Holiday Memories

“Christmas is not an external event at all, but a piece of one’s home that one carries in one’s heart.”

–Freya Stark

Tell us a specific story that reflects the essence of your holiday experience as a child–regardless of your religion or background. Avoid sentimentality or stories that gloss over your real felt experience. Use specific detail instead of platitudes.

Comments

  1. Barbara Keller says

    My parents were intellectuals first and Jewish second. When I was young I wasn’t at all sure what being Jewish meant. I had hints – people were scared about Hitler, and secretly proud of who we were. We had our own food and yiddish and music. And we didn’t do Christmas. It was definitive.

    I didn’t know why. It seemed such a nice thing to do, the tree, the decorations, the oneness with the rest of the community. But we didn’t. My parents were kind and a little confused themselves, because one year my dad did a big Santa Claus enactment, sled marks in the snow, noise on the roof. That was nice but a little embarrassing.

    We lit the Hannukah candles, but no one really knew the whole prayer. I loved the menorah. Maybe if we had been somewhere that everyone did Hannukah, it wouldn’t have seemed so small and out of place in the midst of the Christmas pageantry.

    By the time I was in my teens I was very attached to the candle ritual, and the stories behind it. It seems like for my whole long life I’ve been trying to find the right words to the prayer. “Would you write it down for me please?” then trying to find the piece of paper when it was time. Of course, now there’s google, but not when I was young.

    My mom gave our menorah to my brother. One year after my daughter was keeping her own house, it turned out she and I were bidding against each other on Ebay for the same menorah. I won and gave it to her. I don’t have one, and I don’t know the prayer, but I think of it each Hannukah season. Then I celebrate Christmas with as many shiny decoratons as I can get up.

    • says

      Barbara, I really related to your piece. I, too, was raised Jewish–but in a watered down form. Christmas was “foreign,” and “Christmas carols” were somehow an assault on our way of life. At least that’s what I remember being taught. As an adult, I’ve celebrated Chanukah and thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas gatherings I’ve been invited to. My partner is not Jewish, and I did want our children to have a sense of Judaism, at least some–so we did not get a tree or celebrate Christmas. Now that they’re almost grown, I regret that. They should have benefited from the traditions of both their parents more fully. Now, my oldest son, who is an adult with a family of his own, celebrates Christmas, and we’re invited. Just last night we went over to their house, enjoyed a fine meal, their tree and the opening of many presents (they do it on the Eve). My youngest daughter said to me, “I think when I have my own home, I’m going to get a tree and celebrate Christmas. I really like it.” I told her to go ahead, but just to invite me over when they decorate the tree!

      • Diana says

        I like the perspective of blending traditions and the honesty and the confusion of not fully understanding either.
        My celebration is throughly Christian and sometimes I wish I knew more of the Menorah celebration. I love the story behind it.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Barbara, I love this story but try to imagine the confusion a little girl would feel. I knew someone who was First Nations here in Canada who was then taken from his parents and sent to boarding school, where he was taught Catholicism; the confusion he felt growing up, especially after he was sent back home, was really traumatic for him and troubles him still. I love this line, “My parents were kind and a little confused themselves, because one year my dad did a big Santa Claus enactment, sled marks in the snow, noise on the roof. That was nice but a little embarrassing.” You and your daughter bidding on the same menorah made me smile.

      • Barbara Keller says

        I would think his experience was way harder. He was wrenched from home and force feed a completely different ideology. Not much common ground between the two points of view, and the element of kidnapping would always be there to haunt one for life. I’m so sorry. For me it was not that. My parents believed what they were doing, and then one day I made other choices. No one forced me to do anything.

    • Ilana says

      Barbara- I can relate to your piece not through my own experience but that of my daughters. I was raised in an area where Jews were in the majority. My entire childhood was steeped in Judaism as is my adult life. I love being Jewish. Studying Torah is one of my favorite things to do. Still, my daughters have been overwhelmed with Christmas and feel different from the other kids. You have opened my eyes to how confusing this must be to them. It breaks my heart to hear them say, “I wish I were Christian.” because they are tired of being different. I hope you will find the prayer for the Chanukah candles. It is a beautiful one. I’d write it here but it does not belong on the blogg and you can’t enjoy its true beauty without the tune. If you’re interested, I’d like to recommend myjewishlearning.com It has answered many questions for me. All the best to you, IM

      • Barbara Keller says

        Thank you so much. I will keep that link and use it. Good job Hana. My theory is that Christmas is really a winter solstice celebration and borrows heavily from pagan ritual and has little to do with Christianity.

        • Ilana says

          Oh, this is where you called me Hana. I couldn’t figure out what you were talking about. First, I am glad I did not offend you. I was concerned right after I hit the post button but you know how it goes. We can’t take it back. Second, no worries about the name thing. Oddly, Hana is much closer to my real name which I have chosen not to share here. I just thought that was funny. ;) Take care of yourself. IM

    • Debbie says

      Barbara – thanks for this piece. I often wonder how those, living in the US, but not part of the mainstream madness that has become Christmas, react to and feel about the event. Especially the children. I got a small glimpse of this through your post.

  2. Jennifer Ire says

    It was just last Saturday December 22nd that my childhood friend Joan and I were reminiscing about Christmas at home in Trinidad when we were growing up. We were both surprised that although we lived in the same city not too far from each other that our Christmases were so different. The remembering for me was wonderful because I got to n ignore the parts of the experience that were not so good and focus on the parts that held my heart. And now an opportunity to be fully present to it all.

    Christmas season starts in late October/early November heralded by the starting of our parang season. Parang is the Spanish-creole music that celebrates with great joy the spirit of the season. Songs are sung in the patois blend of Spanish and English words, the music is played by paranderos men and women playing the cuatro, guitar, mandolin, violin, box base, sometimes maracas, chac-chac, sometimes bottle and spoon. The season is launched on the radio. the music dominates and creates a sense of joy and fun that is so good for the heart. Or that was my experience. As the season continues groups practice for the large events of competition around the country.

    Christmas eve in our neighborhood was spent cleaning our homes, painting, polishing, putting up new curtains and changing the slipcovers etc. we started early because after that came the baking and cooking. The air smelled wonderful to us children because there was the scents of ham boiling on coal fires, the fragrances of Christmas fruit cake and other goodies, the chicken or turkey baking, the arepas, pastelles, sweet and salt paime, black pudding, ginger beer, sorrel, rum puch, punch-a-crème, rice and ginger wine and so on . It was wonderful. We children spent the day running around sampling smells to know which were the places we would leave room in our stomachs for.

    Everyone was up early next morning, and I was always excited because all of Christmas day, the paranderos (usually from the neighborhood, would visit. I waited for the sound outside our door, the guitar and mandolin and all the rest and the singers singing out their greetings. Once that was don’t the door was thrown open and they came in singing and playing and dancing and we would put out all that we had to offer. We all would eat and drink and dance for a while and then everyone would leave for the next home. By the end of the day the group would not be so big because some would fall by the wayside from too much food or drink. That was why we children would find out where we should eat the most.

    By the end of the day the neighborhood was buzzing with joy, everyone was fed, everyone was happy and no one caused any trouble, no fights no sadness, just pure joy. Next day, a holiday as well, Boxing day, packages of food were taken to the elders so that they had food for the week. Then we went to the savannah where the adult attended the horse races while we children flew kites. Others went to the beach. Christmas was never about santa claus and gifts, but always about community joy and caring for each other.

    For me Christmas had an underbelly that in some way has caused me to move away from the thought of it in this culture and celebrate Solstice instead, and now I understand why. I also understand that this in part is why I have never been home to Trinidad for Christmas, whew!

    My mother was a seamstress and we were poor, very poor in the way that the US defines poverty. As the eldest child of my mother one of my jobs on Christmas eve was to deliver the garment she had promised clients, their Christmas outfits and collect her fees. My experience was that too many of these women would take the garment and promise payment later. I would argue back sometimes but since I was not my mother they paid me no attention. So too often we ended up Christmas eve with not enough money for what we needed for food the next day. The part that stuck to me was my other task. I have memories of this that are so stuck I hope they fade away after this writing.

    I would arrive back home with the money I collected hand it to my mother, she would be horrified that /she was not paid and then would take the little money and make a quick list of thing to buy. I would then race to the supermarket at the end of our street getting there just as they were closing beg my way in and buy the few things we could afford. I think that what irked me about all of this is that my mother never changed her pattern to one where she would have some money, like taking a deposit, or only finishing the clothes for people who paid on time, or anything that could have changed my experience and the frustration and shame of it all. I can feel the frustration still in my tissues as I write this. My ambivalence about Christmas is held by these two experiences. I would like to release the latter, so that I may return home to Trinidad for Christmas someday soon.

    • says

      My mouth was watering with the description of all the foods in the first part of your story. It sounded like a wonderful way to celebrate and I especially was touched by the way the elders were taken care of with food packages. The second part, ah well, I think most of us have ambivalent relationships to holidays–and that’s really what this prompts was all about–the complexity of the day, not just the glossy window-dressing. I hope you are able to let go of those memories of shame and poverty so you can go back….you are not that poor child anymore.

