Livingston: The Christmas House

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(HOST) Fond memories of exhuberant holidays at her grandparents’ house, inspired commentator Judy Livingston and her family some years ago, to undertake a grand holiday project of their own.

(LIVINGSTON) His first grandchild named our beloved grandfather Bapa, a name that stuck with family and friends thereafter. An old-fashioned patriarch, he managed a family that was the center of the universe for five rambunctious grandchildren. He delighted in delighting us and Christmas was the highlight of his year. He and our grandmother would stack the tree in their big old Boston Victorian house with games and toys and watch our faces when we came running downstairs on Christmas morning. Years later, the big old house was gone and we were grown with children of our own. Those wonderful holidays around our grandparents crowded dining room table were over.

Until… returning from one of our many visits to Vermont with a local newspaper in hand I spotted an ad for a – guess what? – big old Victorian house! The price was negotiable as the bank had foreclosed and… well the upshot was, we kids borrowed from parents, aunts and uncles and closed on it in December of 1972 – sight unseen! Except for the fuzzy photos from the newspaper showing an alarming state of disrepair, enthusiasm trumped logic – after all, it had 10 bedrooms and six baths! Room for the whole 25 of us! So, of course, we immediately invited everybody for Christmas – only 3 weeks away!

Our dubious family rallied and raided attics for old chairs, tables, beds, linens, lamps, dishes, silver – oddments of all description. We 3 young moms moved up with 5 small children, and set about decorating. One sat at a sewing machine with a baby in a backpack and stitched endless curtains out of sheets for 42 windows! I went out foraging, dragging home furniture from strange places – the bank lady had an old sleigh bed, I discovered a kitchen table in the snow with the legs off, and even a sad old piano in a barn – glorious finds! We patched, painted and sewed. Our husbands joined us and repaired fallen ceilings and plaster. And the children loved running through the endless rooms.

Installation day arrived – bureaus were lined up on the porch, nightstands in the living room, lamps in the dining room… We girls stood at the top of the stairs and called down for a piece at a time – "one rug!", "one bed!", "two nightstands!", and the men would run up with each piece until every room was furnished – strangely in many cases, but livable! We even named bedrooms after the donors – "The Mil and George" for instance.

The family arrived oohing and ahhing on cue, recognizing familiar pieces and amazed at our miraculous feat. Aunt Neenie brought light bulbs, Mother brought food and soap, Aunt Dorothy brought games, and our sister’s boyfriend, fearing the worst, arrived with a bottle of scotch and his own toilet paper.

The games, puzzles and bridge tables were set up, the cooking and clean-up teams assigned and a noisy clan of 25 sat down around a creaking old dining room table we’d found in a barn. We’re still doing it, and Bapa would have loved it.

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