This is the 20th Christmas Eve since the passing in August 1994 of my maternal grandmother, Myrtis Virginia Hamilton Moore, whom I called Mammaw. Still, it is her I think of each Dec. 24, especially after everyone else in the house has gone to bed.
I’m not sure when it began, but sometime after I moved away from home, I started calling Mammaw late on Christmas Eve. It seems like it was before I had children, but I can’t be sure.
We talked through several of those first Christmases when I was helping Santa Claus put together toys for Patrick Aaron, Molly Erin and then Megan Kathleen. This was during the 1980s before NBC flexed its financial muscle and bought the exclusive rights to “It’s A Wonderful Life.” In those days, Frank Capra’s movie played all night on one of the cable channels, possibly TBS, which now shows “A Christmas Story” all of Christmas Eve and through Christmas Day.
But usually, before I flipped over to watch Jimmy Stewart dance his way over the floor of the gym and into the pool of what actually was Beverly Hills (Calif.) High School instead of the one in fictitious Bedford Falls (or should that be Potterville?), I would stop for a few minutes to watch the Christmas Eve Mass from St.Peter’s Basillica in Rome. And it was while watching that majestic scene one year that I thought of my grandmother, turned down the sound on the television set and called her.
When I was young, we often would go to a family gathering each Christmas Eve at either her house off Arch Street Pike south of Little Rock or at the home of one of her siblings, often my Aunt Floy, who lived 50 yards up the road. Perhaps it was thinking of those earlier days that resulted in that first call.
I knew she’d be up reading, so it was never too late to phone.
We’d talk about memories of Christmas, with hers that dated back to her youth in the 1910s fascinating me, if for nothing more than their simplicity. She delighted in mine from my childhood that seemed like a recent holiday to her. I’d ask her about those she recalled that involved my mom, my aunt LaVerne and my uncle Bob.
Then the talk might turn to my grandfather, Aaron Andrew Moore, who passed away in 1967. I’d bring up my memory of the only time he paddled me when we were staying at my grandparents for a while just after we moved back to Little Rock from Knoxville, Tenn. My mother left for a new job downtown and I wouldn’t stop crying, so, in the parlance of the late 1950s, my grandfather “gave me a reason to cry.”
Finally, I’d say, “I’d better get back to work putting (insert toy of the year here) together,” and she’d say, “I’d better turn out the light and go to sleep. Merry Christmas, Mike.” And I’d say, “Merry Christmas, Mammaw. I love you.” “Love you, too.”
I miss my grandmother everyday. She didn’t see my children much because we lived in Texas. But we’d visit her every time we came to Little Rock. One of my greatest possessions was an audiotape on which she had sang lullabyes for my kids.
Merry Christmas, Mammaw. I miss you, especially tonight on Christmas Eve.