Some people may have memories as neatly organized or carefully catalogued as the treasures of the Smithsonian Institute but those individuals are few and far between. That would be something akin to the real Rain man, Kim Peek, who by the time of his death in 2009 had memorized word for word twelve thousand books— including the Bible, and the Book of Mormon. His memory was truly astounding especially to those like me who struggle to remember where we put the car keys.
My memories are like that huge messy stack of art work that every kindergarten kid brings home at the end of the year— my best stuff, colourful and full of emotion, but leaning a bit towards abstract most of the time. Today I’ve decided to put together a few of the bluer pieces that I’ve pulled out from the stack to make a kind of story collage.
I was four years old and our family was still living in our first little white house. Dad had not yet taken over the family farm from his father and he was for the moment out of work. The turkey was a little smaller than Mummy was used to preparing. She had put it into the oven the night before Christmas, but far too early. When it finished roasting —in the middle of the night— she asked Daddy to put it out on the porch to cool. He snitched a piece of the delicious golden brown skin first and pronounced it absolutely “Delicious!” He then placed it just outside the kitchen door on the porch to cool in the snow, and immediately crawled back into bed and was soon fast asleep.
When out on the porch there arose such a clatter,
He sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
When what to his wondering eyes should appear,
But our bird heading south, on that night cold and clear.
Bobbing up and down and weaving back and forth, it was on its way to someone else’s family dinner! Another mother was obviously struggling hard to keep her family fed too, and as Daddy threw on the porch light he saw her. A wily red Mama fox was trotting off across the new fallen snow with our beautiful golden brown turkey clenched tightly in her happy grinning mouth— leaving behind for us only a pan full of drippings! The next day we ate a meat loaf festively garnished with green and red olive slices. That year Christmas joy was not to be found around a golden brown turkey—at least not at our house.
I remember the Christmas that every kid wanted Silly Putty, the latest fad promoted in TV ads— a little plastic egg full of “the most incredibly flexible fun-filled substance known to man!” At this particular Christmas, Mom had warned each of us older kids quietly beforehand that Santa could bring us only one gift, so we should try to be sure of what we wanted. I remember anticipating the fun that I would have when I was the owner of such an amazing thing as Silly Putty. You could even use it to make copies of the colour comics!
Imagine that! I would be able to copy Little Lulu and then stretch her out to be tall and skinny, or I could make Veronica fat if I stretched her side to side. Betty would like that, I thought, and Veronica surely deserved it. I could hardly wait! A day or two after the initial bulletin that Santa was bringing one gift and one gift only, an even more shocking dispatch was issued. Santa might be all out of Silly Putty after packing the orders for kids who got their Christmas letters to him first! What? How was it my fault that we were fresh out of letter writing paper when Mom had told us to get our letters written? It sure would have been an insult to Santa to write it out on a piece of scratchy toilet paper, wouldn’t it? Mom suggested that maybe I should try to think of something else I wanted, but I persisted in my request. I was a little sceptical about the whole Santa business by that point anyway and I felt that Mom and Dad were likely the more direct route to me acquiring my desperately coveted treasure, so I persisted in my obstinacy at each new suggestion by my mother that I pick something else.
Imagine the thrill I felt on that long ago Christmas morning as I tore open my bow bedecked Christmas package and found my heart’s desire. It was as if the goose had truly laid a golden egg! I twisted the two halves of the egg open and pried out the glop of peachy beige goop inside. Actually goop is entirely the wrong word. When I opened up the egg container what was inside was somehow hopelessly hard and solid! It could not be softened! It could not be rolled! It could not even be flattened into any kind of image-copying tool for Veronica or Betty. How could I ever hope to give that vain Veronica the anatomical alteration I felt she deserved for constantly stealing the limelight from Betty? It was not actually a “Come uppance” I had planned for her but more aptly a “Come downance”. But what a bust! The Silly Putty was more like Pity Putty! Instead of there being soft moldable stretchable comic-copying fun inside, it all broke up into a handful of dry chunky bits when it was stretched apart! They wouldn’t stick back together into any kind of shape no matter how hard I tried.
My present was a dud! But knowing that Mom and Dad had probably been searching far and wide to find it— which might have been Mom’s reason for trying to get me to suggest another gift idea in my Santa letter— I was too humiliated to even complain. I pictured them both exhausted, finally finding it in the last place they went to, after a long hard day of searching. Maybe it was in some dusty old country store where the silly putty had sat in some basement storeroom, crushed at the bottom of a pile, stacked up against the old coal furnace or something. That’s about as logical an explanation as I could come up with on my own to explain the Silly Putty’s failure to deliver as promised. So it was just a socks and underwear Christmas for me that year— the mundane stuff from Mom and Dad that Santa was obviously too proud to carry around in his sleigh— and I was just going to have to be content with that.
Amid all the hubbub and excitement of Christmas day in the midst of a very large family there was so much going on that my parents thankfully never even noticed that I wasn’t playing with my gift that morning. And when things quieted down there were siblings’ gifts to share in the enjoyment of, so it wasn’t in any way a terrible Christmas. It was just that Christmas joy was not to be found in a gift meant especially for me that year.
Of course it takes more than just two colourful memories to make a Christmas collage and I do have plenty more of them to assemble shortly— twinkling stars, Christmas pudding, fancy buttons and bows, mistletoe kisses, Christmas trees and more. Tomorrow is another day and I will be adding more for you then. Meanwhile,why not try assembling a Christmas memory collage of your own? I’d love to hear about it too.
Sweet sugarplum dreams tonight,