We didn’t have much money. It was time to go to Reno for our Christmas shopping. This year was my turn to get a new pair of boots. I was so excited. My sisters and brothers bundled up and headed out to the car. At 12, I thought I was all grown up. I saw things the others didn’t. Like Mom and Dad telling us they weren’t hungry. So us kids would have enough to eat. I understood that we would each be able to pick out “one” thing for Christmas. That would be all.
Once we got to the store I learned my brother Kelly would be getting boots. It was his turn. But I knew it should be mine. Tentative glances between Mom and Dad caused me to recollect that it should be his turn for boots. I saw a sigh of relief from Mom. I was a peacemaker.
There was a pair of pants I really wanted. Some nice jeans. They were all of $2.99. Again, tentative looks holding back tears. I found a “much better” pair for $1.99. My Mother knew. She smiled and turned her head away, hiding in grateful grief. I didn’t want to grow up. Not if it hurt like that.
The tradition of one item seemed to stick. The rest were cards, letters, and things we made from what we found on the ranch. Sometimes while digging irrigation ditches. Like a turn of the century sewing machine I spent a month cleaning for my Mother. Even though it would never work.
It was another Christmas. After my sister had been taken. When there wasn’t much money but for purchase of coal, oil and paying for electricity. Even gas for the car at $.24 per gallon. That was a lot. It is always a lot when you haven’t much money. Or have to choose between food and rent. But that Christmas something magical had happened. Santa came as we were out of town. We returned to find bags and bags of presents on the front porch. Money in the mailbox to help with our bills. And food. So much food for our Christmas dinner and days to come.
At 12, Santa no longer existed. At the age of 13, my faith was renewed. I wanted to be Santa for all those who couldn’t afford that extra fifty cents for a pair of pants — so they wouldn’t have to settle, being made fun of by the other kids. I knew then that I wanted my future children to know “love.” To know that Christmas was more than presents under the tree. But also to have those presents when possible.
Years later I was once again the recipient of Christmas. Tree and all. At a time when I knew what it was like to watch my own family eat. When we had little. Except each other. And “faith” that things would get better. It did get better. We were able to help others. We were able to share presents with one another both great an small.
Still, those days of less somehow meant more. When snuggling together in a home where heat seeped out every seam. It was home because of we who struggled together.
Christmas is a magical time. People do change at this time of year. At least for a few days or weeks. When selfishness is a foreign word. When selflessness is a godsend. When we realize what has been lost through the year — when parted from those we love. When the smell of baking and laughter remind us of years gone by. Of those passed, remembered though no longer here. Those who gave us traditions we hope will last a hundred generations.
My Christmas Prayer
And so, my prayer at Christmas is that we reach out to those in need. Grant kind words that will forever renew our faith in why we celebrate: That a child was born. Innocent. Like all children. Special. Like our children. Able to grow up strong, special, destined for great things… because one child, the son of a living God, grew up to take away the sins of all the world. To banish our shortcomings. To remember our mistakes no more. As we embrace the celebration of life in our redemption.
My prayer is that each of us come to respect those who helped us in our time of need. Living examples in recognition of their struggles. Remembering the child, then man, who gave his life so that we might have joy. In this, every day would be Christmas.
May your heart be full of presents that come from the hearts of others. Understanding that there is a no return policy. Nor need for one. That true gifts of love are forever yours.
Cherished precious memories, destroyed, cause us to lose our way. For Christ rebukes those who care not when he asked in St Matthew’s recitation of the “Sermon on the Mount”; Why did you not feed me, clothe me, visit me while I was in prison?… “Then I will profess unto them, that I never knew you…” (Matthew 7:23 KJV)
And for this, I gratefully accept all that is given me.
I will always remain my brother’s keeper.
My finest Christmas, so far…
… takes me back to rocking my child. Softly singing to her as I gazed across the new fallen snow. Glistening apple trees across from our home. Though there was no one there but my little family, in a home smaller than a lot of other people’s garages. Looking in on my dear wife and children as they sleep.
Hearing their giggles as little feet stomp through the house in their rush to check under the Christmas tree. And reading the Christmas story from our Bible… (Luke 2: 9-16) the night before that magic comes. All being right with the world… for a moment in time. I was content.
Sometimes I still wonder if I will ever truly grow up. For these sweet memories remain. No matter what else has been lost. In this, I give thanks.