My mother went to the big metaphysical bookstore in the sky in June of 2012. When Christmas rolled around that year, I thought it would be okay since, we as adults we didn’t make much fuss over Christmas. Our family is widely spread out and we don’t have children around to require a Christmas celebration.
However, the ease I expected during this time just laughed in my face. I remembered my mother as she was when we were best friends. These memories brought tears to my eyes and gripped my heart.
They still do.
I miss my mother. Her uniqueness and quirky personality thumbed her nose at convention. She lived life by her own set of rules and reality. I miss her craziness and her loveliness. I overlook how she drove me nuts and how much we argued and fought. Those times are trivial in comparison to the bond we shared.
During the holiday season of 2012, the floodgates opened to remember Christmases past—of childhood when things were simpler. Mom would scrimp and save all year to bring my brother and me the best, most magical Christmas she could. In those days, we didn’t have credit cards. Stores would let people “lay-away” items early and make payments on held purchases. She took full advantage of that. She had to save and be super resourceful because my father was a bit of a grinch. Mom once said he was “so tight his ass squeaked.”
When I was small, she would use part of her household money to save for Christmas. When my brother and I were a little older, she worked as a waitress and saved her tips.
Mother would go without to buy me the coveted doll or new dress. I can still clearly see how my brother’s eye’s lit up when he unwrapped the shiny red fire engine that could squirt water from a real hose.
Another Christmas, I got my first bicycle—bright, gleaming chrome and deep blue paint. I was in love. Dad was sober for once and taught me to ride it. My brother got a pedal-car. He loved it so much he wore the tires down within a year.
In Spokane, Washington, before my brother was born and I was a spoiled only-child, Mom would play up the North Pole myth in imaginative ways, telling stories of visiting Kris Kringle’s workshop when she was a child. She excitedly spun tales of elves, the sleigh, and the reindeer. I was very impressed when I learned that Mrs. Claus’ gave mom the recipe for Santa’s favorite cookies.
When I was about five years old, I remember sitting at our wooden kitchen table, tongue sticking out of the corner of my mouth as I labored to write a letter to Santa. Mother helped me with spelling, then showed me how to fold the letter and slide it into an envelope. I licked the minty flap, folded it and pressed my fingers over the seal to make sure the precious letter would stay safely inside.
I felt so grown-up when she handed me a stamp to lick and stick on the front—crooked, of course. I addressed it, “Santa Claus, North Pole.” Then, we dressed in our snow boots, mittens, and hooded coats and crunched through the snow to the bright blue mailbox on the corner. Mother lifted me up so I could reach. I pulled off a mitten with my teeth, grabbed the cold steel handle and opened creaky the mail slot.
I watched with such wonder as the letter slid into the big dark hole. Hope and giggly joy spread through me as I pictured Santa reading my letter and marking me off the list as a “good little girl.”
Of course, there was always the trip to town to sit on Santa’s lap. It was all so exciting and wonderful! One year, when I was very young, I sat on Santa’s knee holding a little brown sack that contained a little whiskey mug that I had admired earlier. Not that I drank whisky. That was my dad’s job. It was just the right size for my little hand. It was shiny and pretty. I loved it at first sight so Mom bought it for me. Just before I climbed onto Santa’s lap, she said not to tell the jolly old elf what was in the bag.
On many a Christmas Eve, I lay in bed, watching the stars from my window for a glimpse of the sleigh flying through the sky. But alas, the sandman always came and I fell asleep before the reindeer found our roof.
I remember one Christmas morning in Spokane, Washington, when I was four years old. At dawn I leaped out of bed and dashed to the living room. The cookies I had left out the night before were now just a few crumbs on the plate and the glass of milk showed only a few drops left in the bottom.
Santa had been there! I imagined him relaxing in front of our big pot-belly stove, munching the excellent cookies that I had made with my own hands, and drinking the creamy, cold milk. I’m sure he admired our beautiful, sparkly tree. Most of all, I KNEW he brought me everything I had asked for.
When Mother came into the living room, wrapped in her terrycloth robe and wearing blue fuzzy slippers, she yawned and said, “Well! Let’s see what Santa left for you.” Sitting on the floor with me, she watched as I tore into the packages with barbarian enthusiasm.
After my loot was all open and spread around me like a dragon’s treasure, Mother and Dad exchanged gifts between themselves. A new pipe for Dad and a pretty watch for Mom. It was a time of peace and love, all too rare in our family then. Santa had made that possible.
There is a lot of discussion these days about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing to let children believe in Santa. Some think it leaves scars of betrayal. Some believe it perpetuates the okayness of lies.
To that I say, “Balderdash!!!”
When I discovered that there was no Santa, I was really okay with it. I loved my mother even more for letting let me live in the world of magic for a while. I wouldn’t trade my days of Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Leprechauns for anything. It is something to remember with love. Without them, the world is a little flatter and more serious. So, even though I no longer celebrate Christmas in the traditional way, during the holiday season I try to include some of the beauty that it stands for. It is a reminder of kindness, love, giving, and feelings of hope and possibility.
May Christmas live on forever.
I hope yours is always filled with beauty, joy, and a little Red Suit magic.
What are your Christmas memories?