By Sharon Remington
In the wee morning hours across the globe, children wake. As they lie in bed, anticipation grows. Their hearts are filled with joy and, in their minds, happiness, and wonder.
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Before bedtime on Christmas Eve, our parents shared a simple plan to follow for the next morning when we were ready to get out of bed. This was, of course, classified under Mom’s Department. She did so well at planning and organization. How the plan began, for each of us to stay in our bedrooms until Mom and Dad exit their bedroom.
Most of the time, right near my side, one could find my sister Gail. The two of us shared a room. We played a board game, anxiously waiting for that certain moment to arrive. Gail was three, and despite our five-year age difference, we did everything together, except when it came to chores. Beyond a sea of blue eyes was her fair-skin along with deep brown hair. Although she was average in size, her little belly always protruded. I liked calling her my little “Munchkin.” She liked it, too. The bond between the two of us would continue to grow.
On the other end, we have Ricky (our Dad’s name is Richard, Sr.) who is waiting eagerly in his room. Ricky’s big mouth would cause all sorts of problems. For example, when mouthing-off to another student at school, they were usually in higher grades than him. Well, he couldn’t run from the other student fast enough because he was overweight. So, if they wanted to fight, he was in trouble.
In which case, my Mother would receive a phone call regarding yet another fight her son was involved in, within the neighborhood or on school grounds. Then she’d hang up and tell me to take care of it. As kids would have it, I ended up fighting most of the battles for Ricky. Not a good thing to do.
Some time passed. Periodically Gail and I would look under our door down the hall, silence. From there, we could see Mom and Dad’s room kitty-corner. Suddenly, movement, footsteps, all from the master bedroom. Mom walked through the double doorway. First, Dad followed. By this time, my sister and I had to let loose, and we began jumping wildly.
“OK kids, let’s go see what Santa left”, Dad shouted from the long hallway,
Each of our doors swung open. The three of us scurried out of the rooms. Everyone exchanged a Merry Christmas in unison while we headed toward the kitchen, which then gave way to the family room. Our family room was home for the official Christmas tree. Furthermore, it housed a beautiful fireplace, a plus for Santa, of course. Also, for those warm and cozy family nights watching tv, while Mom or Dad would make hot chocolate and Christmas treats to pass.
We entered the kitchen, which opened directly into the family room, making both rooms combined a rather spacious area. Gail, Ricky, Mom, and I helped with the decoration of the Balsam Fir tree. It now stood majestically between the door wall window and fireplace side of the room. With each step we took closer, our eyes got even that much wider, trying to take it all in. The entire area exploded with nicely wrapped presents. In the corner opposite the Balsam Fir stood two shiny, new bikes.
Dad, who was taking photos, asked us to hold off just a bit longer until he set up his movie camera. Certainly, he got a lot of grief for that, but we waited. Mom decided to prepare her morning coffee in the meantime. When I could, I was always there to help her out.
Everyone called her Dolly, the name her father gave to her when he held her for the first time. The birth certificate reads Dora. “She looked like a little doll” William Gianuario, Sr. When Mom speaks, people listen! However, she was as pretty as a rose with freckles to boot. Before marrying, she held a secretarial job at General Motors, Plant 21 in Detroit.
When Mom was very young, a child, she came close to death. Her appendix ruptured, causing the infection to spread. It caused Peritonitis. It was quite a prolonged illness and recovery. Also, the reason she is unable to give birth.
All was calm. The stereo, which was engulfed in an extended long piece of furniture, was located in the front living room. It was softly playing Christmas music in the background. One might see specifically fine décor in this room. It was off-limits. Childs-play, especially pets and children from outside the home, were not allowed. Mom decorated the tree in the living room.
First, I helped Mom start to get the presents passed around. Then, while receiving and opening my gifts, I suddenly felt a flood of emotions go through me as I fought back the tears. I thanked God for making all this possible. It has only been just a little over a year since I began living with the Kropp family. Continuous blessings all the way. That was the greatest gift. I’m ecstatic!
