A Gift of a Lifetime

Childhood memories do not come easily to me. Unlike friends in my life who can recall moments from their infancy (I kid you not), I do not have that talent.

So when I recently thought of an incident that happened in Mrs. O’Neill’s Kindergarten class, I was pleasantly surprised.

Times weren’t easy for our family back then. Money was tight. My father was wrestling with undiagnosed PTSD and struggling with inconceivable demons from the Korean War. 

And my mother, well, my mother was doing everything else. Mom was our rock back then and throughout our lives. 

And was the rudder to our well-worn ship throughout our lives until she passed.

So, when I came home from school that December and informed her that I’d need a gift for our class Christmas party, she took it in stride and off to the local Woolworth’s store we went where we bought one nifty (and highly desired) Barbie and Ken Colorforms Play Set.

On the day of the party, I could hardly contain my excitement. Mom had baked and decorated cup cakes for class, wrapped my gift and off to school I went that morning. 

“How could life get any better?” I thought to myself as I trudged through the snow carrying my special Christmas packages.

“I had a neat secret Santa gift, Mom made her special cup cakes, and it was only a few days before Santa came to town. Dang! Life was good,” I told myself as I entered the school.

Mrs. O’Neill greeted me and the other children as we stomped off the snow from our boots, busily chatting with each other while hanging our jackets on our assigned hooks.

“Children,” she said.

“Put your secret Santa gifts under the tree and then find your place mats on the floor,” she continued.

“You need to settle down so we can finish making our Xmas projects for our parents and sing some songs.”

“The sooner you settle down,” she patiently continued, “the sooner we hand out our secret Santa gifts.”

Not one that liked to stop socializing with my buddies, I wasn’t too thrilled to stop chatting, but saw that Cathy Persico was quietly on her floor mat and thought I’d be damned if I ended up on Santa’s naughty list this close to Christmas. 

(And I’d be double damned if I’d let “Ms. Goody two shoes” get one over on me.)

“No siree-Bob! This girl wasn’t getting coal in my stocking for Christmas. I’d worked too hard all year long,” I thought to myself as I bee lined for my assigned mat and quietly sat down.

We could barely control our holiday excitement, but managed to hold it together long enough to finish our projects and sing and then lo and behold, those long awaited words from our teacher finally came.

“Children,” she started, “It’s time to hand out our secret Santa gifts. I’ll call out your names and you come up to the tree. Tommy will play Santa’s helper and hand out your gift. When you get it, please go back to your mat and do not open it until everyone has theirs and I tell you to open them,” she instructed.

And then she proceeded to call out our names and one by one we were given our gifts.

Mine was wrapped in white tissue paper and felt like two thick pencils.

You could feel the excitement in the air as Mrs. O’Neill gave us permission to open our gifts.

I ripped off the tissue paper and stared dumbfounded at my present.

“OMG,” I said out loud. “This is my gift?”

“Two white candles? Really?”

I started looking at everyone else’s gifts and suddenly felt sad and somehow cheated.

Kids were excitedly showing me their presents and asking to see mine and all I could say was, “ I got two stupid candles.”

I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or be angry.

Then I noticed the brown-eyed girl with a pageboy haircut standing behind my group of friends looking down at her shoes while slowly lifting her head.

It only took one look into her now misty brown eyes to know that this girl was my secret Santa.

She was the one who gave me the gift.

I felt terrible.

I told a group of kids that it was a “stupid gift” and suddenly realized that what I said was hurtful. And I didn’t know what to do or say.

I wasn’t happy with getting candles as a gift, but I certainly didn’t want to hurt this little girl’s feelings.

Who knows why she gave me candles as a gift? Maybe she forgot to tell her parents about getting a secret Santa gift for our party. Maybe her family couldn’t afford to buy anything.

Could have been one of a dozen reasons.

I don’t know.

I just know that I hurt her feelings and that it was a pretty yucky feeling.

To this day I regret what I said. And what’s worse, is that I never had the chance to apologize to her.

The little brown-eyed girl with the pageboy haircut never came back to school after winter break. We were told that the family moved out of town.

And that stupid gift I received as a five year old, was the gift of a life time; only I didn’t know it until years later.

Many years later…

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a healthy, Happy New Year!

Love, Lucie and the Princess.

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One More Christmas Memory

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It’s that time of year, again.

Christmas music is playing non-stop, the stores are jam-packed with holiday shoppers, and kids are busy making their lists to send to Santa praying they’re on the nice list – not the naughty one.

The Princess and I have been busy attending Christmas concerts and enjoying the company of good friends and good food.

The outside lights are up, the tree decorated and my Dicken’s Christmas Village painstakingly set up with careful attention given to the placement of each piece before having snow dumped all over it for that added, cozy Christmas touch.

The holiday season is here in full force. I’m laughing, listening to Christmas carols and starting plans for my Christmas dinner party.

God has been good. We have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food to eat and the love of family and friends.

So, why do I feel so empty? Why does my heart ache?

The (Dicken’s) Christmas Village that I started years ago was bought with money that my Mom sent me in my early days in CA. Bought with the thought of times past and the innocent memory of childhood trips to our downtown to see lights strung on Xmas trees and store fronts.