    • Barbara Keller says

      I just loved this story. It was real and had depth and texture. I’m sorry it was so hard for you to try to collect money and not get enough. Thank you so much for telling the truth and letting it out so we could experience the good parts and the hard parts. Now I have a little bit of a sense of what Christmas in Trinidad was about in those years.

    • Terry Gibson says

      I also appreciate this story. Very much. I love soaking in the feel of it all. The foods, preparations, music, and people–all blended in with the many realities that weren’t festive at all. I felt and feel the shame of poverty and it still hurts. Maybe one day when I’m in Trinidad with one of my strong, handsome great nephews, we’ll meet and I’ll so proudly introduce you to him, then celebrate how we met in Bolinas and why.

    • Debbie says

      Jennifer – how I enjoyed your description of Christmas in Trinidad! It sounded so lovely – full of joy and a sense of community. As you neared the end, I could sense how the experience of helping your mother had overlayed so much of the experience. I hope you will be able to return to Trinidad someday.

  3. Kim Tyler says

    One Christmas morning, in the 1950′s, my very proper and prudish mother was waiting for her favorite moment – opening the annual gift from Dad’s wealthy friend, Norman Woolworth, a great practical joker. Often Uncle Norman’s gifts were something elegant and luxurious, and this one – packaged in a large hat box – looked wonderfully promising.

    My mother was down on her knees under the tree, with the whole family gathered around. The Nativity scene sparkled on the mantle above the fireplace. Baby Jesus slept in his manger, while the wise men and camels made their way past the palm trees and into the city of Bethlehem. Mom was breathless with anticipation. She tore off the wrapping paper, lifted the lid, and out of the package, like a springing jack-in-the-box, popped a hot-pink, foam rubber bath mat. It was covered with realistic life-sized pink breasts, topped with erect, cherry red nipples. Mom shrieked “Oh Tom!” and stuffed that thing back into the box, clapping on the lid. We had all seen it, and couldn’t believe our eyes. We begged to see it again, but it disappeared after that one tantalizing moment. For years afterwards I searched the attic for it, convinced that it must be stored away somewhere up there, but I never found it. I think my father must have taken it to the dump. Mom would have insisted.

    • Terry Gibson says

      I loved this story as well. The pink cherry-topped thing tossed through the air would’ve cracked me up. It did remind me of A Christmas Story as well. Thanks!.

    • Ilana says

      Kim- Your set up was perfect. I think my eyes actually popped when I read what came out of the box. Delightful and so well written! Thanks for sharing it. IM

    • Judy Lynne says

      Thank you Kim. Beautifully written. Just goes to show the power in ‘short’ story. It allows the reader to imagine herself in the scene. This reader imagined a kink or two in the manger scene on the mantle. Delightful!

  4. Fran Stekoll says

    Growing up in Rochester New York and going to Hebrew School, I didn’t have
    Christmas until I was 12 years old. I got my first tree which was artificial about
    1 foot tall with bubble lights. I remember my first Christmas Stocking which held an apple, an orange and 6 walnuts. In New York my mothers parents always had a wonderful home cooked leg of lamb with mint jelly, potatoes, fresh veggies, home made rolls and pies. I loved setting the table with napkin rings and fine crystal. My Grandfather always invited a Bum for dinner. After our meal he would receive clean clothes and money.
    Each year a different Bum would appear . It’s as if their curb was marked and word got around that this was the house that shared with those less fortunate. I raised my children celebrating Christmas; but always wished I’d
    incorporated my Jewish heritage as well. Each year I would adopt a family
    who had less than we did and my children would share some of their gifts.
    We also helped with their Christmas dinner. To this day every December we clean out our closets and give to homeless. Instead of giving gifts to each other we now all share with needy families. In fact we try to share all year long, not just at Christmas.

    • says

      I know I shouldn’t laugh, Fran, but your mention of the “bum” just had all the ethnic flair of a particular time and place that I know so well! I love the spirit of course, in what your parents taught you and what you’ve continued to pass on to your own children and grandchildren.

      • Hazel says

        After reading the postings here so far I am quite surprised at the mixed cultures that have been posted. I grew up in a very “white” atmosphere with no thought to other cultures. I knew nothing of African Americans until I was a Sr. in high school when there was one girl in a class of 520 graduates. There were no Mexican Americans and no Jewish people, that I had ever heard of, until I moved to Los Angeles in 1957. So, my Christmases were very “white”. Now, I know more of other cultures and appreciate the richness that is now that of the younger generations. I feel it is a good thing and I enjoy it.

        Thank you all for sharing. What a rich community we have here.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Fran, I relate to your story on several levels. Having grown up with nothing but ‘white’ Christmases. No variety. Nothing really interesting. Not even knowing of other cultures. Some people assumed ‘superiority’ to anyone different; for me, that’d be the day I assumed equality, let alone being ‘better than’ anyone. Today, I am also enriched by learning about other cultures, religions, life journeys, etc. Sometimes I have felt ashamed of my lack of knowledge. I hope you don’t feel that due to your beginnings; you could no more help it than any single one of us could. The word ‘bum’ reminds me of so much. Thanks.

  5. Hazel says

    In 1940 it was wartime. There was rationing of many foods, (sugar being the one we missed having the most) gasoline and wood products. We had meat, milk and eggs because we lived on a small farm. My father was exempted from the draft because he worked in an industry essential to the war effort; he worked in a large sawmill. We lived in a very small town on the west Oregon Coast. Because of the threat of invasion by the Japanese we had “black outs” which meant that we had special black blinds on our windows so no light would show outside. People were forbidden to smoke cigarettes outside, a big deal at the time as nearly everyone smoked, and the car lights had special blue cellophane to cover them so the lights would not be easily detected from the air.

    My father was determined to build onto the garage we had been living in since I was about two. When my brother was born the tiny garage became very crowded. Dad had worked hard on it since early spring of that year, bringing home a load of lumber every once in a while and sometimes a couple of boards each night as he could afford them and as they became available at the mill where he worked. By Christmas time it was still not ready to move into but we had expanded into the kitchen which he had finished first and it now held the table and chairs along with a shiny newish large wood “cook stove.” The garage had become two bedrooms, one for Mom and Dad, and one for my baby brother and me.

    All of the restrictions did not stop the small radio that sat on its shelf above the kitchen table from playing lots of Christmas songs, which my mother would sing along with and I learned the words to them that way, in between news flashes of updates to the war. My dad brought home a tree one night, which he set up in the unfinished livingroom. Mom pulled out the box with the decorations in it. Along with the baubles that sparkled and shined were candle holders that were clamped to branches. Mother had begun to recite “T’was the Night Before Christmas” as I watched from my small rocking chair in the cool room. I was sent to bed with stories of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” told and sung to me as I was tucked in.

    The next morning, sure enough Santa had come. I had tried to stay awake but I could not and here he had snuck in and left all these presents. The candles on the tree were lit. There was a “dolly bed” that actually my father had made and it had a pillow, sheets and blankets that Mom had made to fit. When I opened the big box I gasped as I saw the doll that was hiding there. I picked her up and said, “This is your bed Susanna.” Dad asked me why that name and I answered, “Oh Susanna, like the song.” When I finally took my eyes off Susanna I saw that there was a small table with two chairs. Dad showed me the table had leaves that folded up and you pulled out a little stick and it held them up. I was so happy! My dad had made all the furniture for me which included a small cupboard which held “ doll-dishes” and silverware.

    Finally when the candles had burned down and I was sitting in my rocking chair rocking Susanna, Mom brought out an orange for each of us. Those oranges were very special! To this day I hesitate to eat an orange because I feel they are to valued.

    My only grandson, who is now thirty-two, has the chairs that my father gave to me that Christmas.

    • Barbara Keller says

      lovely lovely story that made me cry. How wonderful, a doll and a room full of furniture. How your dad had time to work, build on your house and made all that furniture I can’t imagine, but it was clearly driven by love for his family. thanks

      • Diana says

        Hazel I loved your story that harkened back to another era. I loved the personal reflection of the War time Christmas. It reminded of finding joy and gratitude in simple things, like an orange. I so appreciated your story.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Hazel, I also enjoyed this story. I’ll always remember it when I see and taste a delicious orange. Thank you.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      Hazel, your memories are so like mine during the war years. I especially remember how expensive fresh fruit was in the winter, although our fruit cellar was lined generously with jars of fruits canned from summer. When I think of a Christmas stocking the image always had that round ball in the toe and the treasured orange we savored for breakfast.

