By Amy Lenord
Yesterday, my husband ran to the grocery store while I worked on setting up house after a move. When he got home, he unloaded the goodies and I immediately grabbed a beautiful Red Delicious apple from the bag he brought home. Before I could even get it under the running water to rinse it, its sweet and earthy scent sneaked up on me and I was whisked back to a time I had forgotten until that very moment. That simple little apple took me to a drafty old building on Main Street in Lamesa, Texas where my grandparents would take my brother and I every Christmas season for a hearty pot luck dinner set to Bing Crosby and Dean Martin crooning Christmas carols. There I was again, a little girl all dressed up for my grandparents annual Lions Club Christmas party itching both in a dress I probably didn’t want to wear, but also waiting impatiently with my little brother and the other grandkids for Santa to arrive.
It was always the same. We would dress in our Sunday’s best and bundle up in our winter coats to head out into a breathtakingly cold and crisp night. We would climb into Grandmama and Grandaddy’s big, blue Chevy and ride to the Club House where all the grandfathers would chit chat while the grandmothers would bustle around the kitchen and dining rooms pouring Solo cups of tea and setting up the pot luck buffet. I remember the big gas heaters hanging from the rafters always threatening to drop fire on my head and there was always a live Christmas tree decorated with red satin ribbon Christmas ornaments spotlighted with that crazy lamp with the four colored disk that rotated and changed colors. The kids would always try to play on the stage and in the dusty dressing rooms on the right and left of the stage until the grandmothers would holler at us not to get dirty. There was always someone who blessed the meal and we ate all the homemade ham and sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and the always present congealed Jell-O salad (usually light green) with pecans sprinkled through it. At the time I hated it, but I have found myself craving it the last few years. Maybe I am just trying to capture a taste of my childhood again.
The kids could hardly wait until the meal was over because it was always during dessert that it happened… that HE came! Santa! Santa would perch himself on the stage and each of the grandchildren would get their turn sitting on his knee to whisper our wishes into those nylon whiskers. Then, Santa would hand us an orange and a Red Delicious apple each from the fruit boxes next to him and something I am sure you won’t remember. I just remembered it yesterday. He would give each of us a stocking, but not a furry, cloth stocking. It was a red mesh stocking with red and white plastic trim. It was stuffed with bad candy, nuts, and Cracker Jack like toys. He always had a gift for each child with their name written on it also. I don’t know how he did it, but it was such a treat getting that gift. It was like we had first dibs on Christmas when we got that present, took it back to our table and unwrapped something unexpected and not on our lists. This gift was extra. No matter what it was, it was special.
What I never realized until yesterday was during Santa’s visit the smell of those apples was everywhere. Looking back now, I can see the fruit boxes tucked behind the Christmas tree and the twirling light and I am sure that it was the bulk of all those apples and the boxes too that are now one of the smells I associate with Christmas. Who knew that an apple would serve as my own personal time machine and draw such clear images out of oblivion and remind me of the cold night, the scary heater and the joy of doing something with my grandparents that was important to them?
The post script of the story is that as soon as the last gift was handed out to the last child and the apple boxes were emptied, Santa stood up and ho ho ho-ed his way out the side door of the club house. The children would all run towards the door to try to get a glimpse at the sleigh and reindeer, but our steamy breath against the cold glass always blocked the view. My brother and I would always linger a moment and look beyond the Little League baseball field, past the Boys’ Club gym and off into the dark sky to see one red light blinking in the distance; we knew it was him led off into the night with Rudolph as his guide. We knew it was him even when the light never moved and a second and third blinked below it. It was our own moment of Christmas magic.