My mother’s family always had a big Christmas party with food, drinks, Santa and presents. It always started at three o’clock Christmas Day. Santa arrived at seven-thirty, so everyone always tried to arrive before then.
One particular Christmas back in 1958, we were running late. We lived in Kenner and the party was at my Aunt Lil and Uncle Paul’s house in New Orleans East. It was about a 25 mile drive. Back then it took a while to travel that far. There were no interstates and most of the roads were only two lanes. The holiday traffic made it more of an ordeal.
It was very cold that year. My brothers and sisters and I were bundled up in the back of the old Jeep station wagon, singing Christmas songs at the top of our lungs and trying not to think about the cold. The Jeep had no heat and no radio. We were lucky it was running. All of us were silently hoping it wouldn’t break down while we were on the road. We had been there many times before. None of us thought it was the adventure Moma and Daddy tried to make us think it was.
It was after dark when we turned down Aunt Lil’s street. The street looked like a Christmas Wonderland. On one side were the small ranch houses, which were almost identical to each other. Every one of them were brightly lit with Christmas lights and adorned with an abundance of decorations. On the other side was the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic church and a big playground. The church had a big Nativity display which lit up that side of the street.
There were so many cars parked on the street that we had to park in the church parking lot. We hurried out of the Jeep excited to finally have reached our destination. Daddy told us to leave the packages. He would come back and get them after we warmed up a bit.
We rushed across the street to Aunt Lil’s and rang the doorbell. One of my uncles answered the door. I didn’t recognize him, but that wasn’t unusual. My Moma’s family was so big that we didn’t always recognize everyone. Some of them we only saw every few years. There were usually at least ten guests there that weren’t even related to us. So we kissed and hugged and murmured the usual season’s greetings. We shed our coats and helped hang them in the hall closet and hurried off to join in the Christmas festivities.
The house was very crowded as it always was on these occasions. We made our way through the living and dining rooms to the back den, hugging and kissing everyone as we went along. We all got something to drink and nibble on. We were having a good time. I kept looking for a familiar face, but couldn’t seem to find one. I thought that was weird.
My brothers Artie and Murray had run off in search of our cousins Rolland and Stevie. Moma, Daddy and I were trying to find my sister Merle who had gone to her boyfriend’s for Christmas Dinner and was supposed to meet us here. Rani had fallen asleep on the way over and we were taking turns holding her as we searched the crowded den.
People started coming up to us and introducing themselves. My daddy finally asked one of them if they knew where Lillian and Paul were. No one there seemed to know anyone named Lillian and Paul! Uh-oh! We were in the wrong house! Who would have thought two families would have an aluminum Christmas tree in the picture window of their blond brick house decorated with pink ornaments and a spotlight shining on it that changed colors every few minutes Even the added on den and wet bar looked the same!
As people began to realize that we didn’t belong there the laughter got louder and louder. It seemed as though everyone there was trying to get a look at us. I think they thought we might look like Martians or something. Even so they invited us to stay! We politely declined.
It was nearing seven o’clock. After finding Artie and Murray we got our coats, thanked our accidental host and hostess, and high-tailed it out of there! As soon as we were outside, we realized Aunt Lil’s house was a little ways down the street across from the playground and not the parking lot. It was an exact duplicate of the house we had just left right down to the aluminum Christmas tree in the picture window. Since we didn’t go there that often it was an easy mistake to make.
Moma and I were giggling nonstop about our little detour! Daddy didn’t think it was funny! He was so embarrassed! Moma tried to make him see the bright side by pointing out that we hadn’t brought the presents in with us. It would have been even worse if we had to dig our presents out of the pile from under the other peoples’ tree! The thought of that seemed to make Daddy more agitated. He instructed all of us not to breathe a word about going to the wrong house. He took Artie and Murray to get the presents out of the Jeep while Moma and I headed toward Aunt Lil’s real house with Rani in tow. All of the commotion woke her up. Too much holiday for a two year old!
Aunt Lil greeted us at the front door and was genuinely happy to see us. Everyone had been worried about us, since Merle had told them we should have arrived about five-thirty or six! They were all worried we had broken down somewhere or worse. Some of them even wanted to leave to go look for us along the route we always took. Finally someone asked my Moma what had happened to make us so late. She looked at me and we both started laughing.
Daddy came in with Artie and Murray each carrying a pile of presents. He gave us a warning look as they headed to the back of the house where the presents were piled. I just gave him my sweetest “the devil made me do it” grin as I very loudly began to relay the story about stopping off for refreshments at the wrong house! By the time I was finished everyone was laughing to the point of tears including Daddy.
This is a true story. The names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent. It has become one of my favorite Christmas stories and I hope it gets passed along through the generations!