It was Christmas Eve at Great-Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The entire clan was there – great-aunts, great-uncles, second cousins, aunts, uncles, cousins, mom, dad, me, my sisters. But when we talked about this side of the family, we were all just aunts, uncles, and cousins. Christmas Eve was the biggest family soiree of the year. Nothing would stop it – not snow, not ice, not whipping wind. Christmas Eve at Great-Grandma’s house was set in stone.
My grandmother sat at the kitchen table surrounded by her brothers and sisters playing cards. Cigarette smoke and laughter wafted through the air. Black and white photos were taken. My Great-Grandma was in the tiny kitchen pulling something out of the oven. Cousin Bobbie’s dachshund was getting way too much attention from some of the younger cousins. And I kissed Uncle Gene under the mistletoe, even though he was not yet my uncle.
Cousin Eddie whispered into my ear.
Great-Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a typical old three story house (plus basement) that had a gazillion features that we loved – doors that slid into the walls, a quiet attic with a roll top desk big enough to hide in and an old collection of toys, a full basement that we could skate in, and there was a cave in the hill of the back yard that served as a cooler. But the best thing of all – was the laundry chute.
The laundry chute started in the attic and ended in a green wooden cage suspended from the ceiling in the basement. It wasn’t a straight drop down, instead it wound around in a kind of cubular spiral. It was if the designer of the house had children in mind when he made the chute on a slant reather than a drop. Laundry got tossed into the chute and ended up in the cage in the basement next to the old wringer washer. Ingenious! Well, that’s we thought. It was one of the house’s better secrets.
When we were really little, Cousin Eddie and I discovered that we could climb into the laundry chute and slide down it like a ride at Kennywood Park. As long as there was laundry in the cage at the bottom to cushion the landing. It was a favorite pastime for years. This year though, we had grown a bit to big for the ride down the laundry chute. But being the kids that we were, we couldn’t let it go. We had to pass on the torch, and Cousin Eddie had chosen our successors – my baby twin sisters, who happened to still be in diapers.
Cousin Eddie whispered in my ear that the cage in the basement was full of laundry.
No hurting of babies tonight. We decided to start with the chute entrance that was on the first floor, a short slide into the cage below. If the twins survived that, and liked it, we would go up another floor for the longer second pass.
We went and found the twins in the maze of arms and legs and laughter that belonged to our aunts and uncles. We put the first one in the chute and laid her on her back so she wouldn’t tip forward. We may have been devilish, but we had a lot of experience at this and didn’t want to be blamed for a broken neck. We held her under her arms and then let go. We ran down the stairs to find her sitting in a clump of sheets laughing. We went back to the first floor and got the second twin. Just as we were heaving her into the door of the chute, my aunt caught us in the act and ran screaming for my mother.
Mom came to the rescue just as we let go of the baby’s arms. We all ran to the basement to find her laughing too.
Apparently the grown-ups didn’t know that this was a rite of passage in our family.
Merry Christmas :)