TUPELO – It’s about time for Grandma to school everyone at the bowling alley.
The Bowers family Christmas starts today, and the forms must be followed.
“We have a bowling tournament every year,” said 67-year-old Jacky Bowers, who goes by Grandma, Nan, Mimi or Memaw.
“All of the grandchildren try to beat her,” said 68-year-old Les Bowers, who’s also known as Grandpa and Papa. “They’ve beaten her very few times.”
“Yeah, I’m the champ for now,” she said, “but the boys are getting better.”
As with most families this time of year, the pair have been putting the finishing holiday touches on their Tupelo home. Though Christmas is still a few days away, the celebration begins today when children, grandchildren and one grandchild-in-law arrive from Kentucky, North Carolina and Alabama.
More often than not, the Bowers are a party of 20 at Christmas. This year, their oldest grandson has to work, so the number will be 19, including Grandpa and Grandma.
“I just figured when the children grew up and left, that would be it, but they started coming back,” Jacky Bowers said. “It’s nothing we really promoted. It’s just happened.”
The grandparents aren’t complaining. It helps that their daughter and son-in-law, Debbie and Joe Banko, live in the same neighborhood.
“Between the two of us, we find a place for everybody to stay,” Les Bowers said.
Still, this will be a week of close-together family time. For some, that has the makings of a nightmare rather than a holiday.
“We have a good time,” Les Bowers said. “Believe it or not, I don’t think we’ve ever had a strong word.”
In addition to the bowling tournament, the family has plenty of traditions to follow.
“Every year, we read the Christmas story,” said Jacky Bowers, “and we have a dirty Santa Christmas exchange.”
You probably know the Christmas story. A dirty Santa exchange is when you wrap a bunch of gifts. People draw numbers, and they can take a gift from the pile or take someone else’s gift.
“It’s mostly gags,” Jacky Bowers said, “but everyone is going to want my gift this year.”
For another tradition, somebody’s obligated to try to steal a pie.
“Pies are a big thing around here. Since I learned to make pie crust, I’ve made homemade pies,” she said. “A few years ago, I made 10 pies. One went missing.”
Eventually, the pie was returned.
“I still don’t know who took the original one,” she said.
“Now, it’s an annual tradition,” her husband said. “We keep a watch on those pies.”
Cook and prankster
Les Bowers has two roles to fill: He’s the breakfast cook and the resident prankster.
“I kind of scared some of the grandchildren this year and said I wasn’t going to cook,” he said. “I usually do a skillet of bacon and about 40 biscuits.”
“Every day,” his wife added.
“The young ones don’t like to get up early because they stay up late,” he said. “We have a breakfast at 9:30 a.m. They don’t want to miss it. I’m known for my gravy. I can make gravy with the best of them.”
The grandchildren don’t have to worry, because Grandpa will cook. And they don’t have to worry about getting stuck by needles, because he’s been joking about taking a family trip to donate blood.
“One of them doesn’t like needles at all,” he said with a laugh. “They’re used to me kidding with them.”
Before they scatter
As mentioned, it all starts today.
But in other ways, the Bowers’ celebration started years ago. Les Bowers grew up during hard times.
“I can remember what it was like to not have anything at all,” he said. “It’s hard for a kid to understand. I’ve always worked to make sure the kids had a better Christmas than I did.”
After Christmas Day, family members will once again scatter back to their own homes and concerns.
Before then, the whole family will fill a couple of pews at Cornerstone United Methodist Church, and they’ll celebrate the season together.
“I guess it’s just good to be retired and be in good health,” Les Bowers said, “and be able to enjoy their visit.”
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal