When Jennifer and I were first married we would spend part of Christmas with my family then go to Lake Charles to spend time with her family. One of those years that stands out with fond memories was when our son Will was 5 months old.  The following is not just of that particular year, but a culmination of many years composited together for this writing.

We spent Christmas Eve Day in Texas with the Overton side of the family.  For several hours we filled the big house on Plantation Drive. The day usually started out with a BB gun contest where we tried to hit the bell on the tree house from the back porch.  That was about a 70-foot shot for a BB gun with no rifling, it was more luck than skill to hit the mark. But when you heard the bell ring we would all cheer.  I now have that bell mounted next to my garage door and every once in a while I look at all those BB marks and grin. 

When we were called in for the big meal there was a lot to be offered.  Between catering and some of us bringing food, there was plenty and a large variety to go around.  The dinner table was expanded out as far as it would go and would seat maybe 20 plus people. Then we had at least two more tables set up in the living room to accommodate all the others.  After the prayer we all would line up for the buffet style food layout in the kitchen.  Some of us were big eaters but there were others of us who were happy with just dinner rolls.  I was the latter. 

After dinner all the plates were picked up and cleaned, we sat around the tree to hand out gifts.  Some years we would have some sort of game like white elephant, other years Mom and Dad would hand out the gifts always starting with the youngest.  Some years the youngest would hand out the gifts from the under the tree. It was fun to watch others open their gifts.  After everyone had received their gifts and maybe exchange with someone else, we had a long-time tradition of playing Bingo.  Dad would call out the numbers while we all tried to fill our cards first.  There was always someone who won most every time.  Funny how that happened. The prize for calling “BINGO” was you got to choose which gift card you wanted for a restaurant or other type store.  At the end if someone ended up with more than one gift card, they had to give all but one away, but there was a grand prize for the one who won the most, like a hundred-dollar bill or coffee maker etc.…

Many of those years we would all go to Mom and Dad’s church for the Christmas Eve service which was around 6:00 pm.  The candlelight service was always inspiring but sitting as one large family was a good feeling. After that service we would all part ways from the church parking lot.  The year Will was 5 months old, we left to go to Lake Charles to be with Jennifer’s family. I was driving our family’s ’88 Grand Am and when we were about halfway which was in Beaumont, Texas I was getting sleepy.  I stopped at a 24-hour coffee shop to drink a cup and rest for a few minutes.  As we walked in, I was wearing a surplus flight line jacket while carrying Will, Jennifer followed with the diaper bag.  We sat at a table for a snack and coffee.  When we got up to go, and older couple from the next table smiled at us and he said, “I remember those Christmases being young and bringing a new one home to introduce to family.”  I could see the reminiscing in his eyes.  

We arrived at the Jones’s house in Lake Charles and others from Jennifer’s side of the family were already there.  She has two brothers and a sister. I think that year, 1990, Mark was deployed for Desert Shield, but his wife and daughter were there.  Mark was an attack helicopter pilot for the Army 101st Airborne.  He flew Cobras at that time. The house was large with a big back yard that had a bayou at the back.  Most of the family had their own room to stay. 

Jennifer’s parents were Episcopal and some of the years we would all go to Midnight Mass.  I loved taking part of Mass, it was so different from Baptist from which I was raised.  Jennifer was a member of First Baptist in Lake Charles when I met her, but she was raised Episcopal.  One year we were sitting about three rows from the front at Christmas Eve Midnight Mass when a family sat in the row in front of us.  We were overwhelmed by the smell of mothball coming from the fur jacket the lady was wearing. We were all trying our best not to laugh but some of us could not help it.  Then the church bell started to ring and there was a procession led by the priest going down the aisle from the back of the church up to the front.  The priest had an ornate incense ball hanging from a chain.  He would swing that incense towards the person sitting at the end of each pew and would pull the chain back when the ball was just inches from hitting that person.  There was a lot of incense smoke from that ball. Between the overwhelming mothball smell and the cloud of incense, it was fortunate we all stayed conscious.  Each of us in the family trying our best not to laugh at the situation.  Christmas Eve Midnight Mass was a beautiful event, one I will always remember fondly. 

I have had 63 Christmases in my life, but I believe the ones when Jennifer and I were first married were special.  Jennifer’s parents have passed away and Mom and Dad have moved out of their house. We are starting a new tradition of inviting family over for Christmas eve.  This year we will have everyone over to our home.  We don’t have a large house, but we will make it work. Dad will be calling out Bingo as we continue that tradition. Being with family is what counts for us.