Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Dreaming of a Miami Christmas

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published December 19, 2013

The things I want for Christmas aren’t really things at all. Oh, sure, I’ll be happy to open the mysteriously wrapped gifts my husband places beneath the tree. I’ll look forward to the big package my sister always sends with a cluster of surprises tucked inside.

13_12_4265s_Christmas_memories001_BW_enh_2400But, really, if I could have one wish, it would have nothing to do with anything you can hold in your hands. You couldn’t place this gift beneath the tree.

I would love to have one more Christmas like the old days when my parents were still alive. We were living in a small ranch-style house in southwest Miami with a yard loaded with trees from which dangled every imaginable fruit including coconuts, Key limes, grapefruit, mangos and bananas.

Christmas Eve my mother prepared the traditional Italian seafood dinner. We started with shrimp cocktails then moved on to a plate of steaming linguine with white clam sauce—and the pasta was cooked al dente because we never, ever ate it soggy.

The next course was an oddly named dish, baked smelts, which were tiny fish that took a ton of time to prepare because my mom had to debone each one then dip it in melted butter and bread crumbs and lemon.

My mother brought her own version of joy to the festivities in a Christmas apron trimmed in red and green ribbons with tiny bells attached. The big table was set with the finest china with my father at the head presiding over an array of aunts, uncles, cousins and family friends.

The aunts wore dresses with festive pins attached, perhaps a reindeer with glittering eyes or a tree decorated with tiny jewels. My sister and I were decked out in our special Christmas outfits—cotton dresses with puffy sleeves and glossy patent leather shoes.

Dessert featured hazelnut biscotti plus tiny succulent cookies that we called wine cakes since they were made with flour, oil and white wine. Each cookie had to be meticulously rolled out and shaped by hand, then fried and drizzled with honey.

My mother was not one to rest on her laurels, so on Christmas day she pulled out all the stops again. This time the menu featured homemade manicotti, sausage and meatballs. After the meal, a platter of roasted chestnuts was placed on the table and the adults would peel them and drink coffee spiked with anisette and talk for hours while the kids pretended to be horses running around outside on the lawn.

At this point it would be tempting to say I don’t remember any of the actual gifts we received at Christmas because only the memories of people remain.

But that wouldn’t really be true because one year I received the love of my life, a stuffed Pluto dog with golden fur and a black nose. He saw me through early childhood into high school and followed me to college. He has been with me through three decades of marriage and now sits in my study, bedraggled and bald, but a reminder of love that endures.

My memories are from so many years ago and most of the people around the Christmas table are long gone. But each year I am made aware of what heaven would be like for me.

It would be to walk into that simple little house with the terrazzo floors and the white brocade couch, and to see my mother bustling around in the kitchen in her cheery apron. My father would be on the screened-in porch smoking a cigar and reading the paper.

When they saw me walk in, they would come running up to me and embrace me and wish me the holiest and happiest Christmas ever. And I would be truly home again in every sense of the word.

Lorraine Murray’s new mystery is “Death Dons a Mask” featuring Francesca Bibbo, Tubs the cat and the wild and wacky crew at St. Rita’s church in Decatur. Her email is Artwork is by Jef Murray (