Tuesday, December 6, 2011
It was Christmas, 1956. My dad had not left us yet. As Christmas neared my sister and brother and I began chattering about Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Our dad loudly squashed the idea of a Christmas tree. I can't remember why. Despite our pleadings and my mother's urgings, my dad stood firm.
My dad was working at the time but his earnings often went for some new doo-hicky for his late model pick up truck. As we grew older we were to eventually learn that a new truck took precedence over everything else with my dad. My mom was working at a Chinese restaurant in town, pulling in .50 cents per hour, plus tips, which were meager in our blue-collar little town.
The wonder of Christmas is that kids are more than willing to face the headwinds of reality and continue to wish for presents and Christmas trees. We were no different. My brother and I wished for Roy Rogers six-guns and holsters and my sister pined for a baby doll.
As Christmas neared, and no tree appeared, with no signs of presents, we finally began to accept the reality of a sparse Christmas Eve. As we walked home from school we began peering into the windows of neighbors and admiring their Christmas trees with gaily wrapped presents around the tree.
On Christmas Eve morning arrived we arose excitedly because the local theater was presenting a free Christmas show for the city's children. As we ate our breakfast oatmeal and talked excitedly about the free movies our mother hushed us, reminding us that dad was sleeping because he would be working the swing shift at the cotton mill and was already in a bad mood. We quickly quieted down lest he awake and quash our trip to the movies.
Our mother left for work on the day shift at the China Cafe and cautioned us again to keep quiet until we left for the theater. We played outside and then about noon we set off for the theater. Though we had no hope for a Christmas snow in our central California town, the fog had rolled in and we delighted in walking through the whispery fog. Sounds of traffic seemed dampened by the fog as we crossed the busy highway on our way to the show. As we arrived at the theater the fog was beginning to dissipate and a weak December sun struggled through the clouds. We soon joined an impossibly long line of kids awaiting entry to the theater. The smell of popcorn and chocolate candy permeated the theater lobby as we rushed to claim a seat. For the next four hours we were entertained by a Tom and Jerry cartoon, a Bugs Bunny feature and two westerns; a Gene Autry flick and a Roy Rogers western. As my brother and I watched Roy dispatch the bad guys we lusted after those pearl handled six guns holstered in magnificent leather holsters.
As the final feature ended the theater went dark and we began to rise to leave when all of a sudden we heard the familiar "ho-ho-ho" of Santa! Soon a spotlight shone on the fat jolly fellow on center stage and he carried over his shoulder a substantial royal velvet sack. Santa then beckoned all of us to line up on each side of the aisle and come down to the stage for a treat. As my sister and brother and I lined up we were soon rewarded with a small satchel of candy and nuts.
We all happily began walking home with our Christmas treats. Licking peppermint candy canes we were immersed in the pure joy of Christmas. As we neared home the winter sun was giving away to the shadows of evening. As we turned up the drive to our home we saw our mom's car was home and we hurried into the house, each of us bellowing with the tale of a magical Christmas afternoon. Our mom laughed and hugged us and beckoned us into the kitchen. As we came into the kitchen she waved a hand toward a two-foot high "Christmas Tree" perched grandly on a table at the kitchen bay window.
Our eyes shone with delight as we gazed at the beautiful little tree. We oohed and aahed at the little red holly berries which subbed for Christmas tree lights. Bright ropes of popcorn strings ran gaily around the tree and we squealed with delight at the magical apparition of a tree we had little expectation of seeing at Christmas that year.
The magical appearance of a tree now sparked anew our dreams of a visit from Santa. As we ate supper that evening we told mom about the wonderful Christmas show and Santa's visit to the theater. Soon dinner and dishes were done and our mom wrangled us reluctantly to bed.
The next morning we awoke to the scent of morning coffee and mom's traditional cinnamon rolls. We leaped out of bed and ran to the kitchen tree to see if Santa had visited. Our hearts leaped with joy as we looked upon the beautiful Holly Berry tree, now made more lovely by brightly wrapped presents which surrounded it. With mom's blessing we leaped at the presents and madly tore the wrappings to see that Santa had heard our wishes. My brother and I had our six guns and holsters and enough cap ammo to keep the neighbors alert on Christmas Day. Our sister received her lovely baby doll. Throughout that Christmas Day we were joyous and grateful to Santa for such a wonderful Christmas.
The next day I was running around outside, pinging off bad guys with my Roy Rogers guns, when I stopped to look at the Holly Berry bush which grew just outside the kitchen window. I noted a gaping hole in the bush and soon surmised that our "Christmas Tree" arrived only through the good grace of our mother. I turned and went back into the house and walked over to the tree. Peeling back the aluminum foil at the base I saw that mom had planted our "tree" in an old Folgers coffee can. In seeing this, some of the magic had diminished from the Christmas Eve wonder that my eyes had beheld only a couple of days before. Then, intuitively, for that is all an eight year old can understand, I felt a great love for my mom's kindness in giving us a Christmas tree. I went over and gave her a hug which prompted the question "what was that for?" I gave no answer and ran back out to play.
At that tender age, I still credited Santa for my present. But, as the years have gone by, I have thanked my mother for all the gifts she gave us...but, most of all, I have blessed and thanked her for keeping the dreams of childhood alive for another year...and for reminding me that the joy of Christmas is in giving... even when there is so very little to give.