We were encouraged by our parents to ask Santa for whatever we wanted, within reason. To name just a couple of items Santa left under the tree for me were a Nancy Nurse Doll, referred to as “The Talking Baby Patient.” A Slinky, it’s fun to use on the staircase. Something really neat, Gail and I enjoyed so much, “Easy-Bake Oven.” It used two light bulbs as a heat source. Jiffy brand cake mix did the trick.
The biggest surprise was the new bike! My first experience on any bike was at age seven. Dad gave me a push. I fell and crashed. The same routine was tried over and over vigorously again and again. Until later the same evening, even though I gained skinned surfaces, we finally achieved my goal. Along with Mom and Dad’s support, it was something I finally conquered.
On holidays, when it was just immediate family, breakfast was the same as most days. Dad made old-fashioned, cooked oatmeal. He had oats almost every morning of his life. We could join him or not. Mom would have a donut or a piece of good coffee cake to go with her black coffee. Ricky liked Cap’n Crunch cereal. Gail preferred Lucky Charms and my all-time-favorite, Fruit Loops.
The main topic of conversation happened to be Christmas dinner at 2:00 P. M. Eight family members would be taking the drive up to our house in Flint, from the Detroit area. Anyone could arrive at any time before dinner hour.
The highlight of the visit? It was my first time meeting Great Grandma Gianuario, who still could not speak a word of English. While in Italy, her husband died. So Great-Grandma G. left with then three-month-old Anthony Gianuario (Mom’s Dad, Grampa G.) to come by ship to the United States. They docked at Ellis Island, New York Harbor. Great Grandma G was part of the largest migration in human history along with Grampa. From 1892 to 1954, reaching over 12 million people, with sometimes as many as 12,000 in a single day.
Dad wrapped things up by wishing everyone at the breakfast table a Merry Christmas. Once we were excused from the table, my brother, sister, and I rushed over to the tree to collect a toy to take back to our rooms. Before going to my room, though, one of my chores was to wash the dishes. As I was pushing a chair over to the kitchen sink (used as a stool to reach the sink), Dad passed with folding chairs. He came in from the attached garage located off the kitchen, where extra tables and chairs are stored.
Dad built the shelving in the garage and basement. With wood, he could build anything. By trade, he was a Pattern and Model Maker. Most jobs at his workplace were for the automobile industry—prototypes for cars. He was striking in appearance, working out three times a week with weights since his teens, which made his upper body muscular on his 5’ 11” frame. Richard William Kropp, Sr. could really pound the keys on his piano. Our favorite tunes were fast Boogies. He was also a Sergeant in the National Guard Reserves, based in Grayling, MI. We would visit there quite often as a family.
On special occasions, Mom would pick out matching outfits for Gail and me. When it came to getting ready for the day, I would change her into the intended outerwear. When she was completely ready, Gail looked absolutely adorable. This year, Mom chose a red velvet dress and black patten leather shoes with white ankle socks. The dress had a white lace collar with eyelets and a huge black bow wrapped around the waistline like a ribbon. As Gail would have it, she still needed to carry her torn, ratty-looking baby blanket, she named “bankie.”
The first guests to arrive were Grandma and Grampa Kropp. Dad and I were out on the porch. Upon their approach, I ran to be near Grandma Grace. Even while her arms were full to the max, she was so cheerful. “Merry Christmas,” we all greeted in harmony. While Dad held the main front door open, I took Grampa’s keys to their ’63 Chrysler New Yorker to collect anything else.
Dad’s Mother, Grace, was a delight to be around. Extremely caring, loving, funny, and you could hear her laugh across the room. She was the “Life of the Party.” For many years she volunteered at St. John’s Hospital in Detroit. As a result, she had countless friends.
On the other hand, William Kropp, who went by Bill, was the complete opposite of his wife regarding personality. The tall, slender German man remained silent for the most part unless he was spoken to. He worked at Chrysler as an Engineer. Even still, we had fun together.
