They tracked Santa on the radio; frequent reports letting us know what continent he wasover at the moment. It added excitement to an evening already fraught with it. It had beenbuilding for months, since Halloween really, the unofficial start of the holiday season.We would overhear Mom and Dad discussing the menu for the meal, as if it changed onebit from year to year: pasta, shrimp, fillet, bread, orange salad, maybe a little wine for thegrownups. Oh and nuts; lots of mixed nuts in the shell in big bowls with silvernutcrackers protruding from them. But they still talked about it, and all the things thatneeded to get done before the big evening. Clean the chandelier, polish the silverware,vacuum, dust, clean the oven, put extra leafs in the dining table and get out the foldingchairs oh and the card table that was inevitably the kiddie table.
We as kids however were more concerned with what presents we would be getting fromour Aunts and Uncles. Don had started getting the dreaded gift of clothing; I was still inthe clear; toys and games were still my staples. And the transistor radio; there always hadto be a new transistor radio from Uncle Jim, God Bless him.
But truth be told it was always exciting to see our cousins Lorraine and her brotherRobin. We always had a good time when we saw them, swapping stories of school, andthe latest movies or television shows we had discovered. It seemed we didn’t see family alot all year, and then at the holidays, saw them two times in one week – New Years Daywas always at Aunt Mary and Uncle Dick’s house. Now we don’t see them at all, but atthe time we didn’t know that’s how life worked. We always thought we would staytogether as an extended family but a few years later when college, girlfriends, boyfriends,and life in general did its thing, we all drifted apart.
But back to Christmas Eve. Traditionally it is one of the strongest of days for an Italianfamily with its Feast of the Seven Fishes. It’s funny but it wasn’t until way later in life asa married adult did I start that tradition in our home, and the ironic part was by that pointI was making the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes for just two people. That’s fivefishes too many to paraphrase Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West. No, wehad two fishes at our family’s Christmas Eve celebration and it was just that, acelebration. A good time was always had by all. After dinner, with Don and Uncle Dickleading the entertainment portion of the evening with their quick humor, and greattiming, it was also tradition that we take a walk through the village. In my memory atleast there were very few times when the weather stopped us. It was always cold, but Iremember those nights as being clear, with a black sky full of stars shining over amagical city. We as kids could relax by this point as the opening of presents was alwaysnestled in between the end of dinner and the beginning of the walk. It was interesting thatwe walked down familiar streets, the same ones we traversed everyday of our lives, but toUncle Dick and Lorraine and Robin (did I mention that only the men and the kids wenton the walk – the sisters Mom, Mary and Aunt Fil stayed home and probably talked aboutthe men)- to them it was an alien place. At least Aunt Fil and Uncle Jim worked inManhattan though they lived in Woodside Queens, but Uncle Dick’s family lived in Queens –very near Shea Stadium, and hardly came into Manhattan at all if they couldavoid it. For some reason, they didn’t like it or feared it; never could quite figure it out.To Aunt Fil, well she lived with us for a long time on Twelfth Street so she was aVillager as we used to call it. It was only when she married Uncle Jim that they moved onup (or so it was thought) or more accurately out, to Queens.
After the walk, it was time for coffee and dessert. We kids played with our new games;listened to our new radios, tried on our new sweaters while the grownups cut up poundcake and sipped Mom’s percolated coffee. I would tune in WMCA on my new transistorand check where the Old Man was now and then to be re-assured he was still on his wayto New York City. We said our goodbyes to our beloved family and then it was time forbed and getting excited all over again. I remember being snug in my bed, listening to thewinter wind outside, and feeling safe, and happy. All was right with the world this night.I would turn on my new transistor again, keeping the volume really low, and keeplistening to the reports of Santa’s progress. I always fell asleep before they announced hehad arrived in New York City; funny that.
But it never mattered much in the morning.