  6. Diana says

    A Candy Christmas
    Grandpa Joe was a tall taciturn man. I cannot recall the sound of his voice or remember even a dozen words spoken by him. His face was framed by white hair that fell back above his ears to ring the bald top of his head. Watery blue eyes revealed nothing of his thoughts or emotions. Light pink lips curved into an enigmatic Mona Lisaesque smile. The only clue to his mood being whether the corners were turned up or down. He did not tell jokes or laugh out loud. At family Christmas gatherings he sat slumped in his lazy boy recliner as if he wished to meld into the copper brown Naugahyde.
    His wife, Nanny, yang to his yin, was convivial and personable. She brought warmth to Grandpa Joe’s frosty aura. Each Christmas, she would hand out the coveted tin of homemade candies.
    My mother would open the tin, proclaiming that her diet would start after the holidays. She would lift the tin to her nose, close her eyes and inhale the aromatic sweet bliss. Carefully segmented in the tin was a collection of Southern confectionary art. There were Date nut rolls of a warm caramel brown with cross cuts of white nuts. The fruity smell of dates, caramelized sugar and walnuts evoked the exotic Mediterranean of the Three Kings themselves. The pure white fluffiness of Divinity Fudge was edible clouds that melted to coat your mouth in candy heaven. Peanut Brittle chocked full of fresh peanuts were the perfect balance of salty sweet and cooked expertly to a gentle crunch. Finally, the piece de resistance; Fudge. Each segment cut carefully into one inch squares. The edges were smooth and even and the color of the Hershey’s Chocolate can that would impart their delectable flavor. The texture was a warm comforting creaming smoothness that can only come from the expert mixing of sugar and butter.
    All of the candies had been made my Grandpa Joe. He was famous in the family and our rural Southern town as a master candy maker. Family members and town residents anxiously awaited the presentation by Nanny of one of Grandpa Joe’s tins of Christmas candies.
    When Grandpa Joe died the tins of Christmas candy died too. While I cannot remember the sound of his voice, I can remember the smell and taste of his luscious Christmas candies.

    • says

      Diana, I love the way Grandpa Joe is such a complex character–the taciturn man who made such beautiful, memorable candy. That’s one of the things that makes stories intriguing–the juxtaposition of the unexpected in characters. Thanks for sharing that wonderful description of his candy.

      • Hazel says

        Great story! Had me drooling all the way through!

        Nice surprise ending to find out it was Grandpa Joe who was the candy maker.

    • Ilana says

      How sweet, pun intended. I really enjoyed this look into a beautiful Christmas memory. My grandfather was very special to me and though he did not make candy he did plenty of other wonderful things for us and you brought him to mind for me. Thank you for that! IM

    • Barbara Keller says

      I love this. I didn’t have a grandfather, both died before I was born, and my father had lots of problems and was barely there for me. I cried at the dear, real life quality of this story, a real family, people with odd characteristics, that the candy ended with him, that he was integral to your family and the town. Thanks, and it’s beautifully written, full of such rich detail.

      • Diana says

        Thank you ladies for the postive feedback. I had “forgotten” this aspect of my childhood holidays until I responded to the prompt.

  7. Dianne Brown says

    I attended St. Paul’s Elementary School for eight years. The tradition was that the first grade and the eighth grade along with the band would perform in the Christmas Program, which was presented in the afternoon for all students, and then in the evening for all parents.

    I was in the first grade and we were learning the words to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. I was so delighted that I had memorized this song and couldn’t wait to sing it for my parents. My grandparents and great-aunts were also in attendance that evening as they had had dinner with us at our house.

    After dinner I told them I had a song to sing for them. They were all silent in their anticipation to hear the Christmas song that I was so excited to sing. My mother, whose name is Lorine, sat there beaming as I belted out the words to “Rudolph.” I came to the last line and ever so clearly sang, “you’ll go down and kiss Aunt Lorine.”

    There was at first a silence, and then they all broke into loud and long-lived laughter. I was stunned. It was not the reaction I had expected. My father sat me on his lap and gently explained that the famous last line was, “You’ll go down in history.”

    Not only did I learn a new word that day, but also my rendition of “Rudolph” became a classic in my family’s Christmas celebrations—we always sang it, “and kiss Aunt Lorine.” Then everyone would kiss my Mom, who loved it immensely.

    • Dianne Brown says

      I forgot to add the emotions and feelings about my “Rudolph” sharing. I think back on all the traditions that my family had compiled over the years, Rudolph being only one of many, and I am full of amazement. I have great gratitude for the loving process that allowed all of us be contributors to the Christmas traditions that we built together as a family. Not always was it an ideal setting, and not always would everyone be on the same page, but always one of our traditions, much like a ritual prayer, would surface and bring some hope and solidarity into what might have been a not so merry Christmas.
      Today there are only my two sisters and me, and we always call on Christmas day and remind each other of some long ago piece of tradition, although no longer practiced, not forgotten. It is a deep and heartfelt honoring of my parents, both gone now, and the family we once were, to keep these little ornaments of memory alive and hung on our heart-tree each Christmas.

      • Barbara Keller says

        It’s a week late and I’m crying my way through these stories. Family is the thing I long for every day and your description is so good, “not always on the same page” says a world of truth, and the traditions that linger in your heart is such a moving concept and you expressed it so well. Unstated but moving is the likelihood that when the few remaining are gone so will the traditions be gone, but I think that’s real. That’s what happens and new families make new ones.

    • Ilana says

      How beautiful, Dianne. Thank you for sharing this story. It warmed my heart. I won’t forget this one soon. Happy new year to you. I look forward to your posts. IM

  8. Diana says

    I think I like your childhood ending to Rudolph better. I loved this story of the ernestness of a child and a tradition being born from a well placed “mistake” that makes every one smile year after year.

  9. Vicki says

    I can’t think of any vivid Christmas memories. My childhood was filled with tension. For me Christmas was a little bit of escape from the real world, like old movies were. I do recall being really excited about going to Webb’s Dept. store to see Santa and our family driving around town looking at the extraordinary decorations the wealthy “Hollywood” folks put up in front of their homes. One good thing about growing up in L.A. – they know how to create a fantasy world! My poor mom probably struggled to try to make Christmas fun for us kids, but the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I think I missed a lot of experiences because of that.

    • says

      thanks for sharing, Vicki. I think though people may not choose to write about it–or make their words public–many people experienced times that were “supposed to be happy” like birthdays and holidays as adding stress to an already dysfunctional family situation.

  10. Ilana says

    I logged on tonight to work on my own response but ended up spending my writing time reading yours. I was touched and warmed by so many of your pieces. Thank you Laura for such a lovely prompt. I will have to wait for another night to write and then post but I will do it. Thank you all for sharing your beautiful memories with me. IM

  11. Polly says

    Christmas morning, age 14:

    My aunt gave me a journal, and on the first couple of pages, she wrote me a message. The message consisted of an apology for the gift – things were tight that year and she’d wanted to buy me something better. Then she went on to express the importance of our all being together over the holidays, and encouraged me to find joy in that.

    Things were usually tight in our family and I wasn’t all that materialistic growing up. We were poor throughout my childhood but I wasn’t aware of that until after I had grown up and moved away. My parents were apparently offered the Christmas food hamper from my school once before I came along but were of course too proud to accept it, and made do on their own. Point being that to receive something like a journal didn’t entail a lowering of expectations at all and I was thrilled to have it.

    The aunt who gave it to me has always had a dry, sarcastic wit and it’s still rare for her to open up and write or say anything too heartfelt. I wish I could remember more of what was in her note.

    In time that journal would hold many of my secrets and dreams. I’d write for hours about crushes I had on older girls (although at the time I thought I merely idolized them – they were definite crushes), things I hated and internalized about my body and myself; and things I loved and would one day do.

    There was more beneath the surface that only now in my 30′s is finally reaching a level of any consciousness that I can think, communicate, and write about. There were many secrets that would never make it onto those pages, but they are being added now. I believe the empty pages I started with 18 years ago helped to give me tools – literally – to survive.

    • Polly says

      I wanted to add that the empty pages contained in that book represented potential to me then, and that’s what they mean to me to this day. A blank page is possibility. I love my aunt for that.

        • Diana says

          I love this story of the perfec gift for the budding writer. Also, it reminds me that the best gifts are often the simplest and least expensive.

      • Ilana says

        Polly- This is so beautiful. I like that you added the idea that the empty pages represented potential for you. However, I felt that in the original piece. The whole thing is well written and very sweet. Thank you for sharing it. I am officially a fan of yours and look forward to your future posts. IM

        • Polly says

          Ilana, I have absolutely no idea what to say except thank you, and ditto! I am a fan of yours as well.

          On a semi-related note, can I pass on the notion of Shabanukah to my friends? I love that.

  12. Terry Gibson says

    I’m having trouble with mine. Only got snippets of memory. I’m still digging. Never had the privilege of meeting or even seeing someone of a different heritage, ethnicity, or even religion until I moved to Ottawa. Back to my shovel. There’s got to be something hidden there

  13. Andrea Jones says

    One of my first utterances was the loud exclamation of “Feast! Feast! Feast!” while banging the table with my fork. This started during my second Christmas shortly after my mother’s thirtieth, or so, reading of my favorite holiday book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

    Even before I could talk I adored books. They were the gift that trumped all others under the tree. Although in hindsight I recognize how poor we were, my mom made sure that books were plentiful. I coveted them as other little girls coveted Barbie dolls. In fact, despite collecting nothing else, I still have all my childhood books, and my twin boys read and re-read their worn pages with as much love as I did. Considering these books have enjoyed a second generation, it is surprising how well they’ve held up.

    Well…except for the Grinch. Somehow a hole was worn through one page. Then my creativity got the better of me and I decorated the old Grinch in exceptional Seuss style. Then the back cover fell off. Then the front cover followed suit. And still I continued to drag out the worn, coverless, beloved Grinch every holiday season. As I had memorized the Grinch years before, its appearance in hand was really nothing more than tradition.

