When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was invariably spent with my father's Aunt Anne and Uncle Harvey and their family.
Dad had grown up with these cousins in a tobacco-farming community near Greensboro. We still lived in the country, but they had moved into a three-bedroom bungalow in town.
Aunt (pronounced "Ain't") Anne singlehandedly made this holiday gathering an occasion to remember.
Back then, the warehouse store was called Pace, and my Aunt Anne did a lot of her Christmas shopping there - although not on purpose.
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Actually, she did a lot of her household shopping there, and then around 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, just when her guests were arriving, she would hastily and haphazardly gather an armful of items, retreat to her bedroom with a roll of wrapping paper, and emerge 45 minutes later with gifts for everyone.
One year, I think she forgot about me during the first wave of frantic gathering and rather than re-enter the living room to search for a possible gift, she simply wrapped up some of her old makeup and presented it to me.
I was 9 and had never had any makeup before. The eye shadow was powder blue and worn down to the shiny metal in the middle. I was thrilled.
Sometimes, when Aunt Anne did have the forethought to shop early, she would usually do it via the home shopping channel, or - worse - infomercials.
I was just as likely to get a set of commemorative NASCAR plates as my cousins were to receive "Kenny Rogers's Greatest Hits" on 33-inch vinyl.
After dinner, we gathered in the living room, where gifts were piled high under the tree. It was a tight fit, with kids perched on chair arms and laps, and Uncle Harvey's black mutt, Chigger, sniffing and biting at fleas.
A couple of kids were tasked with passing out gifts. I'll never forget the year that little Nickolas, age 4, struggled to drag a 30-pound box across the room to my mother.
It was from Aunt Anne.
For a moment, Mom's face registered what we were all thinking: perhaps Aunt Anne used this box to wrap something other than what's indicated on the label.
Upon further inspection, we realized that it was true: Aunt Anne had given Mom a commercial-sized roll of aluminum foil, extra-heavy duty. The look on Mom's face said it all.
She was thrilled.
Aunt Anne found a seat and started in on her own modest stack of gifts. Usually, we kids were too busy tearing frantically at our own cache to notice what the grownups were up to, but Aunt Anne managed to bring the frenzy to a halt on one occasion.
She opened a box containing a sweater and decided to try it on right there in the living room. By the time the adults realized what was happening, Aunt Anne had her shirt halfway over her head.
Once the gifts were opened and everyone was completely dressed, Aunt Anne passed out songbooks and we sang carols. After the excitement of opening gifts, it was a nice way to end the evening.
We would leave just before bedtime, leaning against the cold car window and watching as the streetlights pulsed by. When there were no more street lights, we knew we were almost home.
I can't say for sure why Aunt Anne did some of the things she did. Maybe she had too many things to take care of. Maybe she was entering the early stages of dementia.
Or maybe she knew exactly what she was doing.
I have many fond and unique memories of Christmas Eve to treasure for a lifetime.
I know with certainty that brassieres can have more - many more - than two hooks in the back.
And as for Mom, she never had to buy aluminum foil again.