By Johnny Trlica
Commentary: Before this year, 2020 was synonymous with cheap liquor and bad hangovers. Pandemics were only read about in medical journals and fascism was what we watched on the History Channel.
While over 70 million Americans looked at the last four years and said, “Yes, give me four more years of that,” an overwhelming six million more said, “Enough!” There are two lights at the end of the tunnel: a vaccine and a competent administration. Realizing family gatherings will be different this holiday season, one thing remains unchanged — Christmas is a time to reflect. It’s a time to recall cherished memories and precious loved ones. Here are two of mine.
Drowning our sorrows in 2020
With over 250,000 deaths from Covid-19 this year, many families will have empty chairs at the table or around the Christmas tree. 1992 was like that for my family. It was barely a month after my sister Robin had passed away, at 34. She had spent the year fighting breast cancer while pregnant.
On Christmas Eve the family gathered at our parent’s Rosenberg home, just as we always did. But this year, there was a noticeable absence. We went through the usual routine of exchanging gifts, visiting with each other, and eating, but it just wasn’t the same.
My three siblings departed early with their families and Daddy had gone to bed. That left me and Mama.
She was in no hurry to go to bed and I had no one to go home to. Funny how some things never change. I asked her if she had something to drink. She replied, “I think Daddy has some MD 20/20 in here.” I suggested we have a drink together. We sat at the kitchen table, opened the cheap bottle of hooch, poured ourselves a glass, and proceeded to have one of the most memorable nights of my life. We got smashed!
We started with small talk, but after our second glass of 20/20, Mama confided about how much she missed Robin and worried about what would happen with the four children she left behind. The eldest was five and the youngest only two and a half months old. She was concerned about how their father would care for them and that Robin’s kids would never know how wonderful and caring their mother was.
By 2 a.m. we had polished off the entire contents of Daddy’s bottle, nibbled a few snacks, and shed a few tears. The next day, Mama and I shared the hangover from hell, but it was worth it. We never forgot about that night when it was just me and her and a bottle of MD 20/20.
The greatest Christmas
There have been many other memorable Christmases in my life, but the most memorable one came in 2005. That was Mama’s last Christmas with us. She had been incredibly ill for most of the year and was living in a nursing home. She had to relinquish her apartment that she loved so profoundly and was forced to liquidate her possessions. Everything from furniture to kitchen utensils, blenders, dishes, and pots and pans were sold.
Miraculously Mama began to get better around Thanksgiving. She spent that day at my oldest sister’s home and seemed like her old self. She had a spring in her step and was too healthy to be living in an “old folk’s home.” I asked Mama if she would like to move in with me if I got us an apartment in or near Rosenberg. She was ecstatic at the possibility of leaving “the home” as I jokingly referred to the facility with her. We could move in the day after Christmas.
On Christmas Eve the family gathered as we always did. This time it was at my second oldest sister’s home in Sugar Land. We ate, laughed, and caught up with each other’s activities. After a few hours, we began the gift exchange game, via a “Dirty Santa” game.
Numbers were drawn, gifts were opened, and some were “stolen.” When all the gifts were exposed there were mostly kitchen items resting in everyone’s laps. There were a blender, dishes, pots and pans, and an assortment of other related items.
Then as if on cue, everyone got up and handed over all the Christmas gifts to Mama and me. We were both in total shock, but not really surprised. They knew I was not an Ina Garten when it came to finding my way around a kitchen and my new roommate and I would need those items.
On the day after Christmas, the whole family showed up at my Montrose apartment to help pack up the U-Haul and move me to Rosenberg to be with our mother. Mama checked out of “the home” and never returned.
She put all those Christmas gifts to use over the next few months as she cooked, sewed, and did all the arts and crafts things she loved doing so much. Although our time together as roommates was brief, it’s an experience I would not trade for anything.
I will always cherish that Christmas, when our family pulled together to make my mother’s last Christmas, the greatest Christmas.