Aunt Babs and Santa Claus....ever see them in the same room at the same time?

Some people are better at keeping up the traditions than others.

Aunt Babs was a one-of-a-kind Christmas gift giver. She was one-of-a-kind in many ways. To begin with, everything was wrapped in the Sunday comics, or "the funnies" as they were called down south. Not to be cheap. I know this because Aunt Babs, while frugal, was very generous; she was the antithesis of "cheap." She was ahead of the cusp in the green movement, is more like it. Plus, she was creative; would I be remembering her gift-wrap years from now if she weren't? Each "funny"-wrapped gift had a perfectly tied ribbon, and a gift card with her distinct handwriting, in green for the occasion.

Aunt Babs was big on theme and tradition. I, and later my sister, had hand-knitted Christmas stockings with our names knitted in. They were full of color and detail, and the little Santa beard was knitted with extra-soft fuzzy yarn, so it stood out from the rest of the stocking. Babs was an accomplished knitter; she could watch TV or even read a magazine while knitting. She knitted me lovely little sweaters and blankets and knitted clothes for my Barbies, as well.

I had an "Add-a-Pearl' necklace, which was just as it sounds, a delicate gold chain with tiny little pearls that you could receive as gifts and have them attached (by an "approved jeweler") to the chain as you received them. They came in a dark green box. Every Christmas, and also for my birthday, I would receive one from Grandma, one from Aunt Babs, and one from Aunt Babs' friend Marguerite. I lost my Add-a-Pearl necklace one summer when I was in college, during an ill-advised trip to Myrtle Beach with my then-boyfriend, Will. There was a big argument, and some running up and down the street and crying, and....I don't know, when it was all over my necklace was gone. It still hurts to think about it.

My Christmas stocking always had a Life Savers' "sweet storybook" in there. That was another Babs' tradition.

After my sister was born and we were all a little older, we moved out of the city and upstate. Grandma and Aunt Babs started driving up to see us for Christmas instead of us flying down there. They'd also come in the summer, as well. We didn't go down there like we used to, I didn't see much of North Carolina for a few years until I decided that was where I wanted to go to college. We had a lot of years, much of my teen years, where Grandma and Babs joined us "up north."

It was always exciting to wait all day, that interminable day, for Babs' Toyota to arrive. Or, later, her Honda. Babs was a big fan of the Japanese economy cars. There were no cell phones, so no constant calls with location updates. They got to us when they got to us, usually late afternoon. After a half an hour or so of greeting, unpacking, and carrying-on, we'd settle down to a Carolina barbeque meal carried all the way up directly from Bullock's. Always.

The Christmas traditions continued, even though they were being conducted five hundred miles to the north. We still had the fuzzy Christmas stockings. We still had the Add-a-Pearls. My sister got them now too. I wonder if she managed to be less of a careless idiot than I was and still has them?

She gave my dad, my mom, my sister and me each a lovely handmade pottery bowl one Christmas. In addition, she gave each of us, wrapped separately, cans of Progresso soup. Mine was Lentil, I remember. No one micro-mananged the order of the gift-opening that year, so no one opened their bowl at the same time they opened their soup. There was confusion when soup was unwrapped. "Soup?? OK, Babs...what's up with the soup?" "Ahem!" I said. "The soup is to be enjoyed out of the handmade bowls!"

"Thank you!" At least someone around here gets it!" she winked at me. I've rarely been prouder of a compliment.

Babs had a lot of artisan friends. We always, all of us, received unique gifts of jewelry, scarves and bric-a-brac. But cool bric-a-brac. Bric-a-brac that had to be explained, but the explanation made all the difference. One year, after I was married to Paul, she gave me a shadow box. It had lots of compartments. She had gotten it from an antique store, and its original purpose had been to store typesetters' letters in a printshop. In some of the tiny compartments in the box Babs had glued teeny-tiny skis (we were active skiers at the time), a teeny-tiny gray cat and a teeny-tiny black cat (we had a gray cat and a black cat, though less teeny-tiny) and a teeny-tiny New York Yankees pennant and teeny-tiny bat. She scoured an antique store to find this display box, and found a store to select these teeny-tiny things perfect for me, with the implicit instruction to add things in there as I add to my life.

Who does this? No one. Except someone who loves you a whole lot.

I always made a point of giving my kids sweet storybooks every Christmas for a few years. Then I stopped. I ran out of time to find them one year, or forgot. Some people are better at keeping up the traditions than others.

I'm not very good at it.

My tradition is remembering Aunt Babs. All the time. But especially at Christmas. I'm good at that.

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