Thursday, December 23, 2010
At fifteen, a pleated, plaid wool skirt was all I wanted for Christmas. I knew there wouldn’t be much beneath the Christmas tree that year, but how I hoped for that one thing. Our farm community was small and no one had much money, but it seemed I was the only girl in our high school who didn’t have a pleated wool skirt.
Somehow in my mind, the skirt I dreamed of was two shades of blue with white and black, forming a lovely plaid. It would be that thick kind of wool so popular that year and would fall just an inch or two below my knees. I had a blue sweater that would be perfect with it, a hand-me-down that had hardly been worn.
In the weeks before Christmas I participated in the school play, went ice skating, and even gave my little brother an early Christmas present with the last of my baby sitting money. He was a cowboy in the elementary school pageant and I’d found a cute pair of toy spurs. I warned him he wouldn’t get anything from me on Christmas, but he was so excited about the spurs, he claimed he wouldn’t care. With a family the size of ours, I figured he wouldn’t even notice one less present on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve came and we gathered in the front room. Daddy read the Christmas Story from St. Luke, then came the passing out of gifts. In our family we always exchanged family gifts on Christmas Eve. We exclaimed over cheap bottles of perfume, knee socks, and the other inexpensive gifts my siblings and I had purchased or made for each other. Mama served us slices of fruitcake or bowls of carrot pudding, then we were off to bed.
It wasn’t visions of sugarplums that danced in my head that night, but a pleated wool skirt. I wanted that skirt with all my heart.
When morning came, my sister and I dressed in our icy bedroom before making our way down stairs. The kitchen was warm and filled with good smells, we pitched in to help Mama and our helping frequently took us past the archway leading to the front room where we surreptitiously peeked at the small mounds set on the sofa and under the tree.
When Daddy and my brothers finished with the milking and other chores, it was time to see what Santa had brought, though most of us were well beyond the years when we believed in the jolly gent. Hardly daring to breathe, I followed the younger kids into the front room. At first I couldn’t tell which gifts were meant for me. Then I saw it, a flat bundle, wrapped loosely in a folded piece of tissue paper. It was my skirt! I knew it had to be my longed-for skirt.
Carefully, I pulled back the tissue and stared in confusion. It was fabric; a piece of cloth. That didn’t disappoint me. My mother could sew better than anyone else I knew. But the fabric was pink! Pink with little black speckles! Of all colors in the world, my least favorite has always been pink. It wasn’t thick and slightly rough like my friends’ wool skirts. It felt spongy and slick. It was the ugliest piece of cloth I’d ever seen. I bit my lip to keep from crying.
“What’s that?” One of my brothers pointed to an oblong lump in the middle of the piece of fabric.
Struggling to control my distaste at even touching that piece of pink cloth, I unwound it to discover a navy blue book. A consolation prize I thought. At least I’d have something to read. I reached for the book and turned it over in my hands. This time I couldn’t stop the tears. The book was a hymn book---a hymn book for a girl who was tone deaf and consequently had little interest in music.
I caught a glimpse of Daddy’s broad smile. He loved to sing and was convinced that if I took a little more interest in music, I’d soon love it too. I sank onto the couch and turned my head away, pretending interest in the truck and cap gun my youngest brother was exclaiming over.
At some point I became aware of my mother sitting beside me. As from a great distance I heard her say she was sorry there hadn’t been time to make up my skirt before Christmas, but she’d start on it the next day and I’d be able to wear it when school resumed after New Year’s.
“It doesn’t matter,” I muttered.
“I was lucky to find such a good piece. It’s a wool and silk blend and if it hadn’t been on the remnant table we couldn’t have afforded anything so nice. I’m not sure it’s a big enough piece to pleat, but it will make a lovely straight skirt.”
Something seemed to snap inside me. “But it’s ugly,” I cried.
Mama looked bewildered. “For weeks you’ve been talking about a wool skirt. I thought---.”
“It’s pink! It doesn’t even look like wool! I just wanted a skirt like the other girls are wearing to school.”
“You’ll like it better when you see how nice it will look on you.” I ignored the hopeful note in her voice.
