I am one of six children. I fell into the ‘top half’ of the family; the three kids born while my parents were young and just starting out. Christmas was not an extravagant time for us, but I only know that now that I’m grown.
In our house, preparations for the holiday began long inadvance and always with a vengeance. Cookies were baked, decorated, and frozen. The house was scoured to make ready for the decorations and then scoured againafter the tree and tinsel were up.
My father spent his evenings in the garage after a long day at work making things with his saw and sand paper. To this day, my mother assembles the manger he built almost 60 years ago. The three kids – all of us sharing one room – fell asleep as my mother’s sewing machine whirred long into the night. Come Christmas Eve we would dress up in new clothes – I especially remember a red velvet dress with white lace on the puffed sleeves – and awaited the arrival of relatives.
Soon the house was filled with German voices (my mother’s parents, cousins and aunts) clucking over the dinner that would be served on the good china. My father poured drinks and sent us kids weaving through the crowd of adults to deliver them. The doors of the ‘living room’ were closed (we only went in there when we had guests). After we ate and the ladies had finished the dishes, everyone would fall silent at the sound of something – or someone – on the roof. My dad would call out, “I think Santa has been here” and Christmas began in earnest.
How my father got on and off the roof in his Christmas clothes and back inside the house so quickly remains a mystery to this day. The cousins and my brothers and I would be wide-eyed, anxious, and ever-so-polite as we waited for my dad to throw open the doors to the living room. There, under the tree, was one package for everyone. These presents were filled with things we needed but we didn’t care. They were wrapped in silver and gold paper and anything wrapped in silver and gold had to be good.
We never asked how Santa got into the house. We would have seen him come down the fireplace since it was in the family room, but we never did. We should have asked why it took so long between the sounds on the roof and my dad’s announcement. And our beautiful Christmas clothes? We didn’t associate the sound of the sewing machine with the pretty dresses for me and vests for my brothers. We were kids dazzled by the pageantry of our spit- and-shined relatives, and sumptuousness of the table, and solemnity of church at midnight mass, and the warmth and camaraderie of our extended family and above all, the story of our Christmas.
I look back now and see that my parents were like Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold. They created so much from swaths of left over cloth, bargains from the grocery, and scraps of wood. What my parents did was far more than sleight of hand, pulling glorious things out of a humble hat. My parents showed me what good storytelling was all about: hard work, good timing, a cast of characters, a compelling plot and a little magic.
Wishing you the happiest, most magical Christmas season; a season that is the beginning of your best stories ever.
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