A Holly-Jolly Hooligan

S.Hooligan being restrained by her mother on Christmas Even.

S.Hooligan being restrained by her mother on Christmas Eve.

We had a pretty good Christmas season; all the better when you consider it stretches back four or five weeks. We got to do the things we wanted to do, everyone stayed well, the weather didn’t impede us, and we even endured S.Hooligan on Christmas Eve without blood being spilled.

What will always stand out for me about Christmas season 2015 is J.Hooligan’s enthusiastic participation. He certainly has his dour, even depressive moments, but he unabashedly loves Christmas and isn’t afraid to say so. Pretty amazing for a sixteen-year-old boy.

A lot of aunts are lucky to see their teen nephews at all during the holidays. My teen nephew very happily accompanied me alone on two outings. Granted, one was his Christmas gift–our annual “feast” (as he likes to call it) at Montgomery Inn. I buy us each a slab of ribs and immediately put about 1/3 aside on the bread plate for J. We do this for his birthday as well, and usually J. has a few ribs left over to take home for another meal. This year was a first: J.Hooligan consumed his slab, my third, and had fries and two glasses of Pepsi besides. For once we left the restaurant without a doggy box. It was gratifying to see someone enjoy a gift so much.

Earlier in the season. J.Hooligan and I attended Christmas in Loveland. J.Hooligan had been reminiscing about this place with lighted streets where we’d walk around at Christmas time. Diamondqueen and I finally determined he was talking about Loveland. He also recalled this white house we’d visit with an upstairs room where there was a model train. This was the Loveland Historical Society; often we’d start our visit there, then take the carriage ride across the river to the downtown events. (This was back when Mom went as well, plus S.Hooligan when she was younger and actually wanted to do things with us.)

In recent years, the historical society moved their celebration to a different date from the Loveland festivities, so we hadn’t been there in awhile. For whatever reason, the party was back on in the white mansion overlooking the Little Miami. J.Hooligan and I were able to park just up the street and started our celebration, as usual, at the historical society.

J.Hooligan often gets nostalgic, reminiscing and murmuring, “Ah, the years roll by.” I heard this at the historical society as well as we looked at the decorated rooms, sampled some of the homemade treats, and reviewed the display of Nativity scenes. J.Hooligan admitted that when he was younger, he was bored looking at the rooms “only people over the age of thirty wanted to see.” He did want to see that upstairs room in the hallway, though, where the train again ran in circles and tooted its horn. I’m sure he was feeling the years roll by as he stood alone, towering over the elderly gentleman at the controls. (It was probably the same elderly gentleman who had let the little train-obsessed blond boy try his hand at the controls over a decade ago.)

We decided against the carriage ride and simply walked over the torch-lit bridge to downtown Loveland. The area was mobbed. It’s always crowded, but it was in the mid-60s that night and clear. The temperature made the bonfires superfluous, but we didn’t have to freeze the way we did other years.

The organizers added a row of booths where the farmer’s market has been in the past; it recalled the European Christmas markets Mom and I loved so much. We like to visit the live Nativity, where we gazed at sheep and donkeys and peered up at angels sitting precariously on the stable roof. I’d heard there would be real roasted chestnuts, so we searched for them. An old man standing over a grill assured us the chestnuts were especially good this year, but it would be ten minutes before the next batch was ready. J.Hooligan and I fought our way back across the street so we could push and shove through some of the shops. I bought J. a giant jawbreaker on a stick, one of his favorite treats.

J.Hooligan figured the chestnuts must be ready by then, so we returned to the train station lawn where the gentleman was putting chestnuts into a basket. We each took one, tossing them in our hands because they were still hot. I’d tried roasted chestnuts over thirty years ago at the first Winterfest at King’s Island and thought they tasted like the insides of golf balls. These chestnuts were different: smoky and meaty, with the sweetness the old man had bragged about. J.Hooligan took a chance and tried one; he’s wary of new foods, so it was a small triumph for him that he willingly munched on the chestnut meat. He declared it tasty enough, although he threw most of his in the garbage can and returned to his jawbreaker. I went back and asked for a chestnut to take home to Mom. It felt very warm in my pocket.

J.Hooligan was agreeable to our walking up the street to see the pottery studio where I just wanted to look around and see what they had for sale. We trudged back along the railroad tracks. I’d heard there was to be wassail available, but when we couldn’t find that concession, we decided we’d had enough and started back across the river. J.Hooligan paused to gaze down at the sparkling dark water, recalling again the times he’d looked at the river when he was little (probably with me clutching the seat of his pants to make sure he didn’t fall in).

J.Hooligan, master cookie cutter.

J.Hooligan, master cookie cutter.

Twice J.Hooligan came up to his Grandma’s; once to help me trim the tree, the second time to bake cookies. He doesn’t have to be cajoled to attend; these are traditions he expects to participate in annually. (S.Hooligan, of course, couldn’t be dragged here on either occasion.)

We also had outings with Diamondqueen. There was a memorable evening at Festival of Lights at the zoo. We got there early to beat the crowds and had a pleasant time seeing some of the animals before darkness fell. It was cooler that night, just enough to feel Christmas-y but not enough to be uncomfortable. We walked all over, then ended our visit with a train ride. That’s when we saw the remarkable light show at the lake with the animated Christmas tree. Tired, hungry, and chilled by the train ride, we stopped at Dewey’s in Oakley for dinner and told J.Hooligan how the restaurant had been a UDF store (and how Diamondqueen’s babysitter had walked her up there one night to visit friends who were smoking pot by the dumpster in back).

Christmas week we also visited the Crib in Eden Park and Krohn Conservatory. Since adolescence I’ve had a ritual of trying to bounce coins off the back of a turtle statue in the middle of the stream in the waterfall part of the display; in fact, the turtle was originally near the falls. This year, for the first time, my first coin bounced right off the turtle’s shell, as did J.Hooligan’s. Diamondqueen needed a few more coins.

Finally, the day before Christmas Eve, we went to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in 3-D. This was another victory for J.Hooligan, who was afraid of 3-D movies and adamantly refused to see one. Having watched “Star Wars,” he declared with pride and relief that now he’d seen a 3-D movie and he never intended to see another. (He described it as “too much”; in other words, true sensory overload.)

J.Hooligan, making merry on Christmas Even.

J.Hooligan, making merry on Christmas Eve.

Someday I’ll think of the fun I had with J.Hooligan this Christmas season. His age is going to catch up with him and he’ll be unavailable to run around with his mother and old aunt; or he’ll be away at school or at a job; he’ll have a family of his own; or, God forbid, he’ll be in the service (the prospect of a reinstated draft freezes my heart). Then again, J.Hooligan is such a homebody and fiend for tradition, he may always find his way back for at least one outing. Regardless, things change from year to year. This season will always have a special place in my heart and memory.

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