“I won’t ever like it,” I sobbed. “It’s not only ugly, but it gives me the creeps to even touch it!” I ran upstairs to hide, but not before I saw tears spill down Mama’s cheeks.
It was Christmas day, but Mama cut out the skirt and began stitching it for me that day. I stood for fittings when asked. I even wore the skirt to church the next Sunday and one other time, but how I despised it. I never again said I hated it, but Mama knew. She never spoke of it either and eventually the skirt disappeared, but I’ve never forgotten it. If it had just been my disappointment with a gift that didn’t suit my taste, I would have forgotten it long ago, but by the time I first stood in my slip while Mama pinned the pieces of that skirt, I knew that skirt would always be a reminder of the Christmas I made Mama cry.
In the years since that Christmas I’ve thought of that skirt each Christmas season or whenever I’ve seen that particular shade of pink---and when I stood at my mother’s graveside years later. I know how little my parents had and how much my mother sacrificed to come as close as she could to what she thought I wanted. I’ve thought of that skirt each time I’ve received a gift I didn’t care for or want and when I’ve given gifts I’ve realized too late weren’t quite right. The years since that Christmas have impressed upon me how much love goes into each gift placed under the family Christmas tree and I hope I’ve become more sensitive to the generosity of others and a more gracious receiver.
Each time I hear that familiar quote from Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” I can’t help thinking it may be more blessed to give, but receiving is harder.
Shortly before Christmas a few years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer and during the days between my hospital stay and Christmas I was pretty well confined to either my bed or the big chair in the living room. With excellent insurance benefits, two daughters still at home, a married daughter nearby, and a husband and son who were excellent cooks, I was in no danger of starving, yet every few hours the doorbell would ring and a neighbor, visiting teachers, Relief Society presidency, or even my children’s friends would be standing on the steps with bread, cookies, pies, or complete dinners. The Young Women gifted me with the Twelve Days of Christmas. I felt embarrassed and awkward accepting their generosity, yet somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered that long ago Christmas when my mother wanted to give me something nice because she loved me and I spurned her gift. I smiled and accepted each and every gift, knowing that the givers felt a need to give and without a gracious receiver they would miss the blessings of giving. I didn’t need the gifts, but oh how I needed the love each gift represented. Over the years I’ve come to suspect that when the Savior said it was better to give than to receive, included in that admonition is a subtle suggestion that a grateful heart is included as one of those “better gifts.”
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The next contest won't start until January, but I'll post a Christmas story on Thursday. Merry Christmas to you all.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Christmas is always a reminder of the childhood years, of Santa arriving on a fire truck, by helicopter, and even of the community program in a small Idaho town when a dozen young farmers and ranchers hefted Santa's sled on their shoulders to carry it and the jolly elf into the school gym. It brings memories of little brown paper sacks filled with peanuts, hard candy, and a single chocolate; if we were lucky there was an orange in the bag too. There was always an orange in the toe of my stocking Christmas morning! Remember all of the Santas and Christmas trees we colored as children, then ohed and ahed over similar masterpieces our children and grandchildren produced.
There was the first Christmas as a married couple, a Christmas when we were so poor I painted a Christmas tree on our front room window because we didn't have any money to buy a tree, the Christmas we received a darling baby girl, all those Christmases when our children were growing up and we were playing Santa and trying to teach them that Christmas meant more than presents, the Christmas pageants where our children, then our grandchildren presented the story from St. Luke, and of course the time our cat climbed the Christmas tree and tipped it over.
Even for someone as tone deaf as me, Christmas memories include music. Christmas carols are some of the first music I really heard. Over the years I've attended a lot of choir and band Christmas concerts with my children and grandchildren; I love hearing and singing (even if I can't carry a tune) Christmas carols at church, and each CD I play brings back special memories like the year our high school choir provided the music for the Baptist Church's Christmas service because their pastor was our choir director and he needed a choir. (We used to be able to do things like that).
Christmas is a time to build golden memories of giving. Coins dropped in a Salvation Army bucket, playing secret Santa, an anonymous check, coats and blankets donated to a shelter, a bag of groceries for someone who needs it, a sidewalk shoveled, a few hours of free babysitting, a telephone call to someone who is lonely, and the list goes on and on. Rich or poor we can give something.
Good memories are one of life's greatest pleasures and so I'm wishing all of my blog readers a Christmas filled with warm memories to treasure throughout all your days.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
I found my brothers and showed them a gift I wanted to buy. They groaned, but bought it for me, then reunited me with Mama and the rest of the family. Mama then assigned my older sister to keep track of me. We wandered around until I found a gift I wanted to purchase for another sibling. She paid for it then took me back to Mama before I could spend any more of her small hoard of coins.
Mama made it clear to Daddy that she couldn't help the two little ones shop or do any of her own shopping while trying to keep track of me. That left Daddy to shepherd me through the stores. I had a great time picking out presents, which he paid for, and when we finished he took me to a store with a soda fountain and bought me a chocolate malt.
At the end of the day, we all piled into our car for the hour long ride back to Arco. My brothers and sisters began moaning over how broke they were. They didn't even have enough money to buy a treat for themselves when they finished their shopping. Finally one of them in a teasing voice asked me how much money I had left, assuming my meager amount of money saved from finding eggs around the farm and selling them to the grocer in Arco was long gone. I opened my little plastic wallet and showed them I hadn't spent a penny. They had all assumed I was out of money and kindly tried to help me. Of course, they were all mad at me, but honest, I didn't know I was supposed to pay for the things I bought myself. No one asked me for my money. It became the family joke for years afterward, "Don't go shopping with Jennie."
I love the memories shared thus far by those of you who have submitted Christmas memories. It's going to be hard to select a winner. Keep the stories coming!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The blogosphere is full of contests right now, so what is one more? It's the December Wish List contest. Again, I'm only running one contest this month, but this one is open to both commenters and followers, however those who make comments will be entered twice for each comment made on any post I write for this blog between now and Christmas. If you're a follower and make several comments as well, you'll get one chance for being a follower and two chances for each comment you make. In addition I will award a prize (a book of course) to the person I feel best expresses their feelings about a Christmas memory, the importance of a specific Christmas tradition, or a personal example of a gift given or received. During the month I will be sharing with you some of my Christmas memories and the Christmas traditions that have impacted my life. The contest will run until December 20th.
Christmas pageants were once a huge part of the elementary school experience. I started school (first grade, no kindergarten) in the small town of Moore, Idaho. Our school didn't have a gym, so we trudged through the snow each day to rehearse at the nearby LDS Stake Center. Mothers were expected to make our costumes out of crepe paper, wire, and in a few cases actual fabric. Now I can't even imagine sewing costumes out of yards and yards of crepe paper! My mother was good at it and she not only made my costume, but my big sister's too, and one for a neighbor girl. One year I was a snowflake, one year a poinsettia, and another a Christmas tree with all kinds of creative dangling decorations. My big sister was an angel one of those years and how I envied that golden halo she wore! By the end of the program my undies would be the same color as my crepe paper costume.
The family I grew up in consisted of Mom and Dad, five brothers, two sisters, and me. We didn't have much money and our gifts to each other weren't elaborate or expensive. One tradition we laugh about now is our brothers always gave us three girls each a box of cherry-covered chocolates for their Christmas gift to us. Most of us let that tradition go after we grew up, but recently while my younger sister was so ill, she talked about how she and the brother between us in age, kept up the tradition all of these years. They changed it a little. Vic gave Vada a box of the chocolates and she, in turn, gave him one every Christmas for all these years. I think Vic will feel an ache this year and each Christmas as long as he lives when there's no gift-wrapped chocolates under his tree and no one pretending to be surprised when he presents his gift to her.
Even if you don't win this contest, putting Christmas memories on paper, is a great way to add to your journal. Also if your memory or tradition becomes story length, you might consider submitting your entry to LDS Publisher http://ldspublisher.blogspot.com/2010/11/2010-christmas-story-contest.html That's a fun contest and the winning stories get published in a book. Some of you have written wonderful comments during previous contests, so let yourself go and share your memories and traditions. The contest starts right now.