Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Christmas I Remember Best

The Christmas I remember best was also the Christmas after my father lost his job. I was eight or nine at the time, so I didn’t really understand what was going on, but my mother tells me the day my father lost his job was also the only day she’s ever seen him cry.

I also didn’t understand the impact my father’s unemployment would have on Christmas, but my parents did. Thinking back on it now, as a parent myself, I realize their hearts must have broken as they thought about the much smaller Christmas dinner, the barren Christmas tree. So they did what any self-respecting parents would do: They set out to make that Christmas feel as unexceptional as possible.

They didn’t succeed.

They didn’t succeed because I remember the weeks leading up to Christmas with surprising clarity. I remember watching my mother disappear into her bedroom--where her sewing machine lived--with the express command that we were not to go inside when the door was closed. My dad played with us in the living room while she did who knew what, and neither of them ever explained. It never occurred to me to question what she was doing, so I didn’t.

They also didn’t succeed because I remember those Christmas presents better than I remember any others. I have a hazy memory of once opening up a keyboard (which my parents wanted me to have) and a boom box that played cassette tapes AND CDs (which I wanted me to have), but the two presents I got that year--a small handmade quilt and a muslin bunny rabbit with custom floral-print dress--stand out more than the others.

I slept with that quilt every night until I was, like, fourteen. Now it lives at the bottom of my cedar chest, waiting for the day when my own daughter will sleep with it, too, and appreciate the story of where it came from. I toted that rabbit around whenever my sister and I played house, since I didn’t particularly care for baby dolls. In fact, that rabbit was so iconic we decided that ought to be the secret signal of my engagement: When I brought a boy home wearing rabbit ears, my family would know I was getting married:)

My parents wanted that Christmas to feel just the same as all the others, and at the time, it did. I didn’t realize until years later that those presents had come from my mother’s sewing machine and not some store or catalog. But it is precisely because of where they came from that I remember that Christmas now. Far and away, that was the Christmas I remember best--and the one I treasure most.


Heather said...

Thanks for sharing sis! Seeing as I was four I don't remember this at all but I do remember those rabbits and the blankets and it is good to hear the story behind them! Thanks for helping your little sister remember the true Christmas spirit!!

Jess said...

What a heartwarming post~ thanks for sharing!

Kelly Bryson said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm a little confused about the bunny ears/engagement, though! My favorite Christmas memory was my sisters and our cousins on "The year of the Barbie." Santa had set up this whole Barbie house, Corvette, Barbie on a surf board, Barbie's kid sister, etc. And we played in the dark for a long time, terrified that we were going to be caught! We all believed in Santa so deeply. Merry Christmas!

Krista V. said...

You're welcome, little sis! Thanks for stopping by.

You're welcome, Jess.

Kelly, since I used a rabbit as a baby for all those years, clearly I was going to marry a rabbit. Hence my fiance would have to have bunny ears. Hope that clears things up:) (P.S. You were one brave kid. I never would have snuck downstairs before Christmas morning - I was too much of a chicken.)

Holly said...

What a touching story. It's especially touching that you can see into your mother's heart now.

I remember a doll my grandmother made from an ear of corn -- little stick arms, corn husk hair, a perfect dress of quilted scraps. I didn't value it at the time and would love to have it now.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Jenilyn Tolley said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm glad this Christmas won't automatically go down in my kids' memory as the worst Christmas ever. Of course, Grandma and Grandpa are helping out with presents so they won't have to suffer with my sewing--I'm pretty bad. Anyway, thanks for posting this. It's something I needed to hear this week.

Sierra Gardner said...

So very true! When I was a teenager my dad lost his job and my little sister was in the hospital constantly. As difficult as those times are, they are what I treasure now because they brought out the best in our family. Sometimes I think we try so hard to shelter children that we keep them from learning those valuable life lessons.

Esther Vanderlaan said...

Cute story. I really loved it :)

Krista V. said...

Holly, I'm sorry you don't still have your grandma's doll. Maybe she can make you another one someday in heaven:)

Jeni, I'm terrible at sewing. My mom tried to teach me once, but I didn't get much further than cutting out the pattern before I threw my hands up and stalked away. Now I wish I'd taken the time to learn. (P.S. I hope next year brings a change of fortunes for you.)

Wonderful comment, Sierra. Thank you.

Glad you liked this post, Esther.

Carol Riggs said...

Ah, what sweet memories! Yes--money and expensive presents are not the most memorable or enjoyable things. Great things to remember.

Krista V. said...

Thank you for your comment, Carol.