(This article was originally posted for the 2010 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories Day 24: Christmas Eve)
When we were little, Christmas Eve was always spent at Grandma and Grandpa Lassalle’s house in Oakland. Right after dinner, the 7 of us would pile into the station wagon an be on our way. I remember being filled with excited. I knew that there would be presents under the tree for me and when we got home it would almost be time for Santa to come.
On the drive, there was this wonderful magical castle (or so I thought) that you could see from the distance. It was all lit up and had these gold glowing triangles on top (two on each side, one higher in the middle). I thought that must be some wonderful, magical place and it was always a part of my Christmas Eve memories.
We’d arrive at Grandma and Grandpa’s house where we would meet a barrage of relatives. Most of these relatives we only saw once a year on Christmas Eve. Most were off in the dining area, having just partaken of my Grandpa’s delicious soup and a dinner. They were well on their way to getting drunk.
Grandma would be off somewhere looking for that elusive set of pajamas she always lost on Christmas Eve. She would sew pajamas for all the grandkids and, like clockwork, she lost one set a day or two before Christmas.
The house was very festive. The dining room table which was quite large was set up with a holiday table cloth. There were goodies of all sorts on the table.
The living room had a fake Christmas tree. It was flocked and had red and green satin balls decorating it. There were no lights on the tree. Instead, my Grandparents set up a rotating light at the base of the tree that flashed red, blue, and green colors on the tree.
After the adults farted around, we finally got to presents. My Grandpa always handed out the presents with my Dad and Aunt Julie as his helpers. The names were read one by one and no one opened until the last person had finished.
There was always the set of pajamas from Grandma–or not. That depended on whose she lost that year. There were different things from my Aunts and Uncles. And, then there was Aunt Dorothy’s gifts. Aunt Dorothy always made something. She was quite crafty. But, you never know what it could be. It might be hand knitted slippers, clothes hangers with knitted covers, or something off the wall.
The present we all coveted was what she gave her God son, my brother, Chuck. All year long Aunt Dorothy collected pennies and put them into a jar. Not a coke bottle or a cookie jar. Usually it was a bottle about 2-3 feet tall. By the time Christmas came, the jar was filled to the top. My brother almost couldn’t carry his present. He couldn’t wait to get home. While the rest of us would be dreaming of Santa, he’d be dreaming of how many penny rolls he’d fill to take to the bank.
After presents, it was pretty my late. My Dad worked in the bread manufacturing plant for Safeway grocery stores. They didn’t shut down for Christmas Eve. He worked graveyard and almost always had to work Christmas Eve. So, around 10 pm we’d say our goodbyes and give our Merry Christmas wishes. We’d subject ourselves to hugs and kisses in exchange for the gifts we’d been given. Then we were back on the road.
If I stayed awake, when we got to a certain part of the freeway, I would see that Magic Castle once again. I wondered who lived there as I worried about whether Santa might have come early. If we weren’t there, the door would be locked and he wouldn’t be able to come in. We hadn’t even left our cookies out for him yet!
If you live in the Oakland area and are a genealogist, you might have figured out what the magical castle that held me enthrall each Christmas Eve was. It was the Mormon Temple on Lincoln Ave in Oakland. Little did I know that 30 years later, I would be spending many, many hours at that same temple in the underground library bent over a microfilm reader looking for my ancestors.
I was right. It was a Magical Castle