Despite the carols, shopping, gift wrapping, and cookie baking, the Christmas Season never really began for me until Christmas Eve with Grandma Anna Kleinhoffer. She was Bob, my first partner’s grandmother and she was part of my life for 13 years before she died.
Bob and I would drive up from Chicago through the early evening snow. We would look forward to arriving at Grandma’s house, which was just down the block from Bob’s parents Robert and Dorothy in Joliet, Illinois.We never knew if Dorothy would join the festivities or if she would raise a big “stink,” not wanting to go to her mother-in-law’s, and if she would go, mope the rest of that Christmas when Robert went to his Mother’s Christmas Eve without her.
When we arrived at Grandma’s at ten o’clock, the 88 year old matriarch would have had her artificial tree assembled and decorated and the rest of the house scattered with aging decorations and other holiday memories. The desk in the dining room would be heaped with candy, cookies, and popcorn balls and the dining room table clothed and set. The ham would be in the oven and all the side dishes ready on the side board.
Dressed in her finest, wearing her Christmas apron, she would embrace each of us in turn and pass out her wet kisses. Next came kisses from her sisters Frieda and Clara and Frieda’s lesbian daugher, Marge, (although no one ever talked about it.)
Shortly after our arrival (Bob, his dad, me, and sometimes Dorothy) we would sit down to eat. More food then you might want to eat so late at night but none-the-less delicious and tradition laden. The meal was in preparation for attending midnight mass at Grandma’s church which was right across the street from her house.
After mass (fun for a Jewish boy) we would come back to the house for a glass of wine and dessert. By two or three in the morning, we would rush home to Robert and Dorothy’s so we could get some rest before the big Christmas Day meal at noon.