|I have many wonderful memories of Christmas during my New England childhood, but one in particular stands out. It was not the best Christmas. I was very young that year and got a bassinette covered in pink lace with a baby doll in it. She came with dozens of homemade clothes made by a neighbor woman.
It also wasn’t the worse one. All I wanted that year was an electric train and a live cat since ours had passed away the summer before. No train was under our tree that morning, and the only cat I got was a pale-blue, plush one of a sleeping cat. Back then, I was not very imaginative and named the toy Sleepy. I grew to love that stuffed cat, and it soon turned green from all the bleach washings Mum gave it.
No, my most memorable Christmas started around 4 a.m. when my parents and sisters were all sound asleep. I must have been around eight at the time since my youngest sister was not born yet. Slowly, so as to not wake up my parents, I crept down the front stairs from my second-floor bedroom and stopped at the bottom. In front of me was our front door, and to my right were the French doors going into my parents’ master bedroom. Ignoring both, I tip-toed through the archway on the left into our moonlit living room.
Our home did not have a fireplace for Santa to come down. Instead, we three girls, ages 8, 10, and 13, hung Dad’s hunting socks on the back of two chairs and sofa with big safety pins. On Christmas morning, these large, red socks contained small gifts. Mum later told me finding small items to fill these stockings gave her more trouble than our larger gifts under the tree. Even now at the age of 69 I miss those Christmas stockings.
Well, that particular morning as I sneaked into the living room, I could just make out the lumpy shapes of Dad’s stuffed socks. The room seemed filled with the pine smell of our tree standing over in the far corner. Days before, we had spent the evening trimming it with both fancy and homemade decorations. I can still hear Dad clicking his fingernail against each of the bulbs on the chain of lights to see which pesky one was dead. These were very old and small bulbs, so each year at least one of them was a goner. After replacing the bulb or bulbs, Dad was the one to place the chains around the tree.
After that, Mum would bring out the boxes of breakable ornaments for my two older sisters to place all around the limbs. Me? I got to hang the items that would not break, like the strings of pop corn and small candy canes. The final item was Dad’s special treat. He placed dollar bills with each of our names on them, a couple for each of his three daughters. Back in the 1940’s, two dollars was a lot of money for us kids.
The evening before, underneath the tree would be empty of gifts, but during the night Santa made his annual trip to our house. On this particular Christmas morning, I walked past my filled stocking on the living room wing chair and cautiously crossed the room to the tree. I found the switch for the tree lights and turned them on. Immediately the room glowed with the spirit of Christmas. I sat down cross legged on the floor by the tree and simply took in the smell and sight of a perfect morning.
That was until I heard the sound of the French doors opening and Dad’s footsteps coming toward me. He did not look happy about waking up at four in the morning with tree lights shining into their bedroom. He shooed me up to my bedroom after turning off the tree lights. Although without realizing what he did, Dad managed to spoil what was my favorite Christmas morning.
Thankfully I still remember that morning as if it happened yesterday and am sitting here smiling at that sweet memory.