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Rated: E · Non-fiction · Personal · #1487904
The year of the lights & the true meaning of giving.(A true story)
The photo above is me at my grandmothers around the time of this story

Each year, like children, we eagerly await the advent of another Christmas holiday season. We promise ourselves that this one will be different, that this one will be the best yet; no overspending, less emphasis on material things, more attention to the true meaning of the holiday.

Unfortunately, each year we always seem to backslide into our old familiar habits; shopping mania, hustle, bustle, hassle, and a massive buildup of stress, debt, and personal dissension.

It's difficult for most of us to recall the simple, uncomplicated, and seemingly innocent Christmas' of our youth, but how many times have you reflected back to see if you could find that most memorable Christmas?

For myself, I think it would have to be what I refer to as "the year of the lights."

I was eight years old and living with my Native American grandmother. We weren't exactly a well-off family, as you can see from our home in the photo above, nor could we be considered a middle class family. The truth be known, we were just about as poor as a family can be and still be around to tell about it.

Our ramshackle home had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, very little coal to heat the cast iron stove and chase away the bitter cold, food on occasion, and a rather big shortage of love. We had no need for windows because the cracks in the single board walls were wide enough to see just about everything outdoors.

That Christmas I decided that I was just plain tired of old Saint Nick passing by our house as if it didn't exist. I figured there had to be a way to get his undivided attention, a way to flag him down and drag his jolly fat carcass down our slim stove pipe chimney.

My young mind chewed on this thought for days on end without coming up with a favorable solution. Finally, in desperation, a few days before the big event, I decided to make a Christmas tree in our front yard, or what passed for a front yard. I knew it could never match the beauty of the Christmas tree down at the drug store. In fact, I'd be lucky to find a tree at all.

With the ingenuity and imagination with which most children are gifted, I cut a three foot cedar tree off the land of our neighbor to the south and dug a deep hole in the front yard to place it in. I made the hole a little too deep and the bottom part of the tree was under the dirt, but I figured that didn't matter as it would only lend more support to the tree.

Over the next several hours I used my school notebook paper to cut out stars, and made colored chains with loops of paper and crayons and glued it together with flour paste. After draping my best made ornaments on the tree, it still didn't look quite right.

My sister noticed it and let out a deep sigh of regret. It was her idea to string popcorn on sewing thread as they supposedly did back in the good old days. When my "Santa magnet tree" was finally finished, I have to admit, I was rather proud of my unorthodox decorating efforts.

Unfortunately, like the old biblical saying… pride goeth before a fall, the next morning I found a dozen or more hungry blackbirds had feasted on the popcorn on my little Christmas tree and their excitement at such an unexpected gift had torn my wonderful little tree to shreds. Charlie Brown would have been very proud of what was left.

To say I was angry and despondent would be the least of my sorrows, for without my {i}"magnet tree" Santa was sure to bypass our house again that year.

I guess our neighbor across the fence to the north must have witnessed the depths of my despair, because she came out and clucked about how the nasty old blackbirds had demolished my beautiful work of art.

I can't remember her real name but everyone called her by her Native American name, Toopsa-Tawa (which meant short marriage). I never questioned the name because at the time I didn't even know what marriage actually meant.

The great thing about Toopsa Tawa{/i} was that she was very rich. She had electricity, running water, a car, a television set... she was just plain rich, at least from my poor perspective. She then surprised me by giving me a string of electrical lights to put on my little tree and she ran an electrical cord through her window to plug it in. It was totally awesome!

No! Santa did not come again that year but I don't think I really missed his jolly face. My little, though somewhat mangled Christmas tree, stood as a shining beacon for everyone in my small world to witness. I figured if Santa Claus was too busy to visit on Christmas, at least the little Lord Jesus would look down on our shining tree and hopefully bless our family with love. Who knows, maybe our mom would visit us again! My sister had placed a small nativity scene in the dirt at the base that had given me even greater inspiration. That year, I also learned the true meaning of giving.

When we think of people in need our thoughts quickly go to someone other than ourselves. At that age, I don't think I considered myself as one of the… needy people. I knew kids who lived over on the north side of town, a place we referred to as down in the bottom lands, who had somewhat less. The folks around there referred to them as, "poor white trash."

I knew this for a fact because they were always bumming sandwiches during lunch at school, they wore the same clothes practically every day, and they seldom took baths - not that I was one to take baths very often myself.

The little church I attended on the hill near our ramshackle house was my home away from home. Even when services were not going on I often hung around and watched the preacher go about his daily chores and pestered him about trivial and insignificant observations.

That Christmas the church, as usual, decided to have a drive to collect items for the needy. The preacher told me that these were people that could use just about anything, from food, to clothing, even used books and toys. He had also been doing a lot of preaching on how wonderful it was to give instead of receive.

I didn't particularly have a lot of food; most of it came from the garden or from the government, so donating my meager rations to the needy was out of the question.

I also did not have a large wardrobe of clothes from which to pick and choose and I was certain that the needy would not want my hand-me-downs, because, by the time they could be classified as no longer useful to me, they were ragged enough to consigned to the quilting pile. This was a pile of rags that my grandmother sorted through to make patchwork quilts that she sold for extra income.

I did have some old toys; though half of them were hand made, like my corncob darts, my fire baked marbles that we called doogies, and an assortment of handmade bows, arrows and spears.

Then there was my prize collection of items such as my pocketknife, given to me by my Uncle George, several Indian arrowheads, a steel ring I had found digging in the yard, some baseball cards, and my ragged stash of comic books.

So, when it came down to the nitty-gritty, what I had to give either the needy wouldn't want it, I needed it myself, or I didn't want to give it away. I also remember the preacher asking the congregation to give until it hurt. Well, I knew it sure would hurt to give away my prized possessions, but I figured a good Christian would at least meet their obligation half way.

The last Sunday before Christmas, I put the ring in a paper bag with my name on it along with half my baseball cards (not the good ones), and half my comic books (not the best ones), and tucked them under my arm and headed for church.

The preacher had previously told everyone to place their things on a table in the basement before each Sunday service and he would see to it that the donations were given to the needy, so I proudly placed my little bag on the table on top of the pile with my name facing out so everyone would know that I had… donated. I wanted to make sure that I got proper credit for my sacrifices.

The services that day went well, I guess because I figured everyone in the church was looking at me and silently saying what a good Christian and nice boy I was for being so unselfish and giving.

At the very end of the gospel the preacher busted my bubble. He held up my little bag of offerings and remarked how wonderful it was that even the very needy were giving what they could. He went on to say how I, one of the poorest of the poor, had found it in my heart to share my worldly treasures.

Unfortunately, the way he put it made me feel like one of the "poor white trash" folks and the only thing I could think of at the time was getting out of that church as fast as I could… which I did. It also took a few chicken dinners with the preacher and a month of Sundays before I felt like going back to church.

I guess I considered myself as a well-off Christian and it hurt to learn that others thought of me as - poor white trash.

I also decided that if I ever gave again I would not sound my trumpet, it would be in secret so that only God and I would know about it.

I try to tell this story each year in the hope that my children will remember the - true meaning of Christmas.

Gene Ladnier

Aka Oldwarrior

Disabled American Veteran

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