Jeff and I had been dating for about a year and I thought it was time for him to meet my family and experience a traditional Italian Christmas Eve. I didn’t however, warn him about the Twilight Zone he was about to enter. However, I did give strict instructions to my family. No interrogation, no Rosanne stories and please don’t mention Uncle Guido or the cash hidden behind the wall at Grandmom’s. We’ll save those for his second visit.
Upon entering the house, Jeff asked “What is that”? “It’s our aluminum Christmas tree” I answered. That’s right, we had an aluminum tree proudly adorned with bubble lights and tinsel. My Dad called it the tree of the future – no fuss, no muss, saves time and money. Put it up, take it down and store it. He was right except for the year he jammed the branches in upside down making the tree look like an arrow spearing the carpet. It took Mom and me hours to reassemble.
Our celebration consisted of dinner, singing carols, and reading The Night Before Christmas. Jeff was amazed by the variety of seafood served. I was grateful he liked fish otherwise it could have been a long night for him and a short relationship for me. Fried smelts were his favorite. Smelts are small fish eaten whole – eyes and tails included. They’re delicious especially if they’re floured and fried so you don’t see the eyes.
After dessert, Mom put Perry Como on the turntable and handed out the sheet music. Everyone was singing off key and loudly when disaster struck. Uncle Tony’s false teeth flew out of his mouth and landed on Uncle Fred’s knee. We all laughed as Fred chased Tony screaming “You bit me”. These two brothers were the best people for such a happening. Uncle Tony was a shrewd self-made contractor. Once, to insure payment, he placed a sheet of glass halfway down a client’s chimney. When the home owner called raging that his house was filled with smoke, Tony ask for the payment, got it then dropped a brick down the chimney to break the glass. Uncle Fred was also successful having worked his way from the mail room to the C Suite at the largest bank in Philadelphia. As down to earth as Tony was, Fred was just the opposite and the perfect recipient of a bite by a set of false choppers. As a grand finale, one of my nine uncles – usually the one who could still stand and read by the end of the night, read the classic poem.
Jeff survived my family and learned how to use a spoon to twirl his spaghetti. He also came away with an appreciation for an aluminum tree and the importance of Italian Christmas Eve traditions. Do you have holiday traditions? Continue them, pass them on and hold them in your heart. This is the best present you can give or receive.