The last Henson family Christmas

Everything has it?s season ? sadly, sometimes even family traditions.

Growing up, holidays revolved around spending time with my family and eating way too much food. Summers were spent at my grandparent?s house at the lake where card games on the porch gave us a moment away from the glare of the hot Missouri sun during afternoons filled with swimming, kayaking and fishing.

Thanksgiving was always held at my Aunt?s home in Illinois ? what we called the homestead as it was the house Gram and Grandpa purchased once he was discharged from the Army. And as for Christmas, it seemed to rotate to whoever had the most snow.

Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa?s was always extra special. Their house at the lake sat atop a large hill and as long as you bailed off the sled in time, it made for a great ride. If you didn?t roll off, well, you were in for a wild ride into the timber.

If it was cold enough, the lake would freeze and the little alcove near my Great-Aunt Mary?s house would become my own personal skating rink. I remember years where Grandpa would trudge out to the middle of the lake and drill a hole for ice fishing. No matter how he tried, he couldn?t get me out there with him. I never understood the logic of cutting a hole in the ice and then standing beside it; it seemed a little thin to me.

Christmas had other perks. Being the youngest, I was spoiled on Christmas. While my siblings and cousins were tiptoeing toward adulthood, I was making out like a bandit. That was until they began getting married and starting families of their own. Then my attention shifted from Christmas to Thanksgiving.

Ask me today and I?ll tell you Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I appreciate the focus is on being together as a family ... and the food. Grandma?s homemade noodles always took center stage at Thanksgiving. I don?t care how full I was, I always went for seconds of her noodles. That was unless she gave me a wink and a nudge before the meal was served, her little way of telling me she?d already put some back in a to-go container for me.

There were two years that I missed out on Thanksgiving. I was working at Hy-Vee and since I didn?t have kids, I volunteered to close the store. By the time I made it out for Thanksgiving, everyone had left and the fridge was being loaded up with leftovers. Grandma called me her whiniest grandkid, and so I called her and whined about it. The next year, we didn?t eat our Thanksgiving meal until everyone was there.

When Grandma got sick three or four years ago, we moved all family holidays to the lake. And so Grandma didn?t feel the need to clean, we rented out the club house and shared our meals there. Gram still cleaned. That?s just who she was. By this time, the summer holidays ceased to exist and Thanksgiving and Christmas were the only times we got together as a family ? the Henson family. The club house wasn?t as warm or cozy as my Aunt?s house, but by the end of the day, it was filled with laughter and love.

Last year was hard. Gram passed away at the end of September and try as we might, the holidays were just a little dimmer. The food not quite as rich and the laughter was just not as loud. After Gram passed, I wrote a column about how she and Grandpa met and fell in love. For Christmas I framed it and gave it to my family. The sight of my six-foot-six Grandpa hunched over his gift, the way his shoulders slumped and heaved with every sob will forever stay in my soul. His framed column is now in my home. It was the first thing I asked for after he passed this summer.

Sunday night, the Henson family will get together for one last Christmas Eve at the club house. Grandpa had it rented out years in advance. However, we won?t be using it after this weekend as it?s our last Christmas together as a family. In the ache and grief, the other plans and obligations, it?s been decided that we won?t have a Henson family Christmas anymore; we?ll get together someother time when it?s less busy.

But I know, no matter where I celebrate Christmas, or Thanksgiving, I?ll always have the memories we created. Singing carols with my cousins as my Aunt played the piano. Unwrapping the horribly unpleasant white-elephant gifts my grandparents managed to find. And just watching my grandparents watch us ? their love and pride radiating off them, warming whatever room we were in.