It’s almost sad to stop feeling the same way about Christmas as we grow older. I have such fond memories of the Christmas season and I think those joyous times will always remain as a part of those special memories I hold in my heart. Although we were blessed to be raised by both our parents when we were children–not all the neighborhood children could brag about that–the one who made Christmas special was our mother. She made it special because she was special.
We were not spoiled at Christmas time. Truthfully, we didn’t have much in the way of material things even when it wasn’t Christmas. We were raised in inner city Detroit in a cramped, downstairs flat with not enough room for the eight of us that lived there. Christmas for the most part meant Goodfellow boxes and shopping at the secondhand stores for like-new items that Mom would bring home and wrap in recycled wrapping paper. With six children in the family it was a challenge to get a variety of gifts for everyone but Mom always managed to find a way. She was very practical and honest and we knew early on that Christmas gifts did not come from Santa Claus.
Daddy was laid off from the auto plant for a long time when I was a child and it was all he could do to keep the eight of us fed. He didn’t care much for Christmas and never really celebrated it with us, largely due to his religious beliefs, but I think somehow he knew it was important to us and he respected that although he never really verbalized it. Mom was sensitive to that fact as well, so if we wanted a particular gift for Christmas we had to be sure not to tell Daddy it was for Christmas. I remember, for example, the year that Russian boots were popular. I really wanted a pair but Mom cautioned me, “Don’t tell your Dad you want them for Christmas or he won’t get them.” So I asked for them a month earlier. I’m sure Dad could see through our scheme, but he bought them for me anyway.
I remember we had an artificial Christmas tree. That was largely because I was plagued with asthma as a child and was allergic to the scent of the live trees. Mom found this small, scraggly plastic thing that had long since “passed the day of grace”, she used to say. I don’t think that concerned us much. We didn’t really care how it looked. Once the lights and our other recycled ornaments were on it, I thought it was beautiful. I had a habit of squinting my eyes until they were nearly shut. Then I would gaze at the tree, turning my head this way and that as I watched all the colors blur together. Mom always asked us where we would like our gifts to be placed and I always chose the piano stool. On Christmas morning I would slip out of my bed and sneak into the living room to look at my new treasures. One year she bought me a music box with a little dancing figurine inside. I don’t recall the tune it played but I’ll never forget that music box.
I was about 16 when Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was painful to see her health change so radically as the weeks passed. Her illness really impacted me. You just don’t think about losing your mother, especially when you’re a child. The last Christmas she was alive will always stay in my mind. Mom had been taking radiation treatments and they seemed to help her breathing a little but I could tell her strength was waning. We were sitting in the living room that Christmas morning, opening gifts. Suddenly she could not speak. Her eyes were open, sunken and staring, but she could not utter a sound. Daddy called an ambulance and took her the hospital. Mom lived for several months past that time but I will always remember her last Christmas with us.
Not all people celebrate the Christmas season but it’s not the holiday that matters. Whatever seasons or occasions have shaped your past, it’s important to reflect on the person or persons who have made that time a reality for you. Those impressions will last forever. I’m sure there must have been a Christmas dinner and the singing of Christmas carols but I don’t remember much about that. What I do remember is that Mom taught us to cherish life. She taught us to never take anything for granted and to be grateful for the blessings God has given us. We learned that a person doesn’t have to be wealthy to be happy and that love, demonstrated, is more valuable than anything.
I thank God that He allowed us to have a mother like ours. She had within her the spirit of Christ and she knew the importance of making special memories for her children.