Favorite Christmas

When I look back on the Christmases of my past, it's clear to see that my memories are not of what I received as gifts, but of my family and how we spent those times together.

For all its dysfunction our family got along amazingly well. With a large (or what seemed large to me) group of mostly professional musicians, comics and clowns (and one dancer, who hoofed his way through many Hollywood B-musicals), we were an entertaining clan...

My grandmother had sung opera in Chicago and besides being a prolific baker during the holidays, she loved nothing more than to sit at the piano and sing the popular hits from her early years: On Moonlight Bay, Shine On, Harvest Moon, and etc.

My grandfather had been a song-and-dance man in Vaudeville since his childhood and he always kept us in stitches, especially when my father joined in. They were a great father and son comedy team when they got together, my grandfather with his physical sight gags and my father with his rubber face and bathroom humor.

My uncle Wes danced with me, allowing me to stand on his feet while he swirled me around the room. He was dashing and handsome and looked like a movie star, which we always believed he would one day be. My aunt Pat and uncle Don, then a young married couple in their 20s, regaled us with stories about how they'd met in the circus, she as the Fat Lady and he as the India Rubber Man. Of course, they were never in the circus and she was thin as a rail. They were just fanciful jokes and stories that I took to be truth when I first heard them.

The only presents I remember from my childhood are a Schwinn bicycle, a toy piano and a Great Garloo. My memories are of the happy times we spent together, laughing, making music and eating. While we kids played in the living room, anxiously awaiting the evening when we would get to open our presents, the adults sat at the kitchen table playing Hearts and drinking beer and wine. It was warm and happy and drama-free. I cannot recall one cross word or one argument.

As a family of Austrian immigrants we opened our presents on Christmas Eve and after we kids were asleep in bed, Santa Claus came, leaving unwrapped toys under the tree. On Christmas Day there always was a huge turkey and all the extras. No matter that we'd had the same dinner only a month earlier on Thanksgiving, it was always good enough to enjoy twice.

My sons and I are the last of that family and I miss those days every year at this time, but the dynamics are still the same. Our new family enjoys the same togetherness and we're still a clan of professional entertainers. I cannot imagine Christmas without that.