It's going to be a different Christmas this year

By Steve Sell
December 24, 2014

Forgive me if I’m just not in the Christmas spirit this year.

On this day for the past 36 years, I have penned my Christmas list column, giving my gifts to coaches, teams and personal friends.

But this is going to be a Christmas unlike any other I have ever experienced.

For the first time in my 57 years, 9 months and 22 days on our good Mother Earth, I will be experiencing the Christmas holiday without either parent.

Six months ago today — and it seems like six years — my father (my best friend and  mentor) passed away and he will be enjoying his first Christmas in nearly 20 years with my beloved mother Betty in heaven.

I can only imagine the party that’s breaking out. Like John Belushi said in “Blues Brothers,” “The band is back.” Nearly all of the members — maybe all, I’m not quite sure — of the band “Something Jones and the Red Coats” are together again and they now have their longtime piano man and clarinet player to make them complete. The jamming has begun.

I’m sure the place will be rockin’ and my mom will be sitting there tapping her toes as she always did when my Dad played one of his countless “gigs.” I’m sure Dad’s friends like Jerry Webb, Don Dancer and Dale DeVore are there as well as the group plays hit after hit.

As for me I am fortunate to have my one and only sister, whose family is taking me in for a few days in Lawrence. I’m sure it won’t be easy for either of us, not to mention her husband, Steve, and the apples of my Dad’s eye, his grandkids Rob and his “little button nose,” the inimitable Miss Ashley E (now Mrs. since she has married).

I’m lucky to have family. There will be millions in the world who will spend Christmas alone without their families. There are some who have families, but because of circumstances they won’t be spending the time together, which is beyond sad. No matter what disagreements or discord there has been in the past, families should put that behind them and unite on this day.

I’m sure it will be a wonderful time. But I know my sister feels the same way as I — there was no beating the Christmases we had growing up.

It would start at the house of Nanny and Grandpa Sell on Christmas Eve on the corner on Summit Street in Girard, which was bordered by Smith Funeral Home, and two churches — one to the east (my grandparents’ church) and the other to the south.

The big, old house would fill with family. In addition to our four, my aunt, uncle and their three kids (my cousins) would be there, as well as my Mom’s parents. We were fortunate that everybody got along so well. Sometimes the crazy uncle would stop in and when we were younger, Santa Claus happened by while out making deliveries around the world.

We five cousins would scout out our favorite spots in the dining room for where we wanted the presents to be put. In actuality, we were in the same spot every year.

We would take turns opening our presents. I couldn’t wait to see if I would get a pair of jeans, a sweater or golf balls. Those were pretty much my staples, as well as my Grandpa giving us calendars for our watches or when we got older, deer whistles for our cars.

We would take the annual “stair steps” picture, with Cousin Mark, the youngest, on the bottom, then me, Cousin Cindy, my sister and Cousin Rick, the oldest. 

Then after we would stuff ourselves with delicacies, it would be off to the piano or the organ. The old piano, which my sister now has, was in the living room and the organ was in the dining room. Both my Dad and Grandpa were expert pianists and organists and like two peas in a pod. They both liked to be on stage and the center of attention. My aunt has been blessed with an amazing voice and would join in and sing, while the kids were too busy with their presents.

When it got close to midnight, our family would join my Mom’s parents for Midnight Mass at the Catholic Church. After that, I would sleep in the cold attic of the old Summit house on the big brass bed under piles of blankets. The old attic actually had some cracks and cold air would get in, but it would be the best sleep I would get all year.

On Christmas Day, it would be off to the farm where Nanny Lena and PaPa resided. This was a gathering of the Italiano side of the family and the meal of the day was homemade ravioli and crescent rolls, like they made in the old country. I couldn’t wait because I loved it, and Nanny Lena and Aunt Betta would serve it everytime I would be there. Add my Mom in with those two and it was like hens cackling. It took hours to make the meal, but about 15 minutes to eat it. The farm was small and quaint and I always loved the days I spent there in rural Girard as we’d drive to the 7-mile corner and then hang a right, where there was Nanny and PaPa’s farm, as well as the farms of Uncle Rico and Uncle Juliano Tavernaro.

Those days are long gone. The holiday has now become so commercial and I can't imagine being at Christmas where everybody is texting or has their cell phones attached to their ears. What has happened to the days when the kids would go around to houses and sing Christmas Carols like we used to do? It's never happened once since I moved here nearly 40 years ago. Do families still go together to buy Christmas trees like we did? How many families still attend church services on Christmas Eve?

When you think about it, it's really a sad and insane world we live in and to be honest, I'm glad my mother wasn't alive these last 19 years to see how decayed our morals have become as it would have made her terribly sad. There's war and strife everywhere in the world and we can't even take care of our business at home. Our country has gone to hell in a hand basket and our elected leaders spend more of their time pointing fingers at each other than they do leading the country. There's so much unneeded racial tension, anger and hate. So, so unhealthy. So, so unnecessary. We are all God's creatures. Who cares if we have different skin colors?

But it's the world we live in. For me, I'd like to turn back the calendar just once to about 1965 when Christmas was really Christmas and we celebrated it for all the right reasons.