Indeed, it’s a wonderful life

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Santa is not the only one who makes a list and checks it twice.

Around the Riley household, we have developed a long list of traditions that lead us up to Christmas. We haven’t written down everything we do each year, but we certainly know when something is missing.

Sadly, we have lost our parents over the past few years. We find ourselves frequently talking about them and other family and friends who are no longer with us.

That is a terribly sad way to change traditions.

My mother-in-law, Doris, made scalloped oysters for Thanksgiving dinner. She always made it clear that it was not oyster dressing, but it was scalloped oysters. If you have ever eaten scalloped oysters, it is hard to describe the texture and taste.

I love it. Doris and I were about the only ones who could say that.

I like to think she made it just for me. Thankfully, in the past few years, my son Josh has provided a heaping, big bowl of scalloped oysters for the dinner table. They’re very good and I love him for filling the scalloped oyster void since Doris died.

We have never made an actual written list of our traditions, but they start with our Thanksgiving celebration (including scalloped oysters) and build up to Christmas Day.

I’m going to use this column to list some of our traditions. I’m sure I’ll forget some.

Whatever holiday traditions you and your family share, I hope you are chipping away at your list and enjoying yourself in the process.

As soon as my oysters have settled (that could take a day or two), we start getting ready to put up our Christmas decorations. Since I hit 70 years old and am now admittedly older and wobblier, I try to avoid climbing up into the storage attic above the garage, and Debbie now insists that I stay off the roof.

We have never missed a HoliDazzle parade. Having been the announcer for every parade, we usually get a good seat for the show.

As soon as the parade winds down the last few floats are on their way, we also know that Santa is on his way. He is always rides on the final float. It’s great fun to see the jolly ol’ man bringing smiles to all the faces, young and old, that are lining downtown Main Street.

When we first moved into our home, nearly 30 years ago, I lowered the ladder in the garage ceiling that led up through a scuttle hatch into an over-the-garage storage attic. When I first climbed up there, I was amazed to find Santa. There he stood in his full plastic glory.

The light bulb that illuminated him didn’t work, but, other than that, the old elf was in perfect condition. I brought him down and changed his bulb. Since then, that large, plastic Santa had stood on our porch every December.

His bulb was out this year. I didn’t change it immediately, but put him on the porch without being illuminated from the inside. As soon as my six-year-old granddaughter, Claire, saw our dim Santa on the porch, she let me know that Santa was not right. I needed to fix his light and maintain the tradition.

Bag after bag of stuffed animals have been place on our hearth waiting for Santa to arrive. Greenery adorns the hearth. Christmas wreaths are on virtually every door.

Several years ago, Debbie decided that we were going to change our tree decorations and replace every old, worn glass bulb with an angel. It took a few months of searching and planning, but we now have a Christmas tree filled with every kind of angel imaginable. We love it.

Shopping has evolved from visiting every mall in Southwest Ohio to shopping more online. The UPS and Amazon drivers have become our new best friends.

As packages are brought in and stored, we find creative way of keeping them away from grandkids. Our small laundry room has become the ideal gift stash area. That’s the one room in our house that the kids always ignore. Since Thanksgiving, it has filled with unwrapped gifts.

Tomorrow, we have planned our annual pre-Christmas trip to Jungle Jim’s in Fairfield. This year, we plan on taking our two youngest grandchildren with us.

The tradition started several years ago when we decided that we would buy tasty treats for our kids – things they would never buy for themselves.

We never make it out of the jungle with less than two full grocery carts. With Clayton and Claire helping us shop, it may be closer to three carts.

Who can resist a store that stocks an entire room with hot sauces? They have rooms dedicated to food, beverages, and snacks from numerous countries. We will spend a few hours in the Jungle.

On Christmas Eve, we go to our church. Debbie and I always serve as ushers. It’s a glorious, beautiful service. We love it.

On Christmas morning (after Santa makes his stops), I will pop a few delicious sausage, cheese, and egg casseroles in the oven. Debbie will start her famous cheesy potato dish and flaky biscuits. The kids will start pouring in around 9 a.m.

When I was mayor, it was common for all the police officers to drop by for a little Christmas breakfast. With all the police cars in front of the house, I’m sure the neighbors assumed we were having a major domestic incident.

Instead, we were happily sharing some holiday cheer with Wilmington’s finest.

Wrapping all the gifts is one of our last traditions. That’s my job. Debbie gathers all the unwrapped packages and puts them beside the coffee table in the living room.

With the help of the entire cast of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a few hours later, the task is done. A healthy glass of scotch is also involved.

Clarence whole-heartedly approves.

It truly is a wonderful life and a beautiful season. Merry Christmas.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist