Today I am reposting a Christmas article after being reminded of it by my niece Andrea, who commented on it after reading back through my blog. Her Mom is one of my seven siblings. Andrea appreciated the insight it gave her into our family’s values. I hope those of you who have never read it will enjoy it, and those of you who have read it already will appreciate it being posted again.
Everyone has those moments when they are, for just a little while, swept right back into feelings from another time in their life. This can be triggered by a piece of music, a particular scent, or a photograph. In my post Labouring in Love for a Sister I included a picture my mother gave me recently that was taken many years ago. Something in it caught my eye, something that I hadn’t really noticed before, but which is actually a key part of a memory imprinted on my mind from the age of four or five. The photo, much like this one, was obviously taken on Christmas morning, judging by the toys we seem to be showing off, and the pin curls in Marsha’s and my hair. Mom was likely hoping to give us Shirley Temple curls later on— to show us off at a family gathering in the afternoon. The memory I am writing about here is as follows:
There is a decorated tree in the middle of the living room; it is in front of the big double- hung windows that overlook the snowy front yard but Daddy isn’t here this day; he is away somewhere, at work. It is quite soon after Christmas, because our gifts are already unwrapped, but they are still under the tree. We must keep them there in the growing drifts of spruce needles for a few more days, whenever we are not playing with them, or wearing them, or using them for whatever purpose they were really intended for, apart from showing them off.
I remember that the reason behind this was supposed to be so that we could show our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our cousins, our friends and neighbours and, I suppose, even the Fuller Brush man, who brought us our floor polish, how very much we valued and appreciated everything that we had been given. Maybe there was a little bit of showing off involved too, because my parents had a need to show everyone they knew that they were “doing alright”. Especially since by this time their family had grown to four children, yet we still had only a two bedroom house.
Yes, we are “doing alright” in all the ways a child could possibly judge things by, anyway. Our new flannel pyjamas with poodles and Butchy’s with cowboys and Indians on them are as warm as toast, and we have still got lots of turkey and gravy in our refrigerator. There are wonderful toys for my sister Marsha and I to share, a truck for Butchy, and a rocking horse for Baby. Her name is really Norma Jean, but we never call her that, just “Baby” Even Mummy has these tiny new bottles of perfume, the prettiest little itsy-bitsy bottles I have ever seen, all lined up in a row in a little box on top of her bureau. They aren’t under the tree because our little brother Butchy just won’t stop trying to open them. His name is really Keith but we don’t call him that either.
We are at the kitchen table and Mummy has mixed us up a cup of flour and water paste. There are lots and lots of pieces of wrapping paper and ribbons and tinsel that we are using to make wonderful colourful whirling things to put on the tree beside the beautiful shining ornaments “that came all the way from Germany a long long time ago”. Mummy got them from her mother, the grandma we all call “Mum”. There are envelopes on the tree too. These came in the mail all the way from Pittsburgh from my Aunt Katherine, and they hold Christmas cards with money inside for each one of us children.
Then there is a knocking at the door, and a man is standing there, and he tells Mummy that he has come for the kitchen table and chairs. He, and the other man who is waiting at the bottom of the porch steps looking at his feet, have come to take away our kitchen chairs, the ones that we have just climbed down from! He has come to take away our table, the table with our cup full of flour and water paste, with our Christmas paper and ribbons and tinsel, and the beautiful paper star I just made, still on the middle of the table.
My mother is shaking and she starts to cry. Then she goes over to the Christmas tree and she starts taking all of the Christmas envelopes off the branches. (These were the envelopes I noticed in the photo just yesterday.) She opens each one of them up and then she hands the money to the man at the door, bill by bill. He takes all of the nice green Christmas money that my Aunt Katherine has sent to each of us children, all the way from Pittsburgh. Then he and the man who is standing at the bottom of the porch steps get into their truck and drive away with it. By then we are all crying, and Marsha says “At least he didn’t take our table.” Butchy has taken his tow truck out from under the tree and is hanging on to it tightly.
By the time we get back up on to our chairs the paper star that I had just finished making was stuck tight to the middle of the table with flour and water paste. It tears a little when I finally get it unstuck.
Why I wanted to share this story:
The feelings that I experienced the moment that I noticed those Christmas envelopes in the picture on my computer screen and remembered that day were a mixture of sadness and anger. It was ridiculous to still feel anger towards those men who upset my mother after more than 50 years had passed, and I knew it. In fact it was probably wrong to have felt anger towards them ever, as they were just doing their jobs. But this is the adult me talking now, not the kid whose Christmas money went rolling down the road in a pick-up truck. I felt sad because I realized how much pain the incident caused Mom and Dad, not just then but every time my Dad, the proud provider, would have remembered it after that.
I wondered as I wrote this whether I should ever make this story public, as I love my Mom and Dad dearly and I honour my Dad’s memory so much that I would never want anyone to judge either of them harshly. They were the young parents of four children who made a decision to purchase something as simple as a set of chairs and a table to gather their family around. Unfortunately they were caught in an economic situation which rapidly worsened from the day that they made that first purchase on credit, until that particular Christmas. No details will be shared here other than to say that they really had very little control over what brought them to that point.
I chose to go ahead and tell this story because I think that there should be no blame and no shame for people who are in similar situations today. They may have been promised that there ship would come in, when in reality it had already sunk and the crooks who ran the shipping lines sold them a ticket anyway. They may not have been able to prepare for a future rainy day because they never got a dry one. So I guess what I’m trying to say is— Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, his old worn sopping-wet leaky ones. Better yet, buy him some lunch and some new shoes and galoshes, and leave the judgement to his Maker, because I’m pretty sure the rest of us seldom get it right.