“If you’re gonna be sick, “ my mother said, “you’re going to be sick there.” We spent every Christmas at my aunt Anne and uncle Ernest’s house. It was a tradition in our family, one we never broke lest we suffer the wrath of aunt Anne. So, sick or not, I was going.
My grandmother, mother, sister Kathy and I packed into mom’s red Ford Mustang. Four females in a car headed to the aged relatives home in south Denver. To get there, we had to take Interstate 70 and then connect with Interstate 25, nicknamed the mousetrap. Mom always got on the ramp at an accelerated speed.
“Slow down Dolores.” My grandmother warned.
“That was fun.” I said. “It made my stomach go swoop.”
Our stomachs went swoop for another reason as we passed the Purina factory.
“That’s where they make dog food.” Informed my mother.
That is also where we exited to get to aunt Anne and uncle Ernest’s.
After leaving the factory district, we entered a residential area right past Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. by Stapleton Airport. My mother parked her Ford behind uncle Ernest’s Cadillac Biarritz. We jumped out of the heated car into the freezing Colorado air and ran to the door.
“I want to ring it.” I cried.
“No. I got here first.” Retorted my sister.
Towering over me, she pressed the doorbell and it chimed Hark the Herald Angels Sing which reverberated throughout the whole house, sounding heavenly.
“I’m coming.” Cackled my aunt. She opened the door and the aroma of spaghetti sauce and bread wafted through the air. It contrasted with my aunt’s bad breath. My aunt was a rather large woman who resembled a round ball.
“Kiss your aunt Anne.” Directed my grandmother. Kathy and I did so quickly then ran in the house.
We walked downstairs to join the party. Downstairs, a table topped with Waterford China and crystal met us along with our cousins. A plane roared overhead and shook the glasses. We could hear them tinkle. Cousin Ed lunged to still the table. Perry Como was playing on the stereo.
My other aunt, also named Anne, was in the kitchen preparing the traditional Italian feast: raviolis stuffed with ricotta cheese, scarpel, a fried bread, breaded calamari, antipasto with olives, lettuce and sardines, spaghetti and meatballs.
Kathy and I walked down the holy highway, so named because of the pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary strewn along the path. My cousins, Melinda, Michelle and Debbie, Kathy and I sat down at the end of the hallway and started playing Mousetrap, a Rube Goldberg type game. We would always compare what gifts we got; it became the big competition. And not just games. Their mother died of cancer a few years ago and my mother divorced my dad a few years ago. So we would compare if it was better to have just a dad or just a mom. It always turned into this big fight ending up in tears and hurt feelings.
Dinnertime came and Kathy sat by Mike Cianco because she had a crush on him. She flipped her hair frequently throughout dinner, hoping to get his attention. I sat by mom and gramma and my cousins sat by their dad. The table seated about twenty people. There was enough food for a hundred. My aunts started passing out the raviolis right when a plane flew overhead shaking the crystals so they sounded like bells.
The glasses reflected the light streaming off the candles and so the table glistened much like the outdoors did as the sun glistened off of the snow-covered landscape.
“Can we go play?” I asked after dinner.
“Don’t break anything.” My mother joked.
“Yeah, especially the Hummels.” Added my grandmother.
Upstairs, my aunt had a vast collection of Hummels in the display case. They also had a grand piano, a crystal chandelier and Queen Anne furniture decorating the salon. I remember thinking they must be millionaires, when in actuality, my uncle worked in one of the factories just up the road.
Aunt Anne and Uncle Ernest were devoutly Catholic. Aside from the pictures of Jesus and Mary on the walls, one room had a candle stand in it with another picture of the Virgin Mary. We never entered that room—too holy for us sinners. Across from it, there was a blue-tiled bathroom with a nautical theme. I noticed the toilet paper dispenser had a plastic cover. I mentioned this to mom and the next thing I knew, our upstairs bathroom had a plastic cover on the toilet paper dispenser.
After played a while, mom called us for dessert, Zuppa Inglesia, a layering of white cake, topped with chocolate pudding and whipped cream, another layer of cake, pudding and whipped cream and then topped with chocolate sprinkles. I couldn’t taste it since my nose was stuffed up, but that didn’t stop me from having a big helping.
After we scarfed that down, Kathy, me, Michelle and Melinda would step up to the staircase and start singing along with the Perry Como songs. Debbie was too dignified for this display/
When the night ended, we stepped back into the cold, December Colorado air, got into the car and returned home, very tired.
We did this every year, as it was a tradition in our family, one we never broke.
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