By Rebecca Mills
“The food is about ready! I’ve got a turkey and some dressing. Ya’ll don’t have to bring anything, but you can if you want to!” -Vivian Mills, at approximately 11:45 A.M. on Christmas Day, pick a year.
Christmases were chaotic in Kite. Vivian Mills was the matriarch, and her planning skills were all but stellar. All she wanted was for everyone to be together on Christmas, and to make sure there was lots of food - and she almost always got that wish…somehow.
These Christmas gatherings changed a lot in my lifetime. They started out as me and my two cousins, Cody and Kyle, having sleepovers on Christmas night. While my grandparents watched the local news and cleaned up from the day, we would have intense games of Monopoly or play Super Mario 64. We would spend a chunk of our Christmas breaks together, and the amount of stories we heard about the “good ole’ days” was profound. Grandma would stay up late with us, and usually camp out with us on the pull out bed in her sofa (she had several sofas over the years, but they ALWAYS had a pull out bed). We’d talk about her experience growing up in a house with 13 siblings. She’d tell us about the hard times in the summer heat on the farm that she was raised on. She’d cook us a pot of oyster stew every Christmas break, which, to this day, I still fix my own oyster stew when I need to experience the nostalgia. I was young, and I didn’t care too much about how unclear the Christmas plans were. The fact of the matter is that we learned a lot about life, love, happiness, sadness, faith, hardships, and, probably the most important of all, “keeping on despite it all”.
Time went on. There were weddings and babies born. There are now nine grandchildren, and us grandchildren have children of our own. My grandfather passed away suddenly in April of 2013, a loss that severely impacted all of us. Those days were hard, and that Christmas was no exception. But, we kept on… despite it all.
The Christmases that followed were different, and I’m sure that is a mixture of me viewing the world through an older lens as well as the fact that they were actually changing. In 2016, my first Christmas as a mother, we actually solidified a time and a date for Christmas. This was my first year bringing a dish. I was delegated green bean casserole, and, unexpectedly, two other folks were as well. We had enough green bean casserole to feed all of both Emanuel and Johnson counties three times over There was a year that, despite the fact that we had more than enough food, she panic-cooked a can of baked beans in a skillet. The gifts were wacky and wild. She was a shopper, the QVC Queen. There were times that the gifts under her tree weren’t marked. There were times we all got an intriguing souvenir from a trip she took, either three weeks or three years before.
My grandma was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and she opted to live out her last years without undergoing treatments. She went on a list of vacations and trips that is so long, I can’t even name them all. She spent time with her family. Honestly, I can say she soaked up every ounce of 2022, wholeheartedly. I spoke with her in August, and her words to me were “I’ve lived my life to the fullest. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. Whenever the Good Lord is ready to take me home, I’m ready for it.” We laid her to rest on December 3rd of this year.
I thought what I would miss most was the “empty chair”, but… it isn’t. I am missing those last minute calls - the chaos, the lack of planning, the wild week of Christmas decisions. While I know she is at peace, it is hard not to have the selfish need to want her here with us. But, I’ll keep on… despite it all.