside my bed, watching huge snowflakes flutter to the ground in the glow of a corner street light. Every year, maybe a month or so before Christmas, the village workers installed colorful holiday decorations on the street lights, high up on the rough wooden posts. Glorious Christmas horns, bells, Christmas packages with big red bows…I loved staring out that window snuggled under my warm covers and the delightful sight.
My aunt lived fifteen miles away, and every Christmas eve we’d pile, depending on the weather, into either my grandpa’s red pickup or the olive green, barge-like early 1970s era Olds Delta 88 (God forbid getting road salt on the car) and strike a trail over to Grantsburg. My aunt’s house would be ablaze with lights, and I couldn’t wait to get inside to the people I loved, to the hugs, to the food, and, of course, to the presents. We’d park on the street and carry gifts and our contribution to the buffet up her river stone-lined driveway, past my cousin’s ’64 Pontiac named Monte and my uncle’s rusty white Dodge.
The house held so many people. Relatives, friends, and anyone without a place to go were all welcome. It wasn’t large, but it always burst at the seams with love. One of my favorite memories revolves around a mini donkey, an empty truck bed, and a blizzard. One of my cousins, who lived on a farm, had bought a mare and a filly right before Christmas, and the sellers threw in for free a mini donkey named Jack. On that particular Christmas eve, it had been somehow decided that the mini donk would be a gift for another cousin’s hubby. I can’t remember why we thought it would be a good idea to walk a mile in a blizzard and lead Jack from the farm to my aunt’s. The snow, it was a-swirlin’ and the wind, it was a-blowin’ and we froze our asses off but we laughed the entire way. Jack thought our idea was one of the most stupid ever, and I think we had to literally push him part of the way. By the time we got to my aunt’s place, supper had already been eaten and the elders were waiting on our return to open gifts. The surprise was perfect, and Jack waited patiently outside while the festivities recommenced. Suffice it to say the recipient of the donkey was thrilled. More or less, anyway. When things wound down, we still needed to get Jack back to the farm. No one wanted to make a return walk in the crappy weather, so we managed to hoist poor Jack into the bed of a pickup, and he returned to his barn in real style.
Once Christmas eve came to a close, we’d pile back into my grandparent’s car, and I’d inevitably fall asleep on the way home. My grandpa would carry me inside, and by that time I’d wake up, ready for Christmas Eve part 2. When we’d left for my aun’t’s earlier in the evening, all the lights in the house would’ve been extinguished. When we returned, the tree would be brightly lit, glowing through the window as we pulled up. Better yet, Santa would’ve made a house call while we’d been gone. I knew (because I was a good present hunter) that none of the gifts good old Rosy Cheeks would leave behind were anywhere in the house before we left. For years I puzzled about how my mom and grandma and grandpa managed to make that happen, especially when they were all with me when Santa would do his thing. This routine continued until my grandparents both passed away. At one point I told my mom how amazing it was that I was in my twenties and I still had no idea how they managed to coordinate Santa’s visit. She asked me if I wanted her to reveal the secret of The Man in the Red Suit. “No,” immediately popped out of my mouth. It’s one of the few truly magical holiday memories I have, and to this day I still say I believe in Santa Clause. Now, all of the players who held the knowledge of how the magic happened have departed this life, so that particular Christmas magic will remain forever untainted.