Next to arrive were Uncle Bill and Aunt Arlene. Right behind them, Grampa’s Cadillac. Both Mom’s brother and Dad worked for General Motors. At any get-together we attended, there was an ongoing rivalry between the Grampa’s because one was a GM man, and the other was a Chrysler man. It was too funny sometimes, so we’d look at one another and begin to laugh.
Uncle Bill and I helped to unload any food and gifts from the trunks of their vehicles. He asked me if Klein’s were showing up this year. I told him they went elsewhere. Herman and Marilyn Klein were not only my aunt and uncle; they were also my God Parents. Aunt Marilyn was my Dad’s sister. They had two children, Cathy and Kenny, right around me and my brother’s ages. Cathy was eight, Kenny, six and a half years old. Uncle Herman taught music, and they lived in Grosse Pointe, MI.
The fragrance of food filled the cold afternoon air as we walked up the driveway.
“I hope you’re hungry Uncle Bill”, I said to him.
“Oh yeah,” he replied. “Hungry enough to eat an entire reindeer!”. We laughed. The outdoor house lights were turned on, and Uncle Bill added how pretty they looked before going back inside.
Meanwhile, a few of the family were getting a tour by Mom and commented on how beautifully she had the home decorated along with the Christmas Décor. While removing my coat from the front closet, somebody across the way was calling my name loudly. Moments later, Grampa G. came over. I gave him a huge bear hug while saying, “I missed you and Grandma.” Gail was beside him.
“How are you doing with settling in?” he asked, “By the way, looky here, I found your partner.” Smiling, we both looked at Gail. Grampa G. went on to say, “My Mother has been with Gail, but she’s not even met you yet. Would you like to meet her right now?”
“Sure, Grampa,” I responded. Grampa walked us across the spacious room to where his party was seated. Great Grandma Gianaurio was not a very handsome woman. She looked just like a person you would see in a photograph of people from the old country. She was built wide and heavy set. She wore a dark skirt and real thick plain black shoes. To top it all off, she wore a babushka on her head. When she opened her mouth to speak in her foreign language, she did not have any teeth. This frightened me. Grampa G. was holding my one hand, while Gail held the other. I hoped nobody noticed how scared she made me feel. I would learn soon after that Grampa and his Mother were speaking Italian.
Managing to smile back at Great Grandma G. was all I could do. Then, of course, I kissed and greeted Grandma G and her Mother. Unable to notice, until I was fully turned around, right behind me, a tiny crowd had gathered, equipped with cameras. Front and center were Mom and Dad. I was so embarrassed I went directly to my room, and Gail followed.
We were not long in the room before hearing a gentle rap at the door. As I opened it, Grandma Grace’s favorite scent was present, and there she stood, smiling. That’s all I needed to see. We hugged ever so tight.
Christmas Dinner 1963
Surrounding the entire area where one utilizes the kitchen is the countertop. Our marble countertop was the major focal point in the kitchen and the family room because of its extended length, width, and size, including four bar stools along with it in the family room.
However, on this date, it was used for serving a buffet style dinner. Dad’s Mother, Grace, proceeded to give the prayer. And then, a moment of silence.
Eating is always the best part of any function. Mom was cute when she had one of her martinis at a social event. Along with Aunt Arlene, the two would start the giggles. Dad would drink them also, but he never acted much different. Anyway, everybody brought something to serve, including desserts; the dinner turned out to be terrific. Cleanup would be superficial. Dish duty was one of my chores, which would be done sometime that evening.
After dinner, we exchanged presents. Gail and I passed them around the room. When we finished, we opened ours. Some really unique items were given to me. For everyone concerned, it was an extremely long day.
I took Gail by the hand and went around from one person to the next to show our thanks and appreciation for each special gift. It was sweet. Even though they made “Ga-Ga” over us, it must have been the matching dresses.
Before departure, Dad and Mom insisted on taking photos. So did the grandparents. Using the Balsam Fir tree in the family room as the background, it went off without a hitch. They took some great group shots and were certainly not to leave anyone out. Even our dog, Tippy, wanted to be included.
After the photo session was complete and all were satisfied, it was time to “call it a night,” as Mom put it. Everyone concurred.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR