While growing up, money was scarce in our household. One year, there was so little of it that my family received a charity box from church; it was full of treasures, including a new tugboat dress my size—with two older sisters, I always wore hand-me-downs!—and a 45 record to match. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day, and I wore that dress proudly.
Don’t get me wrong. My parents, hard-working farmers, always put food on the table. But, at times, they simply couldn’t afford luxuries. Because of that—and maybe due also to good, old-fashioned common sense—we children received one Christmas present every year. Picture me crying in the closet after receiving a chicken incubator in the seventh grade—not that it wasn’t nice of my parents to remember my admiration for someone’s Science Fair project the previous spring. But girls change a lot at that age, and the idea of raising chicks had flown the coop some months earlier! The disappointment was more than I could bear, yet I knew enough not to show it—thus, the closet. Unfortunately, the distress didn’t end there. Year after year as Christmas came and went, I had to endure returning to school where other girls listed their many acquisitions and wore their new sweaters.
Envy notwithstanding, later Christmas presents made up for that sad year: an electric blanket for a frigid bedroom one year, a coveted set of electric curlers another, luggage—I can only assume my parents were as anxious as I for me to move away from the farm—and, best of all because of its endurance and its origination, a cedar chest built at our school shop (by someone other than my brother. I wonder who?). I still own it to this day.
That chest has seen me through many Christmases since my childhood with only one leaving me in tears—the year I had hoped for a diamond ring and received a mixer instead. Despite that temporary setback, I still have both the original mixer and the man who bought it for me. The chest, the Sunbeam, the marriage . . . I love things that endure.
Speaking of enduring, my parents, married for nearly 60 years, never got the credit from me they deserved. They worked hard and talked little; being the middle child who moved away at an early age, I never really knew them. But I do know that they did what they could and they loved each of us. The thought they put into our single Christmas gift stands out as a tribute to that love.
And they taught me the important lesson of frugality. I generally hate shopping and dislike knicknacks on principle. But, just like many folks these days, I can’t claim complete restraint at Christmas. That in addition to the generosity of doting aunts and uncles, contributed to a mound of presents under the tree. Because of this, I'm not at all sure my children can say, “I remember the Christmas I got . . . ."
But, even if they can't, I know they felt the love.