    Finally, the pages started to separate on my 15th Christmas. It was time to carefully pack the Grinch away as a cherished childhood memento. I told no one, but I feared it would not survive another holiday season. Christmas morning of my 16th year dawned and my brothers and I scrambled for the tree. Our tree and presents had not taken a trip to Mt. Crumpet and there were no Who’s, but under the tree with a hand-written love note from my mom inside the front cover, sat a brand new copy of the Grinch.

    I have this copy still and every year it continues to join our holiday festivities. But, guess what, I still have that old ragged copy as well. Feast! Feast! Feast!

    • Beverly Boyd says

      I loved your story and got goose bumps when your mother gave you a new copy on your sixteenth Christmas!
      My aunt and uncle owned a bookstore. I always looked forward to their gifts of books that arrived each year. Most of them did not outlast our childhood.
      One Christmas I gave each of my seven young adult children their own copy of “The Camel Who Took a Walk,” the book I could have read them every night and they always took along to their baby sitting jobs.

    • Debbie says

      I can so see you banging your fork “Feast! Feast! Feast!” – what a special gift from your mother. And I figured, even before you told us, that you also still had the original. Great piece – thanks for sharing it.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Wonderful, from the heart story. It reminded me of The Secret Garden, was my mother’s, mine and my daughter’s. Way off the point, but not so far from the heart of your story. Thanks, just terrific.

  14. Diana says

    I love this story of the enduring tradition of a favorite Christmas story. My dad read the “Night Before Christmas” to us every year. I have continued this tradition with my daughter and we own a pop-up version and a hysterical “redneck” version.

  15. Eve says

    BA-HUMBUG CHRISTMAS!!!
    I know that I am way off here on the prompt, but I decided to do what I want!
    It was my birthday this Christmas & I turned 40! Yes- I said 40! (and I put in stupid exclamations) All I asked for this Christmas was the RAPTURE!!!
    I am not even sure what all the Rapture entails. In my head I felt like I was asking for the end of suffering on our planet. I prayed for God’s beautiful Kingdom on this earth, and all that kind of stuff. Not a big deal- right??
    In my head, I had this awesome dream that 12-21-2012 was all about me not having to turn 40 on 12-25-2012! Maybe that was really the present that was in my heart & God just knows everything in me—
    So He said, “Happy Birthday you little brat. You have a lot more learning to do! You may be turning 40, but spiritually you are still an infant!”
    Now I am thinking, “What the heck is the Rapture?” Let’s look it up—
    Google search: “The Biblical Rapture”
    Biblical References to the Rapture:
    Matthew 24:30-36
    “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

    HOLY CRAP!!! That would have scared the living poop out of me. Thank you God for letting my little bratty butt turn 40 this year. Thanks for not bringing the Rapture. I had the most amazing birthday with my family & friends. Thank you for the amazing piece of art that Bill gave me. Thank you for the awesome outfit that I found & wore all week. Most of all, thank you for the joy on the faces of my family that I was able to experience. I added that joy to my heart as it continues on this journey to heal—
    HAPPY CHRISTMAS 2012
    Love, EVE (End Violation & Evolve)

    • Ilana says

      Wow. I love the turn around. I love the passion. I think that use of swearing, all caps and exclamation points are tricky things. They can cloud and cheapen a piece of writing but used well they enrich it and drive the point home. You used all of them to their best advantage here. Well done! IM

      • Eve says

        Thanks Ilana. I really appreciate your feedback. I love that you take time to read & make comments on most of the posts. I am not a big reader, but I am really enjoying reading these small pieces when I have a few minutes. I loved your post on the two wolves last week. Thank you again.

    • Debbie says

      First – really like “EVE (End Violation & Evolve)”!! Second your honesty is refreshing, entertaining and insightful. Sometimes the greatest gift of all can NOT being getting what you hoped for. So glad you took the “road less traveled” and shared this with us!

      • Eve says

        Thank you Debbie. I really was stoked to read your post. I was feeling pretty goofy for posting such a piece, but I am glad you got a kick out of it.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Wow, good job of self revelation, and exploring possibilities. Yes, I think the rapture will be very scary. And can I gently say, approaching 70, and remembering the “Oh, my God, I’m turning 40,” you probably have a long way to go. My baby is 42. That is a cultural marker and while you’re evolving, let it go. It is unimportant. You are young. Savor it. And thanks so much for the good piece.

  16. Ilana says

    My Grandpa Zack

    Dark chocolate; small squares with a design cut into the top and sweet mint cream inside. You could pop the entire square into your mouth and suck on the chocolate until you were ready to bite into it and get to the cream. This is the frame for the picture of when Grandpa Zack came to our house for Shabbat. It is not the whole picture. Nor is it the most important part but it is so deeply connected to the experience that I simply cannot imagine one without the other.

    Grandpa Zack always brought those candies when he came for Shabbat. They were in a fancy box complete with the thick piece of paper between the chocolate and the lid of the box. I remember gazing at the box excitedly as we sat down to dinner. I didn’t even like dark chocolate but those candies were special, because my grandpa brought them for me.

    Grandpa Zack loved me. I could feel it in the way he looked at me, the way he listened to what I had to say. Grandpa knew the prayers as well as I did and we sang them together. I felt beautiful, I felt loved when Grandpa Zack was across the table from me. My mother served the food and we talked. After dinner we would sing the “Birkot Hamazon”, the grace after meals and then we would “do zmirot” sing the Jewish songs. Grandpa would sing to me in Yiddish and we would eat the chocolate he brought. My grandpa Zack had the most beautiful smile in the world. I still remember how he would smile and laugh as he recognized songs I had learned in school. While I watched him sing them I felt that I was watching someone who these songs truly belonged to. They were songs from “the old country” and he was from “the old country.”

    One night I asked grandpa if I could touch the skin under his eye. As an adult, I am horrified at my request. How rude to point out the skin that gathered in frightening clumps beneath his lower lashes. But Grandpa Zack only smiled and removed his glasses so I could reach. Because I am so taken aback at my own behavior I feel even more loved when I remember his reaction. He did not condemn me for my rudeness. Nor did he upbraid me for my misbehavior. In fact he saw nothing wrong with it.

    I remember Grandpa Zacks hands too. They were big and warm. Lines were etched into each finger from tip to palm, making them look like hand shaped road maps. I would stare at them, fascinated, trying to read the history written in those lines. When I look at Grandpa Zack’s hands in my memories they are always doing one of two things; opening his pocket watch or turning the pages of a book. I can still hear the sound of his thumb gently separating the pages of a book as he read to me.

    When Grandpa Zack died I fought for his pocket watch. My mother felt that a pocket watch was a “male thing” and it should go to one of the boys. We had to ask my brothers and my male cousins if they wanted the watch. Thankfully no one did. I have it in the bottom of my jewelry box in a small bag made for a bracelet. Also in that bag is the one and only copy of what I said at my grandpa’s funeral. I was newly engaged back then. My first daughter was not born for another 4 years but in that eulogy I promised Grandpa Zack to share all he had taught me with my children. Eight years after he died I gave birth to my son. His Hebrew name is “Zecharia” my grandfather’s given name. When I sing to my children in Yiddish it is like Grandpa Zack is in the room with us. And to this day I tell all three of them wonderful stories about Grandpa Zack; how much he loved me, all he taught me and of course his beautiful smile. The chocolates are not the most important part of the picture. They are the frame but I cannot eat dark chocolate with mint cream and not think of my Grandpa Zack.

    • Polly says

      This was unbelievably moving and it resonated with me. It brought back memories of when I would unabashedly play with my aunt’s big chin mole (yeah, for real), and trace my great aunt’s veins that stuck out so far above the skin on her wrists. Kids are funny, curious, and honest that way. It’s nothing to be ashamed about.

      It also brought back much more recent memories of when two of my best friends frequently had my wife and me over for Shabbat, Hanukkah celebrations, and Pesach; before they moved overseas this summer. I loved hearing their children sing their traditional songs. Absolutely beautiful.

      Thanks for posting this.

      • Ilana says

        Wow Polly- I am so honored by your comment. You truly heard what I had to say. Thank you for identifying with that curious child and for sharing the beauty of the traditions that mean so much to me. IM

        PS. We have a formal Shabbat dinner every week So on the Friday of Chanukah we make a really big deal out of it. My brother and sister-in-law come and we call it “Shabanukah” Just had to share that with you. :) Thanks again!

        • Diana says

          HI Ilana,
          I loved this sweet portriat of the unconditional love of a Grandpa and how culture is lovingly transmitted from the older to younger generation.
          This was a story worth waiting for.

    • Eve says

      I love Grandpa Zack! I also love your love & curiosity of him. He sounds like a beautiful spirit. Souls like that live on forever & I can’t wait to meet him one day as well.

      • Ilana says

        Thank you Eve- May I confess he was not a perfect man? My mother hated him and shared too much of her thoughts on his shortcomings as a father. I’ll tell you though, he was one fantastic grandfather! Thanks for reading and commenting on my post. IM

    • Terry Gibson says

      Ilana, your stories of Grandpa Zack make me cry. They are so utterly beautiful, my heart aches to never have known such love. But I am so very happy you have! I will reread when I get a few hours of sleep and my emotions calm down a bit.

      • Ilana says

        See? That’s what I’m talking about! (read my comment on your post if you haven’t yet.) Your heart ached for your not having a Grandpa Zack and yet you are so happy that I did have him. Your generosity is a thing of beauty. Never forget that. Terry, I would share him with you if I could! IM

    • Barbara Keller says

      A perfect piece and worth waiting for. loving, respectful, what a tribute to your grandfather and the life you shared. It makes me see how important one person can be to more than one generation. The gifts he gave you have been passed to your children and will no doubt be passed to their children. thanks, and sorry I misread your name and called you Hana earlier.

      • Ilana says

        Thank you Barbra- This morning I was cleaning and my four year old son started singing “Tumbala Lika”. That’s the Yiddish song I sing to them and he’s suddenly sitting there with us. What a joy it was to hear my son, his name sake, sing that song and bring Grandpa Zack into the room for me. Thanks for letting me share that too. :) IM

    • Ilana says

      In the Passover section of the grocery store, I found dark chocolate candies with the same mint cream inside. They are not the exact ones that Grandpa Zack brought me but they taste the same. I eat them and he is in the room with me. My grandpa has come for Passover! I can almost hear his unique voice and the very special way he pronounced my three syllable name. “I love you.” It always seemed to say. With that cream in my mouth I can feel his eyes on me. I feel beautiful. I feel loved. Thank you for letting me share with you my beloved, Grandpa Zack. IM

  17. June Radicchi says

    It was Christmas time in 1943. I was 6 years old and at the Scranton Dry Goods Store I sat on Santa’s lap and asked him for roller skates. My mother looked so startled I wondered if I had done something wrong. Santa was non-committal.

    Mama was strangely silent as we trudged through the snow to the bus stop; she didn’t even once admonish me to “walk carefully…there’s sure to be black ice hiding under the snow”… She kept squeezing my hand until it hurt, a sure sign my usually nervous mother was now very upset. What had I done?

    Back home in our kitchen she kept her hands busy cutting up chicken for soup and soon the house was filled with the Mediterranean flavors which will always mean “home” to me. I tried to stay out of her way as she had a quick temper and I was often more than a little afraid of her. My stomach would knot up if she spoke harshly to me. I tried to comfort myself with what my father had explained to me one day when he found me crying. He said that it was war time, we had family on both sides of the conflict, relatives in a bad place called a concentration camp and my mother’s two brothers were fighting for America. These were mainly just words to me. All that really mattered is that my mother’s unhappiness filled me with stomach wrenching dread.

    My mother was to repeatedly explain to me over the next several days that Santa was just a nice idea, that he was not real, that there was a war on and America needed the steel that skates were made of to help win the war. I said nothing to this because I did not know what response was expected of me. She continued repeating this to me hoping, I’m certain, I would understand.

    One day my mother’s best friend, Millie Jurcovich, came to visit and my mother forgot I was still in the room drinking a cup of cocoa and eating her homemade cinnamon bread. I heard my mother cry as she explained to her friend roller skates were not to be found and she had to tell me there was no Santa Claus.

    I was filled with warmth not explainable by the snack I was enjoying. My mother was actually crying over me. From that day onward, each time I felt my mother must not love me I soothed myself remembering her anguish over disappointing me.

    • says

      June, Welcome to the Roadmap Blog! I loved your story. It was touching–and I love you how captured that moment of a child’s awakening to her mother as a human being.

    • Terry Gibson says

      What a quiet, evocative story, June. An unexpected moment which brought such insight, knowledge of being truly loved and worried about. I’m so glad this gift happened for it was much more soothing than mere rollerskates. Thank you so much.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Your mom reminded me of mine, and what I would have given for that kind of insight, to know that her nervousness was hers and not my fault and that she loved me enough to cry. I’m sure she did, but I didn’t know it. Great moment, great story. Well written. Thanks

  18. Eve says

    Christmas was the same for many years. I would spend it with my dad’s side of the family. I would leave the white trash neighborhood where my real family lived to go see my dad’s perfect life.
    I would be given this one chance of the year to show them how awesome I was, and maybe they would want to be more of a part of my life. Often my attempts only failed miserably, and ended with me or someone I loved dearly to be in tears. Maybe I am the Christmas brat!!! Maybe I was going to say thank you after I tried out that awesome AM/FM Radio & horn combo for my bike. Maybe I just didn’t know the right time to show my gratitude & appreciation for the gift of the year, but I promise that I didn’t mean to make my favorite Grandma cry.
    I would go home with a Christmas loot from the more fortunate side of my birth family, but with a hurt so deep in my heart that it may have created a Christmas Birthday Brat!!!

    • Ilana says

      Eve- I admire your honesty and willingness to look at your own actions and responses. The picture you drew was so clear that it pulled me in and I felt confused and hurt. Very effective. IM

    • Terry Gibson says

      Eve, I know some of these feelings well. Having to sell yourself every time you are with parent you relate to the most or just want more time with. How, under all that pressure, something always goes wonky, etc. I appreciate this story. Thanks.

  19. Beverly Boyd says

    I was fourteen and had my first regular paying job at Pallas Sweet Shop. Gus Pallas was famous for his delicious candies and White Bean Soup. He also had a heart of gold (not shared by Mrs. Pallas), expressed shyly in his kind eyes. Mrs. Pallas did not want us eating candy we didn’t pay for. Gus said in his heavy Greek accent, “Viverly,” (that’s what he called me) “you have all the candy you want. Soon you will get tired of it and you won’t want to eat it as much as if you had to sneak it!” He was right.

    Christmas fell on my regular day so I was expected to work. Gus and his wife had quite an argument about having the store open. I didn’t understand Greek but I understood that she thought it would cost more for the heat and lights and paying me to work than what small amount of food we might sell. She had a point. I got sixty-five cents and hour and most of the sandwiches, sundaes and sodas were twenty-five cents. Before I left that day Gus thanked me for being willing to work. Someone might need a warm place to get something to eat and everything else in town might be closed.

    Mother was not happy. “It just doesn’t look right for the minister’s daughter to be working on Christmas Day. It’s like Sunday.” The minister countered that we celebrated early in the day; there wasn’t anything at church I should be attending; I’d be home in time for Christmas dinner and someone might be grateful to find someplace open.

    Mid afternoon was darker than usual. No moon or stars peeked through the snow falling silently in large soft flakes muting my breath and footsteps as I walked the two blocks from the parsonage to the “four corners” at the center of town. No cars or people passed me. I had a guilty mixed sense of relief and disappointment that no one had seen the minister’s daughter going to work on Christmas Day.

    The sweet shop felt warm and inviting. I was alone for about an hour except for Bill Gallagher, a regular customer, who came in once or twice a week for an Alka Seltzer. Standing at the counter, he drank it and set it down with a sharp report of the glass on the counter and a satisfied “Ahh!” This week he came in every day. After vacation we learned that Bill and his long time girlfriend, our favorite teacher had decided to stop waiting for one of their mothers, who lived with each of them to die and had gotten married. As happy as he was for this event, it must have been stressful and he was glad I was there to serve up relief.

    I had busied myself with doing some cleaning on the shelves behind the counter that we were usually too busy to get done right, when the bell on the door behind me gave a cheerful ring. I turned as a young man I had never seen before came in with a boy and girl about six years old.

    “Oh, its so nice and warm in here, ” he said rubbing his hands together and stamping his snowy boots on the doormat. His little boy followed his father’s example: rubbing his hands and stamping his feet.
    “I’m so thankful you’re open.” He and the children sat down in a booth and started playing some pencil and paper games like “tic-tac-toe” together while I fixed sandwiches and heated up some of Gus’s soup. They were on the way to the hospital where his wife was with her mother, who was dying. After they had some food and had warmed up they went to continue their trip with another round of thanks to have found us open.
    When I think back to that memory there is an almost magical quality: something like “Twilight zone”. I knew that was where I was supposed to be.

    • says

      Beverly, what a sweet story. I was right there in the shop with you. thanks for sharing it….the last thing I’m going to read before i go to bed. Lovely images to dream on…

    • Terry Gibson says

      I love this Beverly. I can just feel the warmth and sustenance of all kinds found there that day. I hear them stamping snow off their boots, see the son following his Dad’s example, tic tac toe, and munching on sandwiches while sipping on Gus’s hot soup. I worked in similar places and always enjoyed providing that warm smile and friendly voice to make things a little bit nicer for someone. Thanks so much.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Another wonderful story, so well written. So encouraging. Thanks so much. Where were you that it was dark mid afternoon?

      • Beverly Boyd says

        I lived in The Finger Lakes region of Central New York. It is dark fairly early in December and that particular day the heavy cloud cover wasn’t letting much sunlight through.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      Thank you all for your comments about my story. It makes me feel like I really got the feel of the day across. One thing no one picked up on was that “I had a guilty sense of relief and disappointment that no one had seen the minister’s daughter going to work on Christmas day.” In that small town word spread fast and not just the Methodists would be talking about what the minister’s family was doing. I didn’t have to be “wild” for the tongues to wag!