As a child, we didn’t have a car, and my Mom hoofed it to work every day and stood on her feet for hours-on-end at a Jewish Bakery in upstate NY; schlepping rye bread and jam-filled jelly doughnuts to an endless stream of customers who waited patiently to purchase fresh baked goods and to chat with the animated Italian who had a smile as bright as a summer day.

She could wait on 2 to 3 customers at a time, give a hug and a cookie to a munchkin and make everyone feel loved and important; all without breaking a sweat.

And home she trudged through snow and ice after a hard day of standing on her feet, only to be greeted by youngsters anxious to go downtown to look at the Christmas lights twinkling in store front windows and draped on snow covered trees.

“Please, Mom,“ I’d beg. “We’ve all eaten dinner and I’ve washed and put away the dishes. Can you please take us downtown? Please, please, please?”

“I’ll help pull the little ones on the sleigh and we won’t ask for anything, Mom.”

“Honest,” I’d plead.

“We won’t ask for anything,” I continued, looking at her with my best puppy dog eyes.

And Mom being Mom, she quickly grabbed something to eat, bundled us all up and off we’d go downtown looking at lights and talking about our school day.

Over the years, I’ve added on to my Dicken’s Village and always smiled with love and fond memories of a time when we were poor with material comforts, but rich with Mom’s love and steadfast support.

This Christmas season my heart aches for a time past when the snow filled our sidewalks and the tree lights sparkled on the snow as our sled quietly slid-on through the new blanket of white stuff.

As an adult, Christmas has always been my favorite time of year, and I’ve always called my Mom to share with her the joys of the season.

I never realized until recently how my Mom mirrored that joy and how much happier I was after sharing my experiences with her.

With Mom’s passing this October, I find my mirror has a crack and my joys are not as colorful, not as merry.

She wouldn’t want me to feel sad and I’m trying hard to stay merry, but there are times a certain song, a certain smell, a certain Christmas scene takes me back to a time when my Mom was my Mom, and I was her little girl.

And my heart aches for one more moment, one more conversation, one more Christmas memory to share with my mom.

“Merry Christmas, Mom. I love you to the moon and back. Always have. Always will.”

I wish for all of you the merriest of Christmas’s and a Happy New Year, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

Thank you for your continued love and support.

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We Were Home

When I feel the need to go home and hanker for something good to read, I reach for Jan Karon, Fannie Flagg, and Janet Sheridan. The following Christmas story was written by Janet Sheridan. I hope you enjoy it. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

 

 

The Christmas homes of my childhood and adolescence were never the glossy homes of Christmas advertising, imposing structures lit by evenly-spaced lights filled with artistically decorated rooms inhabited by smiling families with color-coordinated clothing and perfect teeth.

Our pioneer-era house in Lake Shore, Utah, had elusive drafts, cranky doors, freezing bedrooms and a bathroom made hazardous by the ongoing battle between its faulty plumbing and our frustrated father. But it offered us the comforts of sitting sleepy-eyed in the morning by the living-room oil heater, crawling into the freshness of line-dried sheets on wash-day and listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock that echoed through the rooms like a heartbeat.

At Christmastime, glowing multi-colored bulbs lit the ornaments we carried home from school to hang on our tree and shimmered on the tinsel we dutifully hung strand by strand until, discouraged by the task’s endless nature, we decided tinsel looked best when tossed on by the handful. The smells of Mom’s baking and the sounds of the Christmas carols we pumped out on our player piano drifted through our days; and at night, the moon reflected softly off the smoothness of the surrounding snow-covered fields.

When we moved from Lake Shore, Mom and Dad said they’d bought a place in Spanish Fork, the nearby town where Lake Shore students attended junior high and high school. I didn’t want to move, but losing my status as a bus-riding country bumpkin eased my pain. So when we drove through Spanish Fork and two miles beyond, my teenaged eyes gazed with dismay at the sparsely-populated, rural area where our new house sat: no sidewalks, no corner grocery store, no ice cream truck tinkling by and no leisurely strolls to the movies, the Dairy queen or the junior high. I’d still live with three cows in a field behind the house waiting to be milked, a school bus with a pecking order to dictate seating and no way to get to town other than whining until someone agreed to give me a ride.

But the new home held the beauty of my mother’s creations: bright quilts, colorful braided rugs, the wood-glow of refinished furniture and the sparkle of fanciful tree ornaments cut from tin cans. It also had the convenience and warmth of a coal-fired furnace. True, the furnace sometimes burped smoke and gave up, but Dad always managed to coax it back to work by banging its pieces about and using his words from the steel mill.

After we moved in, Mom and Dad became hardworking partners, developing an area for a large garden plot and preparing the soil along the perimeter of the property for the fruit trees they planned to plant. After Mom went to bed on Christmas Eve, Dad sneaked her present into the living room. The next morning, cries of surprise and delight from Mom and pleased laughter from Dad awakened us. In his words, “Lesser women would have been dismayed, but Myrl thought the best present I ever gave her was that wheelbarrow.” The memory still makes me happy.

When I was in college, my parents followed a job to Lander, Wyoming, and the house in which they would live out their lives. It had an extensive living room with a wood-burning stove, warm lamps and sit-awhile chairs and couches that welcomed their adult children home. When we entered to the warmth of Dad’s fire, the smells of Mom’s cooking and the smiles on their faces, the love that flowed through our childhood Christmases enveloped us again.

We were home.

Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on the 1st and 15th of every month.