We’d had our usual Christmas morning, the culmination of weeks and weeks of excitement. Santa Claus delivered, as always, in a big way. I got the Liddle Kiddle Village, among other things, but that was the year’s favorite. It came as a vinyl, pastel colored carrying case that opened up to reveal a little “town” where the little thumb sized dolls lived and played. It was about the size of an overnight bag. It had that wonderful plastic, new toy smell that was almost a much a part of Christmas as the scent of evergreen and candles, roasted turkey and pumpkin pie, cinnamon and citrus. I was completely delighted.
We’d had our mid-day Christmas dinner as well, the turkey, dressing and cranberry holiday feast that was a lot like Thanksgiving. In the afternoon, we all tended to go our separate ways—Dad settled into his chair with a book, my older brother off to listen to some new record, my little brother down the street with his new football. My mother, being for most part the single handed creator of the entire holiday spectacle from start to finish, went to bed. I chose the solitude of my room to peruse some of my other loot—a collection of Noel Streatfield books (Ballet Shoes, Theatre Shoes and Traveling Shoes), the game of Clue, a deck of cards with kittens on it, a box of stationary from my friend Susan, a ceramic horse from Alison and a Lifesaver Book from Nancy.
As always on Christmas afternoon, the glow of the morning had dissipated and I had somewhat of a letdown feeling, largely due to exhaustion and excessive sugar consumption, no doubt, but thank goodness we still had something to look forward to later in the day. At five o’clock, several of the neighbors were coming over for supper. Mom would rouse herself from a near catatonic state around four in the afternoon to get things straight and ready for another round of feeding and celebration. Having been through a few Christmases myself by now, I don’t know how she did it.
The snow started falling around twilight, which was about the time people began arriving at the house, probably ten to twelve adults and half again as many kids or more. Dad had a roaring fire going in two rooms. The adults sat around in the chairs enjoying their cocktails while the kids sprawled out on the living room floor to begin some serious board games. For the boys, it was Risk. The girls preferred Clue or Parcheesi. For the younger set there was Operation and Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robots. Mom put the food out on the dining room table, a huge crock of New England style clam chowder, the white kind with potato and lots of butter, sliced turkey and roast beef, meatballs, bread, all manner of condiments, cheeses, pickles, relishes, nuts and chips, dips and sodas and the final act on all the pies, cakes, cookies, fudge, divinity, chocolate covered cherries, pretzels, rum balls, cheeseballs, candied pecans, etc. that had appeared over the last few weeks. It was a casual affair. People served themselves on paper plates and took the food wherever. Everyone was having a great time and not noticing that the snow had been falling steadily and heavily since their arrival.
Then the lights went out.
My parents did what I guess everybody does in such a situation–they went and got out candles. It’s just that with that many kids in the house, and it being dark and kind of chaotic with everybody groping around and all, no one got a chance to say they were only for the adults, and there was none of the usual cautioning or fire safety review, and so within a few minutes of this happening there were numerous excited, Christmas crazed, sugar pumped kids running around our house wielding open flames. “DON’T DRIP WAX ON THE CARPET!” was my mother’s plea– not that anyone heard her. Never mind the flammable drapes in every room or the fact that before the lights went out, the floor had been strewn with the game players’ plates piled with mustard laden sandwiches, chips and red velvet cake, along with paper cups filled with cola, grape and orange soda. She was focused on the candle wax.. The entirety of the situation was, I suppose, too much to take in.
I don’t know for how long this chaos reigned. All I recall is that at some point it was decided that I was going to go spend the night with Alison. I imagine that all of us were farmed out to one neighbor or another so that once my parents determined that the house wasn’t going to burn down, they could collapse straightaway. And since I couldn’t bear to leave my dearly beloved Liddle Kiddle Village, when it was time to go I packed it up in its nifty carrying case, along with my pajamas and tooth brush. Thus we headed out into the snowy night along with all the others. Everyone lived close so no one tried to drive home. They could come back and get their cars later.
The snow was deep and heavy and still coming down. There were no streetlights, but the night was glowing with the magical, sweet light of a snowy winter’s night. The power was out at Alison’s house too, so we went straight to bed, cuddled up together under a mountain of covers, the visions of sugarplums now replaced by a pure, exhausted bliss. As far as we were concerned, the evening’s events had been the icing on the holiday cake, the makings of the greatest Christmas ever. As for my mother, she swears there was nothing on the carpet the next morning, not a smidge of mustard, a single smashed chocolate, crunched chip or drop of candle wax. She calls it a miracle–Christmas night, 1967.