Thursday, December 19, 2013

“Santa’s Visit”

            The Christmas I turned six, we loaded the car and headed from Dover AFB to Danville, Illinois to spend the holidays with my mother’s family. I think my parents wanted everyone to see my brother, Charles, who had just turned six months old. Dad preferred extremely early morning starts, and on this trip he and my mother woke us up around four in the morning. They bundled us into the car with pillows and blankets and encouraged us to go back to sleep. The trip, with stops for breakfast and lunch, would take more than twelve hours. My folks’ tight budget prevented a midpoint stop at a hotel. They played the radio and talked continually to keep my dad alert. Often, they’d have four or five hours of the trip travelled before one of us kids would wake up.
            I remember the excitement I felt when we finally reached Aunt Nellie’s house. She lived in an older Craftsman-styled home. I remember ice and snow covered the yard, but someone had cleared the sidewalk and porch steps to welcome us. Relatives burst from the front door when we pulled alongside the curb, and hugs and kisses pulled us into the front room where a Christmas tree dominated the front corner.
            Aunt Nellie and Uncle Paul directed us into our rooms. They’d borrowed a baby crib from some friends for my brother and situated it in the same room with my parents. Aunt Nellie had cleared her sewing room and snugged a bed under the window. My sister and I would share this room during our visit. This room remained cozily warm because Aunt Nellie always had something cooking in her oven.
            Both my sister and I are practically Christmas babies. Her birthday is on the 21st while mine is on the 26th. So on Christmas Eve, Aunt Nellie made a huge cake to do a joint celebration, and the entire family gathered around to sing for us. My cousin and his wife brought their baby, and I remember wearing my red ski pants and black boots for pictures on Christmas Eve.
            Wonderful and magical things happened that Christmas. First, Charles sat for the first time on his own. One moment he was sitting like a little puppy dog, propped up on his hands, and the next he was wobbling with hands in the air, cooing in delight. I remember running into the kitchen to announce this feat, and by the end of our visit, he’d mastered sitting alone.
            But the second magical moment came on Christmas Eve. Paula and I played on our bed in the sewing room. She had on blue ski pants, the type with the band that looped under your foot. I had on red. The bed, in front of a large window, gave us the perfect spot to kick as we watched the blue and red reflections. As we entertained ourselves with our impromptu choreography, someone knocked loudly on the window.
            He stood in all of his glory, just on the other side of a thin pane of glass! His white beard tumbled down his huge belly, and he called our names and laughed merrily. His red suit (complete with hat and boots) stood out against the white snow.
            I remember screaming in delight as my sister and I pressed our faces to the window. We lost sight of him as he disappeared into the back yard.
            The entire family crammed into the little room trying to decipher our babble about seeing Santa Claus. Some of the adults poo-pooed our claims while others went outside to check for footprints, which they found.
            No one ever admitted, even once we were grown, to donning a costume that Christmas Eve. So I have to believe that we really did have a visit from Santa.
Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


            Padme, Princess I’m A Dolly Kitty curls next to my laptop. Her spots for snoozing move around the house, changing periodically. I don’t know if the warmth from my computer draws her to my side, of if she enjoys the indulgent head rubs and chin scratching I throw her way as I write. Either way, she now spends a chunk of her day dozing by my side.
            I love telling the story on how Padme joined our family. We’d gone out of town for Memorial Day weekend, and had left my son’s iguana in his cage by the back patio doors so he could have light. I’d placed a book on the top, just to make certain he didn’t pop off the screen. However, I didn’t think about our cat, Sassy, deciding to free the iguana. When we returned home, the cage sat open and empty.
            We spent days searching for the iguana with no luck. I’d warned my son that one day we’d move something in a closet and probably find his mummified corpse. Not a pleasant idea, but part of life when you have small pets like reptiles and rodents. After a few days of searching, we decided to head to Polly’s Pet Shop and pick out another iguana.
            Of course, no one can enter a pet store and not swing by the puppies and kittens. We’ve stood outside those windows hundreds of times and never felt the urge to bring one home, but on that day two kittens wrestled in a tangle of newspaper. My son fell in love with both of them. Since we already had another cat and a dog at home, I told him he could only bring home one. It broke our hearts to know that we would separate the kittens, but . . .
            Padme entered out home in a non-descript brown box. We wanted to surprise my husband, who expected us to return with an iguana, not a kitten. His surprise to find a ball of fur instead of something sleek and green made us laugh.
            We quickly realized that Padme’s small size made her an easy target for moving feet. One night, my husband stepped on her head, sending her into convulsions. One of our guests for dinner that night had experience as a vet tech, and he felt certain she was fine, but we rushed her to the pet ER just in case. After that incident, she always wore a bell!

           Our Padme’s very outgoing. Many people thought we only had one cat because our other cat tucked herself away whenever company came. But not Padme. She’d stroll up to someone, bat them with her paw, or head bump in affection. Her wild mane drew everyone’s attention, her personality kept everyone under her spell.
 Last year, when our other cat died, Padme stopped eating. Her grief worried all of us. I moved her bowls into the kitchen to monitor her eating. By this summer, I headed back to the same pet shop for their advice on the best foods for elderly cats. She nibbles on dry Instinct—rabbit, duck, or chicken—throughout the day. And her special treat comes in lamb, pork or pheasant three times a day. She’s desperately thin, even after months on this diet, but she is gradually regaining weight.
So I take full advantage of Padme resting next to my computer because I don’t know how many years she has left. At nearly fourteen, she’s “getting up there.” She still loves to play and still draws attention to her when company comes since she is such a princess.   



Copyright 2013 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman

Monday, December 16, 2013



          The best part of decorating the tree comes from the delight of rediscovering favorite ornaments each year. I love carefully unpacking those special Christmas tree decorations that hold wonderful memories for us. When I cautiously pull the two white “snow” fairies out of their protective boxes, I re-experience the thrill I felt upon finding them in the store over thirty years ago. Even in the earliest days of our friendship, David and I loved all things fey, so discovering these adornments proved fateful.
         Over the years, my appreciation for Christmas ornaments led to an ever widening search for an addition to the collection. Many friends and family members contributed to our tree, and each year as I find the perfect place for each item, I take a moment to remember the giver of these small presents.
         I treasure both the little Asian inspired decorations we found in a box we inherited from David’s grandmother along with the last ornament my father picked out for us before he died.

          I cluster the trio of hand crafted ornaments my aunt made years ago, and find a special place for the lovely and unique snowflakes she fashioned.

The small collection of ornaments we made on a rainy and cold afternoon with a five-year-old Paul tug at my heart when I hang them each winter. This year, I cried as I held the delicate cross stitched decorations my mother so lovingly sewed years before her Huntington’s disease symptoms robbed her of so much.

         Decorating the tree at our house takes an entire day. Partly because we have so many adornments, but mainly because I linger over many of the memories these small embellishments bring forth.
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman