The Unforgettable Christmas
Copyright 2017 by Carol Rotta
and I were married in March 1966 and this would be our first
Christmas together. I counted the days with the eagerness of a child
awaiting Santa Claus. The kids in our blended family, Hal 16, Vicki
13, Donette 10 and Deanne 7 would be spending the holiday with their
other parent, but Don’s dad and mom had accepted our invitation
to celebrate the holiday with us. I looked forward to becoming better
acquainted with them—and frankly, I hoped to impress them. I
wanted them to see that Don had chosen a praiseworthy wife.
had met them prior to our engagement, and when Don told them we were
getting married they voiced some misgivings. They expressed concern
that I was four years older and thought I looked it, with so much
white hair. When he shared this with me I resolved, I
can’t do anything about the age difference, but I can
do something about my white hair.
I became a blonde and started using more makeup than a dash of
lipstick and a touch of mascara.
the wedding, we moved to the small mile-high community of Forest
Falls, in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. Set
among tall Ponderosa pines and incense cedars, our small rental house
had three stories with a bedroom on each level. The kitchen, and a
comfortable living-dining room occupied the middle story with the
focal point a large, wood-burning heat-a-lator fireplace faced with
river rock. Instead of using the propane furnace, the fireplace was
the most economical means of heating the house, and I loved its cozy
for our holiday guests I cleaned, dusted, scrubbed, laundered,
polished, shined and decorated—and shopped, cooked and baked.
I wanted everything to be perfect. I was determined to impress my new
Eve arrived. The
big test—would I pass?
I left work early and rushed home to prepare for the event. I lit the
already laid fire so the house would be cozy and welcoming. Then I
set the table with a white linen cloth, my best dishes, glassware,
and sterling silver; seasoned and placed the roast in the oven, and
prepared the vegetables and a salad. As I finished I sighed with
pleasure, thinking, I’m
ready and everything is going just as planned.
that moment Don walked in the door, his nose in the air sniffing
appreciatively the aroma of roasting meat.
Honey,” he said as he took me in his arms for hearty hug and a
quick kiss. “It sure smells good in here. When are we going to
eat? I’m hungry!”
I could reply we heard knocking on the door and his parents entered
and called out, “Merry Christmas—here we are.” Their arms were laden
with brightly wrapped gifts, and a box of fruit
and avocados from their yard. Yum!
hurried to greet them with a hug, relieved them of their packages,
and took their coats. I followed with my own hellos and murmurs of,
“Merry Christmas. How was the drive? Was the traffic bad?”
We exchanged hugs.
were soon seated around the table. Don asked the blessing, then began
to carve the roast. Everything was perfect: the roast tender and
juicy, and the gravy creamy and seasoned just right; the stuffed
baked potatoes topped with sharp cheddar cheese and green onions
appealing and tasty; and the green salad cold, crisp and colorful. I
relaxed, and reasoned, I’m
sure they were impressed that I’m a good cook and Don won’t
listened to the conversation, mostly concerning family members or
friends, while Don thoughtfully explained their varied relationships
so I wouldn’t feel left out.
dinner we agreed to have dessert later. Don checked the fire and made
sure the screen around it was secure. We shrugged into our winter
coats and left to attend the Christmas Eve candlelight service at our
small church up the canyon.
we settled into our seats, Don smiled and winked at me as he reached
for my hand giving it a comforting squeeze. I squeezed back, a
feeling of peace and contentment wrapping around me like a warm
blanket, accompanied by a surge of gratitude that this wonderfully
kind and loving man had wanted me to share his life. Focusing on the
comforting familiarity of the Christmas story and music, I realized,
is precisely what I needed—the peace of Christmas.
home, Don and his folks settled comfortably in the living room. I
threw a big yule log on the fire on my way to the kitchen, humming to
myself as I prepared coffee and hot chocolate to serve with the
dessert. As I bustled around, I paused and sniffed. I
smell smoke. I bet the big log I threw on the fire must have rolled
off the grate onto the hearth. I better go push it back before it
smokes up the house any more. Hurrying
into the living room I grabbed the poker preparing to shove the
offending log back where it belonged. But it was already in place and
burning vigorously. I poked at it anyway, and withdrew to the kitchen
to finish my preparations.
I heard Don yell, “Oh, my gosh. The house is filling with
tore back to the living room horrified to see a cloud of grey smoke
billowing from the fireplace and the yule log burning fiercely. His
dad hurried to open the front door and his mom darted to open
windows. Frigid air poured in mingling with the exiting smoke. Don
ran to the fireplace to make sure the damper was all the way open. It
was closed—completely! A sinking feeling overwhelmed me. I
must have hit it when I threw the yule log in. Another
fleeting thought crossed my mind. I
hope the neighbors don’t see all the smoke pouring out of the
door and windows and call the fire department. Don
was a volunteer fire fighter. How
embarrassing THAT would be!
fire became an inferno, the heat was so intense the metal liner
glowed and the smoke so thick Don couldn’t get close enough to
open the damper. His dad shouted, “Don, throw some water on
raced into the kitchen, returned with a large pan of water and threw
it on the fire. It hissed and sizzled, the flames abating for a
moment, than flared with a vengeance. The smoke intensified.
his mom suggested, “Wet a sheet or blanket and hold it over the
opening to smother the flames.”
grabbed a sheet from the linen closet and held it under the kitchen
faucet until it was saturated. Then Don and I each grabbed an end of
the dripping fabric and held it across the opening. The heat dried it
quickly. His mom soaked another sheet and brought it to us. We
alternated the two sheets until finally the fire had subsided enough
so Don could reach in, his hand wrapped in a wet towel, and pull the
damper forward, opening the vent and allowing the smoke to escape.
doused the fire with another pan of water, saturating the charred
logs. The water puddled around the grate and extinguished the last
feeble flames and glowing embers. Wispy tendrils of smoke
all stood and stared at the sodden mess and blackened front of the
fireplace through a thinning veil of smoke. I watched horrified while
tiny bits of ash wafted lightly through air and began to settle on
every surface. The house smelled like a barbecue pit. We started to
shiver as we became conscious of the icy air pouring in, and hurried
to close doors and windows.
turned on the heater and we donned jackets and huddled around the
table. I went to the kitchen and returned with a tray of
steaming mugs of cocoa and coffee and the long-delayed dessert. I
viewed the spectacle of the room with dismay: ashes dimmed the
twinkle of lights on
Christmas tree and dulled the glint of ornaments; a layer formed on
the carefully polished furniture; and soot filmed the once gleaming
lagged until Don’s dad, his blue eyes twinkling behind
ash-speckled glasses, remarked, “This is one Christmas I’m
sure we’ll all remember.” We glanced at one another and
nodded in solemn agreement—then exploded with laughter.
was obviously NOT the way to impress your new in-laws. I wonder what
they’re thinking of me now. Did I pass the test?
must have. Never again did I feel the need to impress my in-laws in
order to be accepted. They had embraced me warmly and lovingly into
husband and I moved to a senior retirement community almost three years
ago. One of the activities offered was a memoir writing
tried it out—and thoroughly enjoyed it and began writing essays for my
family. I was encouraged by the facilitator to join a more
workshop group whose members and leader offered a deeper learning
experience. At 88 years old (young?) I’ve found a new hobby I
enjoy among others who enjoy what I have written.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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