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My Perfect Childhood Christmases

Bruce Merchant
Bruce Merchant

I have said many times on the air that I had a nearly perfect childhood. I was raised in a perfect neighborhood: Fontenot subdivision on the west side of Vinton; we called it Fontenot City! We had everything a kid could want: woods to roam in, a rice canal to swim in, and about 20 kids, all within a few years of each other. The perfection included the Christmas season.

The excitement began shortly after Thanksgiving, when the decorations and Christmas trees began to go up. There was nothing extravagant, just simple, middle-class things like lights, wreaths, and real Christmas trees. No motorized reindeer or loud, obnoxious music. And I don’t recall a fake tree in the whole neighborhood!

My mother would put up our tree the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I remember trying to watch the Saints game while she stood in front of the TV and looked for the perfect spot for the next ornament. My little sister and brother were not allowed to help, and I was only interested in the game I could not see! She was very particular about what went where, and making sure there were just the right amount of ornaments in a certain spot on the tree. And it all had to be color coordinated. As we became teenagers, she would play a game with our friends. She would put candy canes on the tree and “get mad” when one of them came up missing. She knew our friends were taking them. That was part of the fun! She would replace it and wait for the next one to disappear.

I was lucky enough to have both of my grandmothers in Vinton. My aunts and uncles lived within 30 minutes of us, so we all got together on Christmas Eve. The evening began shortly after sunset, when we dressed up in our Christmas best and headed to Granny Bruce’s first. Yes, Bruce is my mother’s maiden name! We always went there first because there were more little kids there, and my aunts did not want to fight with my younger cousins.

One of the fun parts of the Bruce Christmas was my aunt’s tree. Granny’s house had 12 foot ceilings, and my aunt would find the tallest, thinnest tree on the lot and put it up in a corner. I never knew how she managed to get lights and ornaments on the top of that tree, but she always did. A Christmas miracle, I guess. The seven grandkids all got a gift from our Granny, then we would watch the aunts and uncles open gifts from each other. This was the entertaining part! Some of these gifts were practical, but some were rather strange, at least to a 10-year-old kid! But it was always a wonderful time.

We then made the short, five minute ride to the Merchant side of the family. This was a little more formal, because there weren’t as many small children there. My “big city” cousins would come in from Lake Charles. They seemed to enjoy themselves as they made fun of their “country cousins”! My grandmother Merchant had 2 tables filled with Christmas goodies and various adult beverages. Once we finished our family Christmas, other friends with their families would come over to join us for the rest of the evening.

There was always that one special gift, or that one special guest, or that one special moment every year. Then there were some moments that weren’t! Like the Christmas morning my mother discovered a strange young lady sleeping in front of our fireplace next to my little brother. Or my 16th Christmas when I sampled a bit too much of the adult beverages. I was soooo sick that Christmas Day!

Of course, Christmas morning was the best part! When you have 20 kids in your neighborhood, checking out what the kid next door got was the best! As I recall, some of the toys did not survive that first day. And as we got older, they got bigger, faster, and more sophisticated. I mean, as much as they could in the late ’60s and ’70s!

As we all got older, girlfriends and boyfriends began to appear at the family parties. They eventually became wives and husbands, and soon a new generation of grandkids. My grandmothers passed away and, as most families do, we went our separate ways, creating new traditions.

While my family still gets together on Christmas Day in Houston, it’s not like those days growing up in the old neighborhood. As they say, Christmas is for kids. While I enjoyed being a parent watching my daughter and her older sisters on Christmas, it just isn’t the same. I guess it was just so much simpler back then, maybe. I look forward to Christmas morning at my mother’s. My daughter and her boyfriend will come in from Virginia, and we will all join my sister and her family for Christmas dinner. There will be nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren there. But a part of me misses those carefree days of childhood and the prefect Christmas!

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