Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Together at Christmas

This column was published in the Tri-Valley Herald in December 2008. A slightly shorter version also appeared in the Valley Times on Christmas Day.

When I was a youngster, Christmas meant getting on a plane with my family and flying to southern California to visit relatives where my mom and dad grew up. Picture two young parents with two little boys and a girl boarding a PSA 727 on the tarmac at San Jose Airport. The boy with the cowlick and freckled face was me.

We always spent Christmas week with my maternal grandparents in the tiny two-bedroom home in Venice where my mom grew up. My grandparents bought the house when it was brand new in the 1940s. As a boy, I thought nothing of the fact that the home had only one bathroom that seven of us shared during our visit. It also never mattered that we kids slept on the living room floor in sleeping bags, or that it always took me a few nights to get used to the ticking of an heirloom clock that sat atop my grandma’s hutch.

What mattered was that we were all together as a family.

I’m sure for my mother, who wasn’t even 20 when we began this tradition, the visit meant coming home to the warm embrace of her childhood, to her mother’s cooking, to her dad’s funny jokes.

My mom’s father was brought up on a farm in Minnesota. He held several jobs over the years, even once painting the steeple of a church that housed a tribe of angry yellow jackets. Eventually, after moving to California, he was able to pursue his dream of opening an archery shop.

While Sierra Archery sold high-end hunting gear to a number of movie stars—including a young Michael Jackson—I knew the shop as a place of mystery, where the heads of bear and deer my grandfather had killed hung high on the walls. The shop was a world of textures and smells, of feathers and leather, of paint and wood shavings. My grandfather made many of the bows and arrows himself.

Of course, one Christmas we kids got our own archery sets. I don’t remember actually using the bow much as a boy, although one time my brother and I stood in the large field behind our home in Los Gatos and shot arrows straight up into the air. This we did beyond the eyesight of my mom, because the object of this bright stunt was to move as close to the arrow as possible as it rocketed back down to earth and plunged its tip into the ground.

Anyway, Christmas morning at my grandmother’s house was everything Christmas was supposed to be. Even though we three kids slept only a few feet from the tree, Santa managed to sneak in and place our gifts under its branches without so much as a sound.

One year, when we were old enough to realize that Santa would probably appreciate milk and cookies, we were pleased to see that he always took a few bites and drank a few sips to sustain his long journey around the world. I remember once being truly amazed as I stared at the nibbled cookies that Santa had stood in this very spot.

This Christmas I will be traveling again, but not by airplane. In fact, I won’t even be leaving the city limits. As we’ve done for the past six years, my wife and I will drive the three minutes it takes to get to my former wife’s house where our two daughters will have just awakened in their upstairs rooms.

Although our girls split their time between our two homes, they always wake up Christmas morning at mom’s house. We drive over when the call comes, and once the three parents are together near the tree, the girls come downstairs to discover what Santa has brought them and to see if the reindeer have nibbled the carrots and if Santa has eaten any cookies.

Yes, even at ages 16 and 13, the girls set out goodies for Santa because they know that some traditions really matter at Christmas, like being all together as one family.


she said...

happy tears for this one ren man..

a precious -precious picture of you,

excellent family story

great christmas memory.

-us too. my ex-husband is a wonderful host at christmas, and we all wake up together..

and the entire local section of our family is together to exchange gifts and feast on good food and each other's company

puts the merry in christmas

and so did this great post

happy new year to you & yours! love, ~s.

Kathy Cordova said...


What a lovely story!

I so admire how you put your children first and how you make sure that they feel comfortable and loved.