  20. Lynne Jones says

    It was probably about 5 a.m. on a cold Christmas morning in 1962. I was about 11 or 12, past the age of wanting soft toys, or so my mother thought. I had written my Christmas list to Santa a few weeks before and asked for a new Teddy bear. My mother had mocked me and said only little children played with cuddly toys. Besides, I had my Susan Teddy, what did I need with another one? But I had had Susan since I was two and she was old and threadbare from so much loving that I wanted a new one.
    I could feel the weight of the Santa pillow case on my toes where my mother had left it before going to bed at past midnight. I wanted to check my Christmas presents while the landing light was still on but I must have dropped off to sleep. I woke again still too early as it was dark outside and I moved my feet carefully so as not to knock my presents onto the floor. There were five or six wrapped presents in the case and we could only open them after my mother had come to wake us up. I didn’t dare put my bedside light on that early but I had to see if the Teddy was there. I carefully pulled the pillow case towards me and felt the presents. There was the hard edge of a book and then a few smaller presents that I couldn’t identify. I found some nuts in shells and an orange which I hated because it made my mouth sore. Then right near the bottom I could feel the large lumpy object that had to be my Teddy. Pulling the parcel out I leant back against my pillow and carefully tried to open just a corner of the wrapping paper. There was a bit of light coming into my bedroom from the street lamp. I finally managed to uncover a single plush ear and started to stroke it. Imagine my dismay when I felt what seemed to be a tear in the stitching of the fabric behind the ear. I started to cry because I thought I had been given a second-hand bear from the church bazaar.
    My parents were not very well off and on previous occasions my brother and I had to make do with old re-furbished toys. My dolls house was such a one but I loved it all the same and my Dad had redecorated it with some of our old wallpaper. I wiped my eyes with my nightdress and decided I would love my ‘new’ Teddy just as much. I heard a noise from along the landing, my father was coughing. I hurriedly pushed the present back into its wrapping and carefully place the sack back onto my feet and feigned sleep. All went quiet again and I dozed off, to be woken up by my mother coming in the bedroom just after seven and switching on the light.
    “Merry Christmas, Lynne,” she pointed to the pillow case, “Santa has been. Come and bring your presents into our bedroom while I wake up your brother.”
    I lugged the sack along the landing and thumped it onto their bed. Dad was sitting up and smiling at me. My brother and I opened our presents and showed them to our parents who had wrapped them the previous evening. I left my Teddy till last because I wanted to compose myself against disappointment. I needn’t have worried. I pulled out a handsome dark brown plush Teddy, he was a fat baby bear, so different from my Susan Teddy, and he was brand new. But what was the rip behind his ear? I turned him over to have a look and found a rough stitched label with his name ‘Bruin’ and the maker’s name. So he wasn’t a second-hand present after all.

    • says

      Lynne, welcome to the Roadmap Blog. I loved your story of the bag of presents and your stealthy exploration of the bag. I’m glad you got your heart’s desire that morning! Please come back and write with us again!

        • Laura Davis says

          Lynne….nice to hear from you in the UK. I’ve been thinking about the UK–I’m in the process of putting together a 10 day writing retreat next August in Scotland, near Findhorn. So I will be coming to your region soon!

    • Ilana says

      Lynne- This kept me on the edge of my seat. I so wanted you to get the brand new teddy bear. My first thought when you found the tag was “I knew it!” What a great piece. So glad you posted it. IM

    • Eve says

      I loved your story. I was totally stoked for your new teddy. Your mom was cute for playing with you like that & making you think you weren’t going to get him.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      You’re never too old for a cuddly bear!
      When I was fifty-something I bought an irresistible teddy bear for my toddler grandson. I was so tempted to keep it for myself that I went back and got another just like it. That teddy kept me warm and comfy for years until I put him into a too hot dryer! Nothing I could do would restore his fluff so I had to part with him. I think I’ll see if I can get another one!
      Teddy bear huggers unite!

      • Hazel says

        I loved your story, it was well written and suspenseful.
        I also liked the tradition of getting your presents in your pillowcase then gathering together to open them.

        This is very interesting to me that there is so much interest in Teddy bears by grown women. I have recently been making Teddy Bears but have not been able to part with any of them yet. They are so special and each one has a personality all its own. Never met a Teddy Bear I couldn’t love.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Each story is as wonderful as the last, and so different. I loved your story – your wrote it so we shared the whole experience. Thanks. And it encouraged me. I gave my grandsons, 9 and 12, teddy bears for Christmas, alternately thinking they might want one, and also that it was really stupid and embarrassing. I will probably never know because they’re far away and too polite to say they are disappointed. It’s just lovely to hear from people from all over. Thanks for posting.

  21. Terry Gibson says

    One Christmas when I was eighteen, I lived in Sandy Hill, a Trenton neighbourhood a couple blocks away from the University. The Oxford Rooms spanned two blocks on Laurier Avenue East and consisted of a few decrepit row houses, painted a dull white with green trim. From September to April each year, mostly students lived there; I was lucky to find the place as I was working, not studying.

    My room was a small dumpy studio with bland bare walls and a linoleum floor the colour of dirty dishwater. A single bed stood against one wall, for which I had one sheet, blanket and pillow. There was a battered table with chipped green paint in the middle of the room and my phone sat on a brown wooden shelf to the left of the door. There was no television or books. No stove. A small fridge. Only a shared bathroom. Obviously, I had no space for guests.

    That is one reason I didn’t extend any Christmas invitations. In addition, I did not know a soul in Trenton and liked that. I wanted people, mainly my so-called family, to leave me alone. How could they not get that when I moved three hundred miles away?

    I was independent of them. They didn’t give me a dime, not even when I begged for a $40 rental loan or I would be kicked out; in case you doubt for a moment, the answer was ‘No’ and I became homeless during a bitter winter. He had not beaten or confined me for over thirteen months. It was two years since he broke my right arm but got me no medical help. It was even longer since he hurt my left leg so badly with a baseball bat; I cupped it with both hands to lift it up on the bed for weeks. Freedom felt good. They could not get me again.

    Of course, they had already done enough. Most of the time, I wasn’t aware of thinking. When people spoke to me or looked at me, I flushed red and slunk away as fast as I could. Huge chunks of my time disappeared. I could not cry but had bloodcurdling nightmares. My own voice was foreign to me. And, even after they did the very worst thing a mother and stepfather could do to their daughter, they still were in charge of my life.

    I do not remember how Mom arranged it but know she did just that. No doubt, it happened the way everything did. She called me up, as if we were any normal Mom and daughter, and told me how it was going to be. She laughed into the phone as she spoke. Penny was spending Christmas with me. Supposedly, they were going away and would call us at noon.

    Christmas Eve arrived quickly. I awaken with my teeth chattering to find Penny beside me on the bed. Her knees are grinding into my back and it hurts. I cannot sleep. I turn over and watch her sleeping. Penny looks just like Mom and has so many similar mannerisms too. Suddenly, I feel restless. Claustrophobic. My throat is closing. I cannot breathe. A recurring dream is tossing me about, one of the many I can’t access by any means while awake.
    ****
    “What happened to Penny?” I asked Mom when she called. They had better not have hurt her, I think. I will go to the Ontario Provincial Police this time, I vowed. However, why would they call me to announce it?

    “Come down,” Mom said, promising detail when I got there. I rushed out, letting the front door slam behind me. With a Police escort, I ran away to the only boarding house in town, which was only a block away from the Post Office apartment where I grew up.

    A few minutes later, I am sitting in the kitchen at the very table they kicked over often at dinnertime. My face blanched. Waves of nausea slammed me about inside as if to the port side of a sailboat in peril. My blood is fast freezing.

    While on her way to school, four black men in a white van had kidnapped and repeatedly raped Penny. My beloved stepfather was so devastated this happened to her that he drove her to the Station to report it. Police questioned her and every available car for miles and miles around was out searching for the white van.

    Mom and Bob were very upset and catering to her. Officer Turner called again and the situation was shifting. The Trenton Police were going to charge Penny with ‘criminal mischief.’ Mom wanted me to talk to her and left us alone in the dining room. They did not believe her. Like that surprised me! “What happened?” I asked.

    While awaiting her reply, I heard the echo of my own answer to that question when Mom posed it to me only months earlier.

    I had no words for vagina, penis, intercourse, consent, or force; I did know the word ‘rape,’ but only that it happened to sluts or whores, girls who were considered garbage. I wasn’t that before but I guessed that if it happened, no matter how or who you thought you were, it was definitive proof that one of those labels had your scarlet letter upon it. Finally, I could take it no more. “They hurt me,” I said into the phone, while sobbing convulsively. In a heartbeat, she said, “What were you doing at the party anyway?” I thought I heard her laughing and hung up the phone without a word.

    They did not rush me to the Police Station two months earlier. Neither Mom nor Bob dropped by to check on my well-being. They didn’t ask the doctor to drop by. Nobody spoke to the cops on my behalf. Why couldn’t I just BE Penny? I would try harder. Maybe that would improve my life.
    ****
    Hours later, we wake up. There are no presents, tinsel or lights. There is no Christmas tree. Penny was a year younger than I was and I knew she expected me to have all that stuff for her. However, I was only a year older. I had no clue how to set up a home, let alone decorate it. I had no examples or guides to help me. My emotions were flat and vibrant colours impotent. Everything was neutral. It did not matter much to me. Nothing did really.

    However, I did make an attempt at Christmas dinner. With only a hot plate to cook on, one pot, and utter poverty a constant companion, our options were limited. First, I boiled water and cooked the noodles that came with Kraft dinner. After draining the excess water, I tore open the cheese package and dumped it in. With no margarine or milk, I used my only fork to fold in the bright orange powdered cheese. After that, I dumped the noodles carefully into the lid of the pot. I did not have any bowls, so I packed it in there tightly, careful so it would not tip over and spill. I placed this on the shelf above the heater near the window.

