Oft Made to Wonder
I was in bed, ready to fall into a deep sleep because I knew the next morning held wondrous treasures of chocolate chunks, oranges in socks, ribbon candy and gifts wrapped with care...and maybe, just maybe, a gift that was left by someone who knew me and loved me. My mind was active and not tired at all. I heard the distant sound of the train's whistle blowing. It would soon be passing our house along with the engine's headlight that would race around my room. I counted to see how many seconds it would take for the train to arrive. 1,2,3,4 ... 28 seconds and then, the loudest sound always right in front of our house because that is where the marker was for the horn to blow for the cars crossing on Oaklandon Road. Always it would sound in front of our house, and it would cause me to shudder and it would cause anyone on the phone to say, “Hold on,” and it would rattle the lampshades and it would beckon us to the tracks after it passed to know we just barely missed our death by standing there. But not tonight. It was Christmas Eve and nothing could rob the blissful moment of the mystery of this evening. Just then, I heard the bells. It was a faint magical sound. I opened the window to the crisp winter air and looked up into the night. There it was, the miracle of all miracles ... Rudolph.
December 24, 1978
It doesn't matter how poor you are when one day a year everyone is happy and there are colored lights on a tree inside the house and all the kids come home to visit and there's food and at least a couple of presents. This one day is happy. I couldn't care less if the baby Jesus was a Capricorn or not. I love that we pick a day and it is the best day of the year. Celebrating him and all that he stood for is a bonus. It almost feels like it is my birthday. I love Christmas better than any other day of the year. I love the baby Jesus story and I love Mary and I love that he was born in a poor little barn with animals and I love that he was a truth teller and not mean to people unless they were truly bad and that most of all, he genuinely loved people with his actions and tried to get them to believe in themselves the same way he believed in himself. It truly is the greatest story on earth. And honestly, I don't care one bit if it is all true or not. The story and the day do it for me. I will always celebrate Christmas and spread the love I feel, for somehow, no matter what else happens every other day of the year, if you can make it to Christmas, it will all be okay.
Sometimes when Mom feels up to it, we get the Christmas tree on her birthday, December 17. My sister Beverly said that she remembers Mom and Dad getting the tree up at Aunt Lillie’s and Uncle Cecil's, who are Mom's sister and Dad's brother. They live up the street right next door to Uncle Ernie, Mom's brother, and Aunt Olga. Behind Aunt Lillie's house there is a bunch of pine trees and so sometimes I guess they would go up there and cut down a tree and drag it home. I like the idea of that.
Aunt Olga is Greek and I love her most of all my aunts. She is so awesome that I think I could live with her. She used to walk to work every day so she would walk right past our house. She is a very fast walker and as soon as I saw her, I would bolt out of the house and jog backwards in front of her as she powered to work at the AFNB and that stands for the American Fletcher National Bank. She was a teller there and she could count paper money faster than anyone I have ever seen. When I was even younger and had to stay with Aunt Lillie while Mom was in the mental hospital, I would wait for Aunt Olga to get home and I’d get myself over to her house as quick as a flash. I could just sit with her and it seemed like a brighter day.
There are a lot of great things about Aunt Olga but what I really love is watching her. She asks if I would like to have a Pepsi and a snack. I always say yes. Then she gets a glass out of the cupboard and puts ice in it—it’s made of real glass—then she gets a glass bottle of Pepsi and wipes it down with a wet cloth. She needs to make sure there are no germs on it. I love that part. Then she pops the top off and pours the drink into the glass. This is important because it tastes better if it’s in real glass. I love it so much and as I drink my Pepsi, she wipes the countertop again and sits down to talk with me.
We have had a lot of talks and I have loved each one. She also plays a big fancy organ that sits in her living room, and I love that about her, too. I can honestly say I love her so much. Oh, she also gives me $10 for my birthday and takes me out for lunch. My aunt is so special that she actually broke one of the solemn rules of what you can’t do in our church. She took me to my first movie in a theater. It was called The Rescuers and it was a huge cartoon on an enormous screen. I loved her more after that and it is still our very own secret. Aunt Olga is like Christmas every time I see her.
