Christmas When I Was Nine and Even Older
I am not religious. Never have been. Despite my Italian-Catholic upbringing, Jesus and all the saints in heaven never took.
But what did stick was Christmas as a time of giving and forgiving. A time of making room for one more place at the table because someone we knew found themselves alone on Christmas.
There were always extra gifts wrapped and ready to give “just in case”.
Singing songs like Silent Night and Joy to the World were no different to me than singing along with Mr. Beau Jangles, Me and Bobby McGee or any Beach Boys or Beatles songs. Just songs that I loved to hear and sing, in my terribly, flat, toneless but enthusiastic voice.
Christmas at our house was noisy. There were four of us. Four kids with arguments. With friends. Four kids trying to wrap presents for each other in secret, but making heavy hints about what might be in the boxes.
My mother was baking, baking, baking. She was making gingerbread and her famous date nut loaves. She would often be swatting my farther with the towel torn from her waist. NOW I know why she was swatting him. Back then I had no clue. I was nine.
My father would bring in the tree from the garage. I was asthmatic and no number of specially treated trees kept me from wheezing. Family photos of us on Christmas always showed me in a blanket looking like I was taking my last breath.
So my father de-boxed the artificial tree one in a line of many that got better as artificial tree technology improved. And told us it had to “warm up” so that the cold, brittle, metal branches did not break when we unfolded them. He taught us how to string lights, and was very particular about spreading the colors around.
What is Christmas without trains? We had them, beautiful Marklin trains that Dad brought back from Germany after the war. We spent days sanding the tracks that corroded over the humid New Jersey summer. We fixed wheels, and shined up the other props. We loved it and we did not fight or argue during the train setup. Years later after his funeral, the three siblings that were left, chose our favorite trains and took them home to be part of our separate Christmas celebrations.
In the 80s, my daughter and I left an abusive situation and found ourselves alone at Christmas in Modesto, California. On Christmas morning, my sweet daughter presented me with a box covered in glitter. Inside were tapes she had made from albums she had borrowed from the library and recorded for me.
She had taken to heart her grandmother’s adage: “A gift of the hand is a gift of the heart.”
There are so many cherished moments from Christmas past, but that one I cherish the most.