Sardines for Christmas

Natalie Arch

NOTE: The Cape May County Herald is offering full coverage of the COVID-19 / coronavirus emergency to all, with no payment required. We are committed to ensuring our readers can make critical decisions for themselves and their families during this ongoing situation. To continue supporting this vital reporting, please consider a digital subscription. For more coverage, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

“What do you want to buy Pop-Pop for Christmas?” my mom asked.

“A can of sardines,” I’d say. The peculiar Christmas gift was a treasure to my Pop-Pop.  

Every December, my mom and I made a trip to the Court House Acme to buy King Oscar sardines – Pop-Pop’s favorite snack.

On Christmas Eve, my mom, sister and I would venture over to my grandparent’s house.

Their home was warmed by the woodstove and smelled like cinnamon. 

My Pop-Pop’s mini-train trailed around the tree while “A Christmas Story” played on the TV. My sister and I snuggled on their floral couch while my Mom-Mom worked in the kitchen. 

“Do you girls want hot chocolate,” she asked.

“Natalie doesn’t need any more sugar. She’s excited enough,” my sister said.

After leaving my grandparents around midnight, I stared out the window trying to find Santa. I’d toss and turn until finally sneaking down the hall to check on the cookies.

I’d shoot out of bed at 6 a.m. on Christmas morning. I’d tip-toe down the hallway – anticipating the pile of goodies stuffed inside of my stocking. 

The presents under the tree enticed me like a queen bee to her honey. The lights on the tree twinkled rhythmically.

And then I’d wait…

My mom started the fireplace, my sister snooped around the tree, and I stalked my back window, waiting for my Pop-Pop’s white pick-up truck.

They showed up around 9:30 a.m. wrapped in scarves and hats my Mom-Mom knitted herself. They came in, kissed us all on the cheek, and set their presents in the living room. 

The house smelled of coffee and my dog trotted around in her pup-sized sweater. 

“Rhonda, the dog looks ridiculous,” my Pop-Pop chuckled. 

“That’s the point, dad,” my mother said. 

My Mom-Mom walked into the kitchen to help finish up breakfast. My Pop-Pop hung out with my sister and me in the living room. 

“Have you been behaving yourself?” he’d ask. “No,” I’d tease. 

I pulled on my mom’s sleeve. “Can we open presents now,” I said, trying to corral everyone into the living room. 

I stared at my Pop-Pop as he unwrapped my masterpiece of lopsided ribbon and messy silver paper. 

He laughed and his stomach shook like Santa Claus after unveiling a tin of sardines. “Thanks, Nat,” he said while enveloping me in a hug. 

The twinkling lights on the tree reflected in my Pop-Pop’s eyes. 

“The tree looks half decent,” he’d joke to my mother. 

We always picked our tree at the beginning of December at Krogman’s Tree Farm. 

“Mommy, I want the small tree,” I said.

“That one is ugly,” my sister said back. 

“This one would look amazing with garland on it,” my Mom-Mom said. 

After my mother deferred responsibility, Pop-Pop made the ultimate tree-picking decision. 

The perfect tree was heaved onto the back of his pick-up truck and hauled home. A pine needle trail always lined the walk from the driveway to the living room. 

We lost my Pop-Pop two months ago, but there will still be sardines under our Christmas tree.

ED. NOTE: Natalie Arch, of South Dennis, is a journalism major at Atlantic Cape Community College.