I’m a sucker for Christmas.
Always have been.
Perhaps it was my upbringing. Back when I was a child, my family would visit my great-grandmother, my great-grandparents, my Polish grandparents and my Italian grandparents. Each house was filled with laughter and love. There were toasts galore. There were songs. “Ave Maria” was a favorite late in the night and although it didn’t sound like Luciano Pavarotti’s version, it was heaven to me.
As I write this, the memories come flooding back. My great-grandmother Betsy Israel had little money but made sure we all had a small gift. I still have the Santa trinket she presented over 50 years ago. Later in life, I remember sitting with my “Papaw” while the rest of the family went to midnight mass. There were a few “Salutes” raised, but, more importantly, we sealed our bond. He passed away a few years later.
Even to this day, our family gathers, although not to the extent as before. It’s dwindled, but, thankfully, all in my immediate family still are with us and gather for an Italian feast. My mother makes sure we gather and makes sure we are stuffed to the proverbial gills afterward. This year, at age 82, she’s ONLY serving “lasagna, ham, chicken, hot sausage/peppers, fish and salad.”
“We will have snacks,” she added, “before dinner.”
My favorite part is the annual frying of smelt/whiting fish. Oddly, it never included me, but it’s been passed down through the years, mostly between fathers and sons. The rest of us gather around and cheer on the cooks.
Of course, life changes. When I was covering sports, I distinctly remember two Christmases away from home. One was leaving my newborn daughter Celeste and getting on a 7 a.m. flight out of Clarksburg on Christmas morning to go to the inaugural Motor City Bowl between Ole Miss and Marshall. I was not a happy camper to be leaving, but MU’s Chad Pennington and Randy Moss gave Ole Miss’ Deuce McAllister and company of the SEC a battle.
The other sports and bowl-related Christmas memory was my last in the sports writing profession. WVU was playing in the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl at the Cotton Bowl. That game, like the one in 1997, was being played on Dec. 26.
I flew out a couple days before WVU’s meeting with Utah. What touched me was that on Christmas Day, after celebrating with her family the night before, Joni flew out and joined me.
It meant the world for her to spend Christmas Day with me, although we had a difficult time finding any place to eat.
I knew a place though. I’d found it open on Christmas Eve and knew it would be open around 5 p.m. on Christmas Day. A very special place I knew Joni would love.
It was a Hooters.
When I happened to trip upon it on Christmas Eve, I was feeling sorry for myself. I knew my family was back in Fairmont celebrating. I missed them all. I missed Joni. I missed my daughter.
When what to my wondering (OK, or wandering) eyes should appear?
My waitress. She gave me a menu and looked up.
“Hi,” she said, “My name is Celeste.”
I smiled, looked up and gave the Man above a nod of thanks for the gesture. It carried me over to the next day when Joni arrived.
Hopefully, you likewise have a treasure trove of Christmas memories. And here’s wishing you the very best one of all this week, from all of us here at Wheelhouse Creative.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.