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Friday, December 12, 2014

I Ache. Therefore I Am - Missing Mama at Christmas

I have three friends who lost their mamas this same year that I was made an orphan. Each of us is facing our first Christmas without this essential hub.  If they ache as much as I do there must be a whole lotta achin' goin' on right now.  And yet - these ladies had such magnificent mamas - almost as pinnacle-like as mine - that they have to also be having the most wonderful Christmas memories floating to the surface.  I thought I'd try to list some of mine so that I have them down on virtual paper - I might even add to them as the years go by and the fleeting bits of code surface into my consciousness.

Of course, my first two memories take place at Christmas time - the trip to Florida after I'd burned my leg so badly and opening up the pink box with its cellophane window revealing Tiny Tears and all her miniature accouterments. Both Daddy and Mama were vivid in the car memory but only Mama is present in that memory of looking through the clear window and seeing that perfect babydoll. I was on the floor. Mama was behind me to my left. She told me it was 1953 so I was about 13 months old at the time.

Some memories are eternal.

My next Christmas memory had to have been before I was 5 because Sister and I were still sleeping in the downstairs bedroom. I came out of our room on Christmas morning and there was what looked like a brand new Tiny Tears sitting in a Real Baby Carriage - and I asked Mama why Santa thought I needed a second doll? She laughed and said it was my own Tiny Tears but I didn't believe her. I had to go back to my bed to see if she was still where I'd left her when I went to sleep the night before. Nope. The doll in the carriage was my very own baby.

Who knew how good a great vehicle could make a girl look?

I remember the Christmas my youngest sister was born. Daddy had to leave town on some urgent family business only days after Mama came home from the hospital. What I remember about Mama was how angry she was that he was leaving. What I remember about ME was how happy I was that my beloved godmother, Aunt Ann, was coming to stay with us. Mama had gotten a brand new all wool Oriental Rug (purchased, I am sure, from Miller and Rhodes) as a Christmas present. Walking barefoot on that rug was pure heaven. It was the softest thing my feet had ever felt. My aunt was going to cook an egg for my other younger sister when Mama called her from the bedroom. I, auntie's little shadow, stayed in the kitchen, transfixed by that white oval. I was thinking about a Saturday cartoon I'd seen of a hen, sitting in a nest on her egg, knitting and clucking the skater's waltz till the egg suddenly hatched and a little round yellow chick popped out. I began to wonder if I could make a little round yellow chick pop out of that egg on the kitchen counter. I cast about in my mind to think of something that would be soft enough to hatch a baby chick on.

Yes. You can finish that story all by yourself.

Those Christmases in that little starter home were all about the toys and the babies. I certainly remember how perfect they all were - and there are home movies of us starting about 1958 - which I believe is the year we got the pogo stick. All I really remember about Mama during that time was that she always put the tree inside the babies' play pen - which kept it from being pulled down by crawlers and toddlers, but also kept Me, the Big Girl, Who Knew Better, from getting my hands on the tree. I was glad when we no longer had babies in the house at Christmas time.

I also remember the year Daddy took us to the television station to see Santa. This is the only time I ever remember going to see Santa ... though perhaps there were other years. The gimmick was that one parent could stay home and watch her child on TV and find out what she wanted for Christmas. I am sure I got exactly what I wanted that year.

The Palace Off of Jhanke Road
Without a doubt, though, the most important Christmas Memory Of Mama didn't even happen at Christmas time. Late in the summer of 1959 we moved from Henrico to Chesterfield county - from our little brick house off Skipwith to the palace off of Jhanke Road.  In the hustle and bustle of pulling things out and packing them into moving vans all the Christmas stuff was brought into the open.  You must remember, as Jean Shepherd says, Christmas is the pivot around which the child's year rotates. I spent a lot of time as we adjusted to the new house, thinking about Christmas. One day I heard Mama out in the hall, putting clean towels into the linen closet (I told you - this was a Palace of a house - it had a whole closet just for sheets and towels!!!) and I wondered if there really was a Santa Clause. I decided to ask Mama - and if she said "yes" then I would know there really was a Santa and if she said anything else at all - I would know that Santa was really our parents.

And so I asked. And she thought a moment before answering .... a deadly sign .... and then asked me "Well. What do you think?"

And I knew. And I said - "there isn't a Santa"

And there was a moment - a tee tiny prick of disappointment - and then the wonder of our parents buying that much stuff for us kids .. parents who NEVER bought stuff for us - who ALWAYS told us to save our allowances - whose only response to a request for any sort of impulse purchase was "that's nothing but junk" - the thought of those two grownups going out and buying, not just whatever we'd asked for, but heaps of things we hadn't even dreamed of - plus gobs of candy and frittery things like those spinning Christmas trees that opened when they were going fast enough, to reveal a little metal Santa - that was a miracle light years beyond some elf sliding down a chimney in a house that didn't even have a chimney. (although the New Palace had two chimneys and two fireplaces!!!)

Wow. I mean - WOW! That was the real magic of Christmas. It was the season when constant No Sayers did an about face and said YES!

And best of all - once I knew that first grown-up truth, I realized I'd put one toe into the magic kingdom of adulthood - that longed for Shangri La where I would one day get to live - that world where I would be in charge.  There was still a lot of little girl in my almost 7 year old self, but it was only scant years before I was folded into the Christmas making part of things; when I was carried along to help with the shopping and the wrapping; when I could be a true Santa Elf.

A mama's real job is to help her children develop into functioning, capable, independent adults and that August afternoon my own precious Mama helped me make that giant step forward. It's a memory I cherish.

There are other Christmas memories that involve Mama and I will be back to write about them soon because I am 62. I am ever so slightly afraid that I will begin to lose these bits of code - that they will degrade to the point they can't be retrieved and I think that would be a great loss.


  1. Bless you and your wonderful memories, dear Bess. :-)

  2. I'm so glad you told these stories here, Bess. What fun in the Christmases, toys and childhood memories. I have a real weakness for the dolls of our childhoods and love seeing and thinking about Tiny Tears again! Mostly I love your take on Santa and how much you appreciated your Mom helping you to grow up.