And then there was Christmas Eve and the annual Waffle Feed at my Aunt Eileen's house. Yes, we await the birth of our savior Mormon family-style, complete with buttermilk waffles, eggs, sausage, and a full complement of syrups, whipped cream and berries. And when I say feed, I mean my Aunt would open her doors and feed. At least fifty extended family members, along with neighbors, friends, and people with no other place to get a hot meal on a holiday's eve. They even arranged for a Jolly Ole St. Nick look-alike to appear each year, handing out candy canes and holiday greetings to the wide-eyed children, faces aglow with syrup and Christmas wonder. Later in the evening, the cousins would have a gift exchange and a talent show. And then, just before 9:00, we would head home so my Catholic sisters and mom and I could head to Midnight Mass while my Mormon dad chilled in his Laz-y Boy, visions of waffles dancing in his head (and a chance to watch whatever he wanted on television for one blessed hour of estrogen-free living).
Those are the sweetest memories. And then there are the stories of Christmas injuries past. And those are perhaps the most poignant of all. Tromping again through a snow-covered parking lot, this time to attend the annual Church Bazaar and raffle, complete with pinata and games. On one particularly magic Christmas, my nine-year old self could hardly stand the anticipation of possibly winning the beautiful doll with extra hand-made outfits and baby high chair in the annual raffle. The pinata looked fun too, but my over-protective father would have none of that. He tolerated the Catholic church bazaar long enough to score a piece of pie. But he would not stand by while his daughters stood in close range of the broom handle that the teenage boys decided would make a good pinata bat. So, while all the other kids and their thrill-seeking parents gathered around the swinging, candy-filled donkey, I stood in the opposite corner of the gym.
What happened next was what I would look back fondly upon as my first exposure to irony, as one of the Riley brothers decided to take a swing and the broom handle broke off, ricocheted across the gym and whacked me in the eye. It happened so fast, the broom handle hitting me in the face, my hand flying up to catch the blood pouring out of my nose, and my father lunging across the room Crouching-Tiger-Hidden-Dragon style to rescue me. "Did she lose her eye?" "Is she ok?" mingled with the sounds of crazed kids rushing the now broken pinata, not knowing that they had nearly lost one of their own to friendly fire. I was able to open one swollen eye long enough to take one last look at the doll that, despite the best-ever sympathy vote, would not go home with me. went home with a black eye and my friend Jenny won the doll.
This, however, was not the closest one of us girls came to death by church contraption. No, that honor is reserved for my youngest sister M. On this particular Christmas pageant, little M. was dressed in a cloak and donned a wooden cane to make her shepherd look complete. My dad accompanied his little Catholic cherubs to this service to see his youngest daughter's performance. The little Mary, Joseph and assorted shepherds and wise men joined the priest in the opening procession and took their places on the altar, giving life to the wooden nativity during the gospel with minimal shuffling and distraction. My sister, whose childhood nickname was "the silent one" because she was so quiet (masking a wicked instigator-tactic that she would use to wield power over her siblings), was well-behaved on the altar, but grew tired as the sermon wore on. We're not exactly sure how long she suffered in silence, but all at once her blue eyes grew wider and wider as a murmur started throughout the congregation, sounding something like, "the cane..." "she's got the cane in her mouth..." "stuck in her mouth." And once again, my dad's wild cat-like reflexes kicked in and within seconds he was on the altar, prying the curved end of the cane out of my sister's mouth. Hark! The herald angels' voices were drowned out by the sound of the young shepherd gagging.
I suffered another head injury at church a few years later when high winds blew the side door open to the chapel and, just as I was leaving, the metal door jamb fell on my head and my dad took me home, on concussion-watch, while my mom and sisters ate at the annual Christmas dinner. He's too nice, and respects my mom too much to say it out loud, but I wouldn't be surprised if my dad adds all of these on-location Catholic holiday follies up in his head as further proof of the errors of the Catholic faith.
My in-laws invited me to attend Christmas Eve services at the local Lutheran Church. I am respectfully declining, choosing instead to stay inside, out of harm's holiday way. So, from snowy Iowa, I wish all of my family and friends the merriest of Christmases. And I say, in the spirit of the season, WATCH YOUR STEP!