    Next, I plunged the base of the pot itself into hot soapy water. I scrubbed it hard with steel wool, rinsed and dried it. With that down, I held it under the tap and filled it with water for the second time in a half hour. When that pot was t boiling point, I tossed in some chicken, after which I would have used some spices if I had them. Shortly after, we ate the food off one plate with a shared fork and knife.

    Looking back, just being in the same space was probably good for us. We didn’t argue or quibble over tiny things. It was an okay time. Neither one of us was happy, nor pretending to be. I was deeply depressed but did not know it. I had no clue where Penny was inside; I never did after I left. I did what I could for her before but, with their favouritism of her over me, Mom and Bob destroyed the closeness my sister and I once had. They still got away with whatever they pleased; they were trying to adopt a baby, Penny said before leaving. I vowed that matter would go no further. I would be destroying one dream of theirs and thank God for that. It was Christmas after all—too late for us but not for that poor helpless baby out there.

    • Hazel says

      Terry,
      No doubt you are a survivor! I started reading and could not stop. I felt relieved that you stopped the adoption of a baby by that couple. Obviously they had no business being parents. You have done the best you can, where you are, with what you have and that is all any of us can do.

      Thank you for sharing this story.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      Terry, This was so hard to read, I can’t even imagine what it was like to live it! From other posts on this blog I know how far you have come and what a powerful woman you are! Thank you for trusting us with the painful memory and making it possible for others to know they are not alone.
      Thank goodness because of your actions another child was kept from a similar fate.

      • Terry Gibson says

        I appreciate your response Beverly. I’m happy so many strong women, through the course of my healing, guided me toward the truth that many shared my experiences. Although very personal–what my Mom and stepfather did to me–I learned that it wasn’t personal. Finding my place in herstories gave me a foundation to build upon.

    • Laura Davis says

      Terry, that vivid scene of you cooking that simple meal for you and your sister was so touching…and I, too, am glad you came out of your shell shock and depression to stop them from adopting another baby.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thanks Laura. So much, as always. As I worked this prompt, pulling my hair out, I became so grateful for it! It helped me open up an abandoned building of memories, which excited me about the work again. Yeah. They never got their paws on another kid. Fortunately, I only had to write letters to have an effect; in my state, it would’ve been horrendous to have to testify in front of anyone.

    • Eve says

      Your story reminded me of just how blessed I truly have been in my life. Thank you for being strong & surviving. I appreciate what you have shared with me. I know what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but not everyone can pull through a history like that. I am glad that your here to share & heal. Happy New Year…

    • Barbara Keller says

      What can I say? Here we have proof that people can be hideous. I’m sorry it happened to you. I’m glad you are healing and able to find the memories and share them. And you did a good job of sharing it. The scene of the cooking was wonderfully expressed. I was right there too. When my daughter was 4, we were in a motel with a kitchenette, far from home and anyone I knew, and we shared a package of Kraft Mac and cheese and it was very helpful. It’s still her favorite food, 38 years later. Comfort personified. It was good you were together and even if you couldn’t read her, I’m sure you helped her way more than you know. In the presence of evil I’m not sure it’s better to be the favored one. Maybe a little better, but not too much.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Barbara, I appreciate your comments so much! I’m sure mac and cheese got many of us thru rough times. Since writing this, I realize that I would’ve felt bad if I was the favourite; my sister didn’t deserve to be treated like garbage, as ‘less than’ either. I just wanted us both to be loved and cared for properly. Lastly, I must say something that isn’t specific to your words, Barbara; it’s just something that’s been nagging me. I must say that the line “They did not believe her. Like that surprised me!” didn’t mean I didn’t care or would never believe her–I cared very much and did believe until I knew differently. It’s just that I told the truth, was obviously traumatized, but they couldn’t care less. Of course, I found out why later; they set mine up and were obliged to three of their friends for the execution of said plan. On Penny, who knows? Maybe she made up the story for attention or maybe she did it to ‘speak out’ for me in the only way she could. I always loved her and still do, though we haven’t spoken for seven years and are completely estranged since my brother’s death. Unfortunately, I no longer trust her and can’t imagine that changing, although I am reading Laura’s book, “I Thought We’d Never Speak Again.”
        Happy New Year, Barbara. Since meeting you, I think of you often.

        • Barbara Keller says

          Terry, I can’t say I exactly follow the details or the facts, but I got the gist of the plot. Unbearable betrayal, annihilating lack of care, lack of protection, confusion about what is true and who to believe. I’m glad you’re working on Laura’s book. Maybe you will find a way to reach out to Penny in spite of feeling like you can’t trust her. I don’t know. If you love her maybe it’s worth trying. I’m pretty sure I’m not who you think, and that we never met, but I’m here now.

    • Ilana says

      Terry- You are one courageous woman. The thing that always strikes me when you share this kind of story is how resilient your generous and sweet spirit is. There is no, or very little, bitterness. You have seen so much ugliness and yet you don’t let it keep you from appreciating and honoring the beauty in our world. I truly admire you for that. Thank you for sharing so honestly with us. IM

  22. Terry Gibson says

    Thanks Eve. Your words are so welcome. I am also happy you are here to share your stories and journey, that you are a part of this special community. Happy New Year to you as well!

  23. Beverly Boyd says

    There were two other memories of that Christmas when I was fourteen. I hope you won’t mind my adding another response to this prompt.

    With all the money I was making at the sweet shop at sixty-five cents an hour…I felt like I was rolling in money and decided to play Santa Claus to my parents. I had seen a simple coffee table with glass in a frame over the top at the furniture store across the street. It was fourteen dollars. Feeling very grown up I made a down payment and arranged to make payments every week. On Christmas Eve my younger brother and I went to the florist shop next door to our house where it had been delivered to bring it home. Together we bought a vase that was a log with an elf sitting on it. With a piece of fake fluffy fern it looked right at home on the table. Mommy and Daddy were as surprised and delighted as we thought they would be.

    There was another story developing that year.
    One of those days before Christmas when we were getting dinner ready, my mother turned to me with a twinkle: “Beverly, what do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?” The twinkle, of course, was because we both knew the true identity of Santa. I hedged, saying that what I would like to have I knew was too expensive to expect Santa to bring and I was sure I would be quite happy with whatever I got. She kept pressing me to tell her. I suppose she was having a hard time figuring out what to get me and was trying the direct approach.

    I knew exactly what I wanted. For a few years I had enjoyed wearing the cashmere sweater sets passed down to me by my older cousins. The sleeves on the cardigans were becoming more and more threadbare and harder to mend. So I carefully pushed up the sleeves with the thin spots were folded to the inside.
    Finally she asked if you could have anything you wanted, even if you didn’t think it was possible what would it be? I gave in and admitted I wanted a cashmere sweater set and assured her that I knew it was much too expensive for me expect it and I was happy enough with the sweaters I had. For me it was forgotten.

    On Christmas morning, sitting around the table Dick and I had given them we opened and exclaimed about our gifts. Then Mother passed me a modest sized box. Nothing about it gave me a clue. It was quite heavy for it’s size. Mother wanted to know, what I thought it was. I couldn’t imagine. I opened it up. There were two bars of Cashmere Bouquet soap. I looked at them puzzled. It was a nice soap but not even special. We always had it in our bathroom.
    “That’s your cashmere set!”
    At the sound of her voice I turned to look at Mother. I wanted to see some indication that it was just one of the practical jokes she loved to pull even though I didn’t think it was funny. What I saw was her lips set in a shaky line, her eyes pinched back into an angry resentful steely glare. “How could you ask for a cashmere set. It would cost more than we spend on the whole family.”
    I sat there feeling ambushed and numb. She didn’t have to do that. I had told her I did not expect it. I hadn’t even wanted to tell her. How could she have done that, especially on Christmas day? She tried to act like it was just a joke…she thought it would be funny to see how I reacted. Well it wasn’t a joke. I had seen the look on her face and heard the sharpness in her voice.

    That table with pictures placed under the glass followed them to each new home even when the got rid of other furniture for a cross-country move. The little elf viewed the “goings on” from her perch on the log and the fuzzy fern, with an occasional shake under the faucet to clean out the dust, was fresh as the day we bought it. Fortunately, I seldom remembered mother’s “little joke” as I sat in front of that coffee table in their homes over the years and realized with pleasure how much they had enjoyed that simple coffee table.

    • says

      I was with you on this story–your pride and pleasure at giving a grown up gift and the bitter cruelty of your mothers response to the request she forced out of you. I feel for that girl you were.

      • Beverly Boyd says

        Laura, I have struggled for three days to leave a simple thank you for your caring response to my post and every time, even now, I have had to fight back a knot in my throat pressing against my ears and tears to see the page. To have someone see me my vulnerability was very risky with both my mother and my first husband. Even though they might express sympathy and understanding, later what I shared might come up as something to laugh at. I remember even one time at a cocktail party. I do appreciate very much your words. I believe you really did feel for me and I know I can trust you not to twist it into something laughable.

