cj Sez: During any break in the action (shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking), December is a month of reflection for me. What did I do this year? What did I accomplish? Or not.
Mostly, the month delivers a mixed bag of cherished memories. The following is from a short memoir I wrote for the anthology Christmas is a Season 2008, published by Linda Busby Parker’s Excalibur Press. To be clear, there are four kids in this story: My sisters Phyllis and Sonja, my brother Eric, and me. I was the only cranky one. Here is an excerpt from “The Blue-Eyed Doll.”
Christmas in Detroit was totally different from Christmas in Texas. There were no relatives to join us for Christmas in Detroit—my mother’s family remained behind in Texas, and my father’s remained in Sweden—and because Daddy wasn’t working, there was neither money for a bountiful smorgasbord table nor any money for toys. After many long and hushed-voiced conversations between my parents, Daddy added our names to a list of needy children. Although he couldn’t give us gifts, he was determined to find a perfect Christmas tree. He spent hours walking from tree lot to tree lot. He had two requirements. The tree had to be cheap, and it had to be a sweet-smelling, short-needled balsam, because his family in Sweden never used common long-needle pines as Christmas trees.
Late one night, shortly before a nearby tree lot closed for the season, Daddy paid fifty cents for a tree with a crooked trunk still holding onto a few limbs, but the tree showered needles to the floor with each touch or the least shake. We decorated our tree with multi-color construction-paper chains, red cranberry strings, and four of Daddy’s work socks. Mama and Daddy pronounced it beautiful.
Just before dinner time on a Christmas Eve so cold that the snow crunched underfoot, three smiling men in dark, thick, woolen coats knocked on the front door. One carried a cardboard box filed with government surplus food and the other had two armfuls of gifts wrapped in red and green paper.
Inside one package with my name on it was a beautiful doll with blue eyes and long, black lashes, curly blonde hair and a blue dress. It was the only doll I ever got for Christmas, and I hated it. I hated it because, suddenly, like I believed the strangers did, I saw myself as poor. The doll stayed in its box until Mama gave it to a neighbor girl several years later.
Before that first Christmas in Detroit, I had never thought of myself as needy or poor. Even when I was walking barefoot through our cotton fields in Texas, wearing a dress Mama had stitched by hand out of a flower-printed feed sack, I felt sheltered and loved, lacking nothing. That blue-eyed doll changed my perception of myself and my family and changed how I felt about Christmas for twelve more years.
My nineteenth Christmas was my first-born’s first, and I decided Christmas needed to become magical again. I spent weeks buying food and preparing desserts for my own family smorgasbord—minus the lutefisk which, happily, I couldn’t find that year in Detroit. On Christmas Eve, my mother brought her cardamom rolls, my father fixed his Swedish fruit soup, and my siblings brought friends and appetites. We read the Christmas story, exchanged small gifts, sang carols, lobbed wrapping paper balls, and giggled like kids. I re-discovered the family Christmas of my early childhood. On Christmas morning, Santa surprised my husband by filling one of his socks with an orange, an apple, a chocolate bar, a quarter, and a handful of walnuts.
Over the years, I’ve replaced the cotton work socks with velvety monogrammed Christmas stockings that Santa fills with gift cards and Godiva chocolates, but today, the only things missing from my re-claimed Christmas memories are those wonderful Swedish dishes that only my mother and father could prepare to perfection.
Having a child of my own opened my eyes to my father’s great love. I had to become a parent myself to understand the sacrifice of pride it took for him to publicly acknowledge his family as needy. It was my father’s way of ensuring that his children’s Christmas was more than just another date on the calendar. Now, when I remember my first Christmas in Detroit and the blue-eyed doll, I see those gift-giving strangers for what they really were—my father’s Magi.
If you haven’t already, write down your special memories … they’ll escape you if you don’t.
I’m in the process of starting a quarterly newsletter, more like a flyer filled with info tidbits—name to be determined. This is a huge learning curve for me because I haven’t worked with anything like MailChimp before. I’m praying for patience and an open mind. Do please send me a note at cjpetterson@gmail and I’ll make sure you receive a copy when I get it up and running. Prizes will be awarded to early sign-ups.
cj Sez: Thanks for stopping by. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. And the More than Friends bundle of six romance novels is still available for under a buck on Amazon
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