We had Christmas at our grandmother’s once. It was almost dark when we started out. Fanny and Baldy were stomping their feet and snorting in front of the house, wondering, “Where are they?” They always wanted to get going as soon as their harnesses were on, but today Mumma was getting us all ready in our best clothes, so it took a long time. “Here, Dinah”, she said, and handed me my blanket for the sled, “And be really careful going up that step. It’s icy!” We needed lots of blankets and warmed up bricks for our feet, so we could be warm all the way to Grandmother’s.
There were three of us, like always. June, April and me, all snuggled into the sled, with my father holding the reins, and snapping them on Baldy’s back, and my mother holding Eddie, the baby. June liked to sit up and look around, but April and I lay down so we could see the stars. Tonight the sky was special—we could see the northern lights. They were moving up and down and lighting up the whole sky. We could see shapes in them, and they changed into other designs as we went along. June said if we were really quiet, we could hear them crackle, but we couldn’t, because Baldy and Fanny were snorting too loud, and shaking their harnesses.
When we got to Grandmother’s house, our grandfather, Mosha, came out on the veranda and stepped into the deep snow to help us. When we were out of the sled, he said, “Crăciun fericit” to us, which meant “Merry Christmas” in Romanian. He was nice, and sometimes said things in English to us when Bunica, our grandmother, wasn’t listening. When we got in, we all said, “Crăciun fericit” to Bunica, and she gave us each a little bag of candy, and held out her hand so we could kiss it. I looked at Mumma, and she gave me a little nod. So I did it. Bunica was my father’s mother, so we all had to do what she wanted. Even Mosha.
We went into the front room and I could see everyone was there, especially Sophie, my cousin. But before we could play, I wanted to look around in the house. Our grandmother had so many rooms, more than just a few, like us. One room was just for pillows and big quilts, all piled up on benches. When I came here, I always wanted to look in this room and see if she made any new quilts, with different designs. The new one was not on top, so I pulled it out a little bit so I could see it. But I had to put it back quickly because I heard someone coming, and didn’t want Bunica to know what I was doing. I didn’t want her to frown and say some words to me that I didn’t understand.
After I played with Sophie and the little cousins, I took the funnies off a chair and lay down with them on the linoleum, in front of the big black stove. It was warm there, and I spread the funnies out and read them all, Little Orphan Annie, Jiggs and Maggie, Blondie, and all the others. My uncle John said, “Look at Dinah pretending to read.” Nobody really looked, they were all talking, but I wondered why he said that. Because I wasn’t pretending. “Don’t try to grow up too fast,” my uncle said when he passed me to go to the table. “Before long, you’ll go to school, and then you won’t have time for fun!” But I kept on reading until we were called to go to the little kids’ table.
There was lots to eat. There was turkey and cabbage rolls and potatoes and gravy. Bunica made pierogies too, but I didn’t have any because she put sour cream on them instead of cinnamon and butter, like Mumma did. For dessert we had honey cookies with sprinkles on them, and jello with whipped cream. I didn’t like the cookies, because they tasted funny, but the jello was our favorite—it was cold and sweet and jiggly, and we never tasted it before.
After we ate, all of the aunts and Mumma cleaned the kitchen and washed the dishes that were piled high. We got our coats off the bed in the little room, and started to get ready. On the way home, Baldy and Fanny went faster and faster. Grandfather’s barn must have been very cold, because they had frost on their eyelashes and manes. I think they wanted to be in the warm barn and have some mush and hay. My father had to pull the reins very hard and say “Whoa, whoa!” But soon we were home, and we had to wake up April and the baby, and go into the house, where the stove was still burning.
I saw the tree and the presents under it, just like we left them. The tinsel on the tree was shining and sparkling in the moonlight. I tiptoed to the tree and was going to squeeze a parcel that looked like a doll, but then I saw the angel on top looking at me. Anyway, I knew Santa Clause was the one who would bring me my doll. So I wasn’t going to sleep until he came. But suddenly it was morning, and Christmas day, and like usual, everything was exciting, and we had a happy Christmas at our house!