    • Eve says

      My heart just dropped to the floor! Thank you for still ending your story on a positive note though. Me, being the Christmas Birthday Brat that I am, would have been angry for the rest of my life over this one! I wanted to reach in this story & tell your mom a thing or two. Instead, you were able to reflect on your beautiful gifting gesture & allow that joy to resonate in you. My prayer is to have a heart more like yours. Thank you for your story…

      • Beverly Boyd says

        Eve, thanks for your passionate desire to be my ally. It reflects your loving heart! I could see you rushing in with your “dukes up” to tell my mother a thing or two. I realize I seldom had an ally. I was the older sister and ally for my younger siblings. There were many similar stories I could tell, but somehow Mom never acted out this way when Dad was around to intervene. Even though Dad was there that Christmas, the exchange was not witnessed by the others right in the room. One reason I didn’t object directly to her at the time was because I did not want to spread the unpleasantness to the rest of the family.

  24. Debbie says

    There is only one Christmas story from my childhood. That morning was so magnificent, so longed for that I simply can not remember any others until much later in my teen years. Even now, I smile at the love which precipitated the gift of a lifetime.

    I was seven years old. Only six months earlier my family had moved across country and cultures returning to south Georgia from the suburbs of Los Angeles. Even at my young age, I was acutely aware of not fitting in, of experiences and opinions foreign to the other children of this small southern town. Looking back, my older brother just entering his teenage years must have a much harder time of it. Imagine moving from surfing and skateboards to tractors and mucking manure!

    The bright spot for me was the 50 acre farm where we had settled. Out from town with rolling pastures, woods and a 6 acre lake. That first summer and fall were spent exploring all of this space. Unexpectedly sprung free from the lace, dresses and carefully coordinated outfits that had been my uniform for the first six years of life. I would never completely return to that girlish style. I realize a part of her still lives, though, as I fret over limp hair that refuses to hold a curl, wrinkled clothes and am drawn to just about anything that sparkles.

    In the way of childhood, I was full of adventure. There was no sense of anything missing. This was so much more space than we had in our modest home in the previous family friendly California neighborhood. We no longer had neighbors or other children with which to play. So my younger brother and I spent hours climbing trees, building forts, and learning to fish.

    Christmas morning, in the sixties, in a household of four children could be a chaotic time. My father, ever the engineer, had long ago imposed a sense of order on the proceedings. Children went first, one at a time, to the tree to select a gift. All of us watched, or tried to, as other members of the family opened their gift. This ritual did help us to learn patience and prolonged the anticipation. It was only much later in life that I realized the value of both lessons.

    On that fateful morning, when it was my turn to select a gift for some reason I chose the smallest one under the tree with my name on it. To this day, I am not sure why. It was, and still often is, my nature to go with the more obvious reward versus a more humble offering. However, this time I chose well.
    Shaking the small box ever so slightly, I felt something shifting inside.

    Ripping off the wrapping paper, no longer pretending to be demure, I tore open the box. Inside was a statue of a horse. Initially crestfallen, my longing for a horse was a well known fact in my home, I had received many of these statues over the years. Many much nicer than this small plastic version of a roan with a white star. As I sat back on my haunches, a small piece of paper fluttered out of the box.

    Curious, I picked it up and read these words “If you think I am cute, you should meet my big brother in the barn”.

    The universe paused, everything in suspended animation. That moment crystallized forever in my mind; the growing realization of what the note meant, the look of love on my father’s face, the lights of the tree, the fireplace glowing against the morning chill and a Christmas dream coming true. There was never another moment to compare in the years to come. It is forever my private treasure. A gift that has truly kept on giving.

    • Barbara Keller says

      Fabulous. Thank you for that well presented story and I’m crying again. I’m glad yours is the last story, I’ve been crying for almost 2 hours. Maybe all you get is one such moment. Thanks so much for bringing it to us so beautifully.

      • Debbie says

        Barbara – if it makes you feel any better – I cried too at the beginning and end of this piece. I feel blessed beyond any deserving to have experienced one such moment in my lifetime. It was, and is, more than enough.

        • Barbara Keller says

          thanks, I love this. Where else, when else, would we be able to share across borders, generations, cultures. thanks.

    • Terry Gibson says

      I can and yet can’t imagine how you felt, Debbie. I’m deliriously happy that you had that moment. How brilliant is that!

    • says

      Debbie, I loved this story and am so happy you got the heart’s desire of so many young girls. Your own horse. How wonderful. I’d like to hear more about it!

    • Ilana says

      Oh my Gosh, Debbie- I love this story. The whole thing was touching and it reminded me of the gift Zander gave me for our 11th wedding anniversary, when I had specifically (and vehemently) requested no gifts. He apologized for going against my wishes and brought me a Samsonite bag. I was bewildered and asked what he wanted me to put in it. “Well, it’s a computer bag. I thought you could use it for your new laptop.” Grinning, he handed me the box with the computer in it. I’d never had my own computer. I’d never even bothered to hope for one. I used his for all my writing and pen and paper when he was on it. I felt that thrill again when I read about you getting the horse.

      Still, it was the last paragraph was what really spoke to me. I love the images, the way you’d remember the moment forever and love on your father’s face. Thank you for sharing this story with us. IM

      • Eve says

        I’m so glad he got you that gift. Is that the computer I saw you on at the retreat? It was a mac, right? I want to start using mine more instead of handwriting all the time.

        • Ilana says

          :) Lenovo but I would have been thrilled with a type writer. I am trying to use both but it’s hard. The computer keeps up with my thoughts better than a pen does.

    • Eve says

      Thanks for sharing this Christmas dream. Wow- you really got a horse for Christmas!!! That is the best gift any girl could ever ask for. I pray that one day I can make my daughter & son’s heart smile like that. What a beautiful story. Thanks…

  25. Sangeeta S. says

    Christmas for me as a child was nice. We had the tree, gifts, food, family, etc. We watched tv, movies, played games and had a nice time. I now realize however that this Norman Rockwell was a tiny bit flawed–for it did not show what was not in the picture. The beautiful, peaceful, loving memories of Christmas I had as a child is only half-true. There was (I believe) a big piece missing that I am still trying to receive, and retrieve. For this “picture”- as pretty and serene as it appears, was anything but.

    I believe that my felt experience includes these qualities. The experience that I have been attempting to retrieve however, is the other half. I may not be able to write as articulately about that–since that is the one that is not in the picture. It is in the dark but it lies in wait to attack any who do (or perhaps don’t) reveal it into the light. I will give it a shot and let the dark do as it may with me.

    The “other half” of this experience is as follows: while we were sitting around the tree opening up gifts, we were not “allowed” to have any other experience. While we were eating my mother’s amazing 8 course meal, we could not stray outside of the boundaries of “what was allowed.” While the group mentality of my family was operating in full force, I played along the entire time while I tried to maintain my innocence and independence (quite secretly, of course). While the turkey was being cut, I was marching to the orders of a Nazi general while relishing in the amazing taste of the food.

    The level of secrets and deception in the Thanksgiving camp was astounding. While the Indians shared their corn, they were perhaps being slaughtered. While the grease was dripping from our lips, the turkey was doing its best to try to escape from the table. I played along and now I wish I hadn’t. I lost a huge piece of myself and I wish I could be more understanding of the fact that I am going through something to fight for that little girl that is still lost. She now wanders the streets and is still waiting for her proper place setting. She is lost in a sea of nothingness and nooneness while hoping to be found. She maintains her innocent spirit and will never be broken. She is alert, focused and centered, while at the same time being lost and broken and alone. She is still fighting for herself and as the new year dawns she undergoes yet another transformation to find her missing piece. She is there and she will not rest until she appears.

    • Laura Davis says

      Reading your response to this prompt reminded me so much of myself, looking back. I remember many years of seeing my childhood as so polarized. On one hand there or is the fake good stuff, and on the other, everything that was hidden. It’s interesting, but now, I see it much more as one whole texture without those extremes. It’s interesting how our perspective can shift over the course of years.

  26. Bobbie Anne says

    A Christmas Memory

    When I was growing up, we didn’t have much money. I was one of seven children and we often did without. I shared an attic room with my sister. And at one point, with more than one sister. There usually wasn’t much money for Christmas gifts. That was just a fact of life. Except for one christmas.

    I remember wishing for this small brownie camera. I imagined having it. I think I even cut out pictures of it. I had taken pictures with the old family camera and they came out looking beautiful. I could turn ordinary picture taking into an art form.This was before digital photography, instant camera’s and the internet. I took out books on picture-taking from the library.

    I prayed for getting the camera for Christmas. I knew there wasn’t much money, but surely if I did my chores, minded my little brother, and was on my best behavior, I had a feeling I would get the camera. I just knew it.

    On Christmas morning, we opened up the presents one at a time. My father instructed me to open up this rectangular box. I knew it was the brownie camera. Sure enough, It was! my father said the look on my face was priceless. I later found out that it was meant as a gift for all of us. However, my father said when I picked up the box, which didn’t have a gift tag, he knew who was going to get it. He said I had to be the family photographer.

    And I was. It got to be an expensive hobby because I bought the film, took the picture’s and bought the pictures with hard-earned baby sitting money. No one in the family thought to help out with the film, or picture expenses. It does add up. Eve0ntually, I didn’t take as many pictures as the years went on, but I’ll always remember my little brownie camera.

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