Search This Blog

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Real Gifts - More Mama Christmas Memories

I'm all through with dootiful activities for the year and this is giving me time to sink indulgently into  Christmas Brain - which, this year, includes More Mama Christmas Memories.  I am one of those disgustingly cheerful Christmas celebrants who never gets enough Christmas music, enough Christmas tree, enough Christmas cards. I love it all and I loved it all from the very beginning. I get ready for Christmas all the way up to Christmas Day and then... I stop.

But I don't think Mama was such a Christmas gal. Not that she was ever depressed or grumpy or short tempered at that time. She just seemed a wee bit detached from it all. And for all that we talked about everything, I don't believe I ever asked her outright if she liked Christmas.  I am sure it's because I couldn't believe anybody would not like Christmas. Sort of like I can't really believe in sailing - I mean - when the wind blows from the South, how is it you can also sail south - even if it's only south-ish. Or flying. How can a 50 ton airplane fly? I know how it does. I demonstrated it to my boy scouts 30 years ago. But do I believe? Believe? Well. There you have it. We can know what we don't believe.

What I know, though, and believe, is that Mama was gentle and indulgent with us about Christmas. I remember the first time I ever went shopping for Christmas presents. One of the bigger stores had a corner blocked off with a wall decorated like a gingerbread house. It had a little low door that only children could get through and we traipsed in to find, not a witch, but some pretty girls dressed as elves and lots of small things scattered about that you could purchase for tiny bits of money. We went in with a list of recipients and whatever cash we had. The pretty elf girl helped us pick from among a treasure store of things  we'd never seen before - never even imagined - to give as gifts.  I don't remember a thing I bought but I do remember the experience. It was magic. It was Daddy who took us. He was the shopper in the family. He was also the one who would get emotionally ratcheted up till he would crack and we'd have a Christmas Crisis. But he loved Christmas like I did. There never was a year he didn't tell us "we're going to have a smaller Christmas than last year" and then shop like a mad man, heaping the toy piles higher and higher.

Which might go a long way towards explaining why Mama was so ... um... detached through the holidays. Somebody had to be the grownup in that house.

When we were living on the Southside (in the Palace off of Jhanke Rd) we shopped for Christmas at Southside Plaza. Mama would give us $5 because each of us had to buy 5 presents. Once at the shopping center we'd head first to Woolworths and if we didn't find everyone a present there we'd move on to G.C. Murphy & Co. But with riches like we were spending, there was lots to choose from.

I remember selecting a blue glass bottle, shaped like a poodle, filled with bubble bath, for Mama one year. I loved dogs. I loved blue. I loved bubble bath - so surely this would be the best gift for Mama. Evidently she had a tender spot for it too, since she kept the bottle long after it was empty.

I am guessing this was purchased around 1961 because the summer I was 9 I was deep in the Little House books and that Christmas I asked Mama if:

1. We could have long flannel nightgowns instead of pajamas and
2. Could we have an Old Fashioned Christmas and make our own gifts that year?

I can still feel the moment - the hopeful wonder - the breathlessness as I waited for her answer - which was an indulgent "Yes".  God knows what awful gifts I made for my sisters and parents in those early years but the experience left a lasting impact. To this day - if I didn't make it - no matter how much I spend on it - it's not a Real Gift. And of course, the spur of giving real gifts only made me work hard till I actually got good at making things. And even more of course - I will also buy gifts now and consider them real. Just not as real.

It was about this time that she gave all the cousins little cloth bags she had made, filled with drawing paper, crayons, scotch tape and round edged scissors.  It was the scissors that caused the disgruntled complaints to issue from aunts and uncles. One unsuspecting aunt later muttered in my presence "Who was it who gave those scissors last year? I could kill her. What a mess they made."

I was a famous blabbermouth, but that time, I did not speak up.

The most hilarious Christmas morning I ever experienced was the year I was 11. We'd moved into the city by then and my little sisters were in school; kindergarten and 1st grade. My youngest sister was an unusual child - precocious beyond belief and yet - with such odd ideas. Sometimes she utterly drove me batty but just as often I was enormously proud of her. That year, though, the kindergarten teacher had them collect leaves and bring a bottle cap to school. They glued the cap in the center of a paper plate and then glued the leaves around it. The whole was spray painted gold and the intended result was supposed to be a Christmas Candle Holder.

Of course - one must remember that all of the gluing had been done by a 6 year old. I am sure she used that peppermint scented paste that came in a jar. And the gift was sent home from school in a brown grocery bag for the child to wrap. An odd shape - a fragile object - Sister knew it needed to be carefully packaged. She used a cardboard box that Daddy's shirts came from the cleaners in - and she padded the gift with ... the trash from the bathroom trash can.

I told you - she was unusual.

A week of drying out in our warm house, lying beneath the tree, being picked up and shaken - for I am sure she was as proud as punch about making a Real Gift for Mama and displayed it frequently - did nothing to keep it intact. On Christmas day we sat and watched as Mama opened up the box - and began pulling out used tissues, a Reese's candy wrapper, and other assorted bits of gold flecked clutter, a crumpled paper plate with glue splotches on it - Oh La. I will never, ever forget the look on Mama's face: Her mouth an open "O", her brain feverishly trying to decide if this was a joke or a Real Gift. 

As the sisters and Daddy began to laugh (I'm actually laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks as I write this.) Baby Sister began to cry - realizing the completeness of her fiasco. Oh my goodness. Christmas. What is Christmas without a disaster or two? I do remember that Mama quickly recovered, hugged her nutty baby, and promised that she would help her re-glue everything and make it perfect.

I do not remember that I ever saw a candle in that holder but I do realize now that Mama taught me an important lesson that day. She showed me that the gift isn't the item. It's not the ring, or the dress, or the perfume. The gift is the time a person takes to think about you - contemplate your joy - long for your happiness - show you are worth stopping a busy day for. That is the real thing about gifts. That's what makes them Real Gifts.

1 comment:

  1. The gift is the time a person takes to think about you - Yes.

    Every time I think about you, it's a gift!

    Blessings, dear Bess. :-)