It was a magical night when Dad and Mom took us down to the circle in the center of Indianapolis. There is what they call Circle Monument in the center of Indianapolis and you drive all around it. At Christmas they string colored lights to the top of the monument and it looks like the world’s biggest Christmas tree. It truly is magnificent. After we would drive around the circle, Dad would park and we would walk around and look into the storefront windows. This is where I saw my very first animated figurines of Santa and Mrs. Claus. It was as if a brand-new world of magic was introduced to me. Such magic as I had never seen before, unless it was in my dreams. I don’t know if they ever took us there again, but it wouldn’t matter; even if it was just that one time, it was enough for me.
At home, Dad used to have a beautiful blue spruce tree right in the front yard. It was so pretty. It was the magical size and shape of a perfect Christmas tree. It was just before Christmas one year and we were off to go to Wednesday night prayer meeting at church. When we got home, there was only a stump in our front yard. I remember thinking that someone had one great Christmas tree that year. Dad ended up getting $10 a foot for that tree from the insurance company. I'm glad he got his money, but it sure didn't make up for losing that tree.
After all of us kids decorate the tree, it becomes one of the best spots in the house. The colored lights glowing in the dark of the living room cast the best feeling into my heart that I have ever felt. One time when Joyce was home, I remember her lying very close to the tree and gazing up into the branches. I looked at her and could see the reflection of the lights in her eyes. To me, this was love. She could just lie there for the longest time and watch those lights. She was an angel in that moment. The only thing that would have made it better was if it was snowing outside.
The days leading up to Christmas were almost better than the day itself. It was the kind of magic that is in fairy tales—I bet the kind that says the wicked witch can never kill you because you will just come back to life again anyway when your true love kisses you. And then when all the love and joy is yours, the United Brethren Church in the middle of Oaklandon starts ringing its bells and playing the organ sounds of carols from its high tower. It is a beauty that says confidently that everyone in the small town of Oaklandon will want this, and so it plays so the whole town can hear it. This is one of the most beautifully sacred moments I will ever know. Mom has this big fur coat that was used for Halloween once and Joyce put it on and stood out on the porch against the house listening to the music. She looked like a gorilla but it wasn’t funny, it was beautiful. It was beautiful in the same way that I was proud to wear my big old hand-me-downs was beautiful. It was beautiful the way my sister’s eyes were beautiful. It is the kind of beauty that has a pure heart full of hope and love all wrapped up keeping it warm and safe. No matter how cold, we stand out there and listen.
Then comes the wrapping fest. If you are old enough you get to help with the wrapping. Little kids always have to go to bed and dream about the wonder of it all, but the grown kids get to help Santa and Mrs Claus. Ha. I've seen it both ways now and I like helping the best. Being the little kid was kinda hard because you could always hear what was going on, but you never knew how it was happening and so your imagination would take over, and falling asleep was so hard.
Mom and Dad get this big slab of chocolate and break it into big pieces. They pile it up on a plate and then put ribbon candy in bowls all around the living room. There's the smell of oranges and chocolate mingling in the air and it’s mouth watering. There's evidence everywhere that Santa came to our house. I don't know as much about Santa as I do about the baby Jesus, but whoever comes and leaves presents is all right with me. Of course, now that I'm older I know that the spirit of Santa comes and the spirit of the baby Jesus comes, and we all just celebrate by giving gifts. It's fun, though, and I like that Missy and Scotty are still trying to figure it out.
To tell the truth, unless Mike and Joe were working and giving gifts, the gifts were never all that many. But Christmas always came. It always will for me, no matter what life may bring. In the otherwise dismal life which I have faced, I hold this day as a personal timeout. It is the base in the game of Tag: you’re it! It is my birthright day to be happy.