Christmas: The sights, sounds and secrets of the season can live on for decades

ESCANABA- The drafty air is electrifying!

The suspense is almost overwhelming!

Is it the twinkling lights and the blazing star on the Christmas tree that’s putting a charge in the air?

Is it the fluffy, fresh snow that’s hiding footprints and sleigh tracks that’s creating the suspense?

Its Christmas Eve back in the 1970s and almost every house is full of kids. At my aunt and uncle’s house, it’s elbow to elbow with people. In fact some of the furniture (like the couch) is out on the front porch to make room for tables and chairs for everyone.

In the corner of the living room all covered with tinsel, stands the Christmas tree. About 20 first cousins mill about the tree, the younger ones are clad in their pajamas.

A strange concoction of holiday aromas fills the air. Hot coffee, cold brandy slush, chocolate covered pretzels and balsam fir combine to create the Christmas Eve scent.

The snack “a light lunch” is more like a hearty meal. It includes treats like Vienna hotdogs, venison sausage, ham roll ups, Knox blocks, and deviled eggs.

One of the cousins always manages to spill his red holiday punch down the front of his shirt. The older girl cousins line the staircase all wearing red or green dresses.

Talking and laughter fill the air and so does some cigarette smoke (back then many adults smoked). All of a sudden bells are ringing and Santa is standing there in the midst of the crowd. Santa talks to each tot, sings a song and is on his way.

An uncle wearing a Santa cap then proceeds to pass out the gifts under the tree. The cousins exchanged names each year to buy a Christmas Eve gift for one another.

We did not know it at the time but it wasn’t the toy or the trinket that was the present. It was the gift of cousins (each other) that was the real treasure!

My mother’s side of the family is a very closely knit crew. My Mom and her older siblings held their family of nine youngsters together after the untimely deaths of their parents.

So being together at holidays was very important to them. The crew gathered and the cousin’s came together. The joy, the laughter, the jokes and silly gifts became a tradition.

I might have thought at the time that I was receiving a doll or Play Doh for a gift, but the gift of “many cousins” is much more fun than any of that.

Through the years, my family has gathered with aunts, uncles and cousins on many occasions. When my husband and I began dating, he would say “Oh, I met your cousin.” And I’d say “be more specific. Which one, I have dozens of them.”

The gift of cousins is an awesome thing. Their friendship is special.

I have one cousin who has a joke or funny story to tell anytime I need one. I have another cousin who is a great listener when I need to talk, still another is an organizer who can plan party food and call the kids to say grace.

Then I have a cousin who lives along the lakeshore. She can talk in pictures. My much younger cousin Caryl (Hendrickson) Clemens, is an avid bird and wildlife watcher. Her photographs speak of peaceful contentment in the beauty of her Bay Shore backyard.

At the end of a long tiring day, it is always such an uplifting pleasure to see Caryl’s latest bird or buck photo on the computer.

Her photos are living Christmas cards in all of the splendor of the season.

As a gift to you, my readers, I’d like to share some of my cousin’s pictures with you. Thanks Caryl and Merry Christmas to all!

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.