A Christmas memory

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

We've all got one Christmas memory that stands out more than the others. I'm talking about the memory you look back on that makes you laugh or cry. When I think about my favorite Christmas memory, I can't help but do both of these things.

It was a pretty normal Christmas day for my family. We opened presents, watched Christmas movies and ate a pretty massive dinner. My nana is one of those people who never feels like she's making enough food for holiday dinners, so we ended up with way more food than we could eat. To be specific, we had quite a bit of extra ham.

My mom wanted our family dog, Roscoe, to feel included in the festivities. She fed him some slices of ham under the table, and nobody really noticed until we started smelling something funny. Mom didn't realize that Roscoe was an old dog whose body couldn't accept food the same way it used to. For Roscoe, that extra ham meant extra gas. A lot of extra gas, if you're wondering.

As he became more and more gassy, Roscoe began circling the table we were sitting at. He started farting loudly. Like Roscoe, Mom couldn't hold it in anymore. She burst out laughing, and Nana did, too. I joined them. We were all cackling uncontrollably. Roscoe continued to circle the table, farting and stopping every now and then.

He looked at us with expectant eyes. We realized he wanted more ham. Mom didn't give it to him, mostly because Papaw Jimmie told her not to. Papaw was sick. He had been battling cancer for quite some time, and we were afraid we wouldn't get very many more Christmases with him. The mood had been particularly solemn that Christmas, with his sickness becoming worse in the months leading up to it.

A family friend had died from cancer two years earlier, so I knew what it meant to die. I knew it meant I wouldn't get to spend another Christmas Eve picking out my mom's Christmas gift with Papaw Jimmie. I knew it meant I wouldn't get to sit in his lap and watch "Walker: Texas Ranger" as Mom and Nana made Christmas dinner. I knew it meant he would be gone, and I couldn't do anything about it.

Before he got sick, Papaw Jimmie enjoyed joking around with all of us. It's pretty common in my family to mess with one another, and he was no stranger to that. He enjoyed practical jokes or plain old insult jokes. He liked lightly making fun of my mom's haircut or a silly outfit one of us would wear. We would joke right back.

His sickness took Papaw's humor away. I think that's maybe the most criminal thing about cancer. It wears you down until you aren't yourself anymore. In his last days, Papaw was soft-spoken and seemed in constant pain. Those of you who have lost a family member to cancer know how much it hurts to see your loved one slowly slip away until they're gone for good.

Papaw's humor had already started to slip away that Christmas when Mom gave Roscoe the leftover ham. When we first broke into laughter, he told us to be more respectful of the dog. He said Roscoe was old and couldn't control how much he was farting. Eventually, Papaw cracked a smile. He started laughing. Soon, we were all laughing at our silly old dog who had more gas than any of us combined.

Papaw is gone now, but I'll always have that bittersweet memory. That was his last Christmas at home with us. He spent his last Christmas in the hospital, and it was as grim as you can imagine. Every Christmas, I feel an ache in my heart when I think about him. That's especially true this year, with me and Gideon getting married on New Year's Eve. I want Papaw to be at my wedding. I want him to be in my apartment on Christmas day. I want to hear him laugh one more time.

I know I won't, but I feel lucky to have my memories of him. That's how he lives on. This year, when you're putting away the leftover ham on Christmas day, I hope you think of my papaw, too.

Maybe he can live on through all of us.

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Samantha Jones is associate editor for Carroll County Newspapers. Her email address is Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com