Christmas memories run like rivers of delight through my head, but here is one that washes over me every year about this time...
I couldn't have been more than seven-years-old, toothless, innocent (mostly), and tenderhearted. Times were very hard. Daddy had lost his factory job, and our family was living off his unemployment. It was almost Christmas, and my mom had told we kids that this Christmas would be sparse. I think we were all fine with it, even though a teeny part of me couldn't help but grieve over the thought of no presents.
Every other year, our family took the trek in our old blue Ford with the broken heater from Michigan to Ohio to visit my grandparents, and this was one of those years. The lack of presents would be fine as long as I got a taste of Grandma's fine cooking, the smells of which filled every corner of their two-story house. There would be turkey, stuffing, "lumpy" potatoes and gravy, green beans, scalloped corn, homemade rolls, and plenty of pumpkin, cherry, and apple pie. Of course, the wooden bowl would be brimming with an assortment of nuts - pecans, walnuts, and almonds to name a few, and I'd have fun trying my hand at the nutcracker while Grandpa's Victrola played any number of Christmas carols, and the Christmas lights twinkled on the fresh-cut spruce tree.
Even though I knew there wouldn't be an abundance of presents that year, I still awoke on Christmas morning with anticipation stirring my chest. Downstairs, I heard adults in happy conversation, the rattle of pans on the stove, and the splendid aroma of bacon drifting through the floor register. I yanked the covers off me and padded down the carpeted staircase in my flannel nightgown with the pinkie flowers. Grandpa sat in his navy blue velvet chair and smiled when I emerged. "Here she is, folks! At last we can begin!"
"Begin what?" I asked, wiping the sleep from my eyes and walking over to Grandpa for a gentle hug.
"The presents, silly."
Presents? At that, my older brothers seemed to appear from nowhere, and my parents and grandma came from the kitchen, steaming mugs in their hands and twinkles in their eyes.
Yes, there were presents, nothing major, mind you, but presents, six or seven with MY name on them. I opened things like socks, a board game, a book, a pair of mittens knitted by Grandma, a new sweater, and some pajamas. The BEST present, though, came inside a very large box. What in the world? I couldn't imagine, but my heart pit-pattered with nervous joy as I ripped off the tape and ribbons and tore away the paper. Pulling the lid from the box, I blew out a breath of utter astonishment. It was my doll! Used, yes, and very well loved, but cleaned up spic and span to look like new! My mother had done something very special. That fall, while I was at school, she'd begun using old scraps of fabric to stitch many, many different outfits for my doll, dresses, coats, skirts, shirts, nightgowns, hats, scarves, and even blankets. I recall picking up my doll and squeezing her to me, then staring down at the scores of outfits fashioned by my talented mother. I don't think I'd ever loved so fully until that moment or experienced so completely, what it meant to give from a heart of love and sacrifice.
Mom died in January 2010 (almost two years ago) at almost 97 years of age. As the anniversary of her passing approaches I am filled with precious memories of Christmases past - but I cannot help but hold especially dear that Christmas of 1956 when she taught me afresh the true spirit - and joy - of the blessed Christ season.