Now that I'm decades older than I was in this photo, I better understand how much effort it took my parents to make the kind of Christmas for me and my brothers that's pictured here. In the mid-1980s, my parents were in their thirties, my brothers and I were all under the age of twelve, and only my dad worked outside the home. Although Christmas Eve dinners at my parents' house for a number of years now has meant a shrimp tray, oyster stew (or clam chowder? I skip it and don't remember), a pot roast, and various sides and desserts, Christmas Eve's supper was not that elaborate when my brothers and I were kids. I don't remember what we ate in those days, and whatever it was, I'm sure my mom made it special for us, but she and Dad are certainly living more comfortably now than they were in the mid-1980s.
Awhile after we'd finished eating supper one Christmas Eve, there was a knock at the front door. Our nearest family was my grandparents half an hour away, and we knew it wouldn't be them, so none of us could think of anyone who would be visiting us at such an hour the night before Christmas. Dad roused himself from his blue slipcovered chair and stepped out onto the front porch, while Mom and my brothers and I waited and wondered. After a few moments, Dad called out a Goodnight and Merry Christmas to whoever he'd been listening to and walked back into the living room carrying with a large pizza box. "From Marv and Debbie!" he declared, explaining that the delivery person had said that our neighbors across the street had ordered it for us and wished our family a happy holiday. Our neighbors! A pizza! A second supper of anything--and on Christmas Eve! Mom quickly cleared a space for the box on the coffee table that always served as our snack table back then, and soon we were laughing at the surprise and novelty of it as we ate our slices. I remember that we all agreed how nice it was of our neighbors, and I remember too that that pizza was loaded: I'd never seen so many toppings before and probably wasn't even aware that pizzas could be topped with all the ingredients our neighbors has ordered for ours. Green peppers?! Black olives?! Sausage?! Wow! Ours was an especially happy--and especially full--family when we went to bed that night.
I only remember a few moments from a few other childhood Christmas Eves, and that is the only Christmas Eve meal I remember at all. I'm sure Mom and Dad thanked the neighbors, and if we hadn't done so already, I'm sure we kids decorated sugar cookies for Marv and Debbie later or colored a winter coloring book page for their refrigerator. Marv was a walrus-mustached older man with glasses who I remember as always wearing a white t-shirt that showed off his arm tattoos. Debbie was also older than my parents, and her bleached-blonde hair contrasted memorably with her year-round tan. If Marv is remembered as sporting Fonzie-esque t-shirts, Debbie always comes to mind wearing a tank top. Surely, this isn't what they wore in cold weather, but this is the only picture that ever comes to mind of them. Their home reeked of cigarettes. Their motor-home remained parked outside their garage the three or so years they lived across from us. They gave me and my younger brother a giant stuffed dog that had belonged to Marv's now-grown son. When Marv's high school-age daughter visited him one summer week, she and I were allowed to camp out overnight in their trailer and then go back-to-school clothes-shopping together at the mall the next afternoon. "Don't show me what you bought. Try it on for me so I can see you wearing it," Debbie chided us as she mashed her cigarettes into one of the many ash trays around the house when we returned. "If I wanted to see clothes on hangers, I'd just go to the store myself." I still hear her saying that every time I show Mike or my mom any item of clothing I've bought. The Christmas Eve Pizza remains their most memorable kindness to our young family, though. It speaks to the sweetness of surprise and the comfort in discovering that someone has been paying attention and is looking out for you. Angels tend to be depicted in flowing gowns and gossamer wings, but in the mid-1980s, two chain-smoking ultra-tanned and multi-tattooed ones visited our home in the guise of a pizza delivery driver, and their act of kindness gave us not just unexpectedly full bellies but also delightfully full hearts.