I can remember waking up on a December morning such as this and thinking, OMG only two weeks until Christmas! I haven’t gotten the tree, or bought presents, or decorated the house yet!
I am so very glad that I don’t feel pressure to do those things anymore. Not because my dear mother is no longer here to share the making of Plum Pudding, or sing the Hallelujah Chorus with me, but because Christmas is or should be for children, and mine are all grown up. The spirit of Christmas is for all, and the exchanging of thoughtful gifts is nice, but not when you have to go out and spend your bonus money or full paycheck to make other people happy! Am I being ‘grinchlike?’ Probably. But I have enough holiday spirit in my heart to fill more than a sleigh full of memories.
No, these days, I give my sons gifts of cash and hope they will buy something nice for themselves. They will probably use it to buy something for me, or someone else, or perhaps to fix up their trucks. A gift has no attachment; they can do what they will with it with my blessing.
I used to get monetary gifts from my bosses at work: $500, $1000, sometimes, even more. Did I buy myself something? Did I put anything away for the day when I might want to treat myself to a spa day, or some luxurious bed sheets, or something equally decadent? No. I used it to pay down my credit card that I had charged to purchase gifts and food for everyone else.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love sharing, and giving, and treating and cooking, and I do so throughout the year. You might say I’m often over-generous. I just don’t like to do it because Madison Avenue and Corporate America have told me that it’s better to buy something than make it. If you’ve never done it, you should try it at least once as nothing beats the feeling when someone opens a gift that you have spent hours – even weeks or more – working on and thinking about the person you are making it for. When they open that package and realize that you didn’t just spend a few hours at the mall, they feel sublimely loved. And the joy you feel is incomparable.
When I was a kid, I made those funny little loom potholders for everyone because, as my Uncle Julian recently reminded me that I said to him, “Even MEN have to cook!” I knitted scarves, sewed bathrobes, and cross-stitched items that people have to this day. (I think.) My home is filled with gorgeous things my sister made. I recently found the needlepoint eyeglass case that I sewed for my mother more than thirty years ago!
So this notion of the cost of an item somehow being relevant to the amount of love one feels is manufactured. Like the Maserati on TV with the red bow on the rear view mirror, or the motorcycle my friend’s wife bought him one year. (They are now divorced.) When my Uncle Julian was in the Air Force, he proudly wore the silk robe my mother sewed for him. I don’t know what the other guys in the barracks thought, but he loved that robe for years and years until he used it one night to cradle the head of a car accident victim outside his house. Of course, he never got it back, but he still thinks fondly of it.
Remember those Christmas Clubs we joined years ago? Fifty cents a week would yield a hefty twenty-five dollar return. I stuck to the budget. I gave Uncle Julian a cardboard wallet with a picture of Jane Russell. Sixty years later, he still has that wallet taped up and dog-eared (probably in his top dresser drawer) for as he said, “When a girl gives you a gift that cost her a whole month’s paycheck, you keep it!” What a guy!
Somewhere along the line, The List came into being, which was an excellent way for parents to know exactly what to buy their kids so they wouldn’t be disappointed. This was an especially handy tool when letting relatives know what to get to ease the parental burden of buying happiness. Grandparents are especially doting.
What I always felt was that I had to buy at least the top three items or Christmas would be a failure – predictably the most expensive. The choices on the bottom were not really what the boys wanted; they were just put there to fill up the page and assuage their guilt. All kids do that, especially when they realize Mom and Dad are the ones who are going to have to foot the bill. Even so, new ski jackets, hats, scarves and gloves that they really needed were never mentioned. I know. I checked The List twice.
Then there were the stockings. After spending a king’s ransom on bicycles and electronic games, parents (mostly Moms) have to stuff those enormous socks with sweets and small things. A bag or two of candy is no problem, but what else can you get for little or no money because you’ve already spent what was left on the feast and new clothes for the kids? A loaf of banana bread? A bottle of pop? A half dozen pairs of underwear? Don’t laugh… I’ve heard that many mothers put things like toothpaste and deodorant into the toes and a bag of Jolly Ranchers on top. Actually, a pack of four razor blades – you know, the kind that cost thirty-five dollars, would fit nicely and take up a lot of room. But my inclination would be to put something like that under the tree. Isn’t there some sort of rule about the cost of the item and where it is to be left? Although, I wouldn’t mind finding a receipt for a tank of heating oil in my Christmas stocking…
‘On the Trail’ is playing on W-QXR radio. When I was little, just as Mom told me the story of Peter and the Wolf, she also made up a wonderful story to go with Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. I feel as though my mother has reached out and sent me an early Christmas present. So I’ve brewed myself a cup of tea and sliced off a piece of banana bread that I made with her family recipe. I’m writing this at the library table that my father salvaged from a neighbor’s garage and lovingly restored to its original beauty. In the last analysis, all we really have are the memories. And the photos, of course.
Thanks for all the wonderful memories Mom and Dad! Happy Christmas to All!