Christmas is a joyous time of year and much has been written about it. Despite all the propaganda out there to brand Christmas as something out of a Hallmark card the fact is it remains a very personal experience for each and every one of us. I recently reflected on all the Christmas seasons I could remember and decided to share a few of the more memorable ones!
Santa Comes to the Trailer Park:
My father worked for Kaiser Aluminum. He had been transferred to West Virginia in the late 1950’s and it was there I was born. Well actually I was born in Ohio because that was where the nearest hospital was but I digress. Because the assignment was temporary all the relocated families bought trailers to live in. Whenever I get a bit too full of myself I just pull out my birth certificate. Written on it plain as day is place of residence: Trailer Park. My dad was subsequently transferred to India so my mother decided we would move home to New Orleans and just wait for my father’s two year assignment to play out. She actually liked our trailer home so we bought another one when he got to New Orleans. It was there that I enjoyed my third Christmas.
By then I was talking and self aware. I realized that we had no chimney, no snow, and that we lived in the community of Arabi, Louisiana,which to me was somewhere Santa would never find. We visited Santa in the department store but I was skeptical. I told my mom that there was no way Santa would bring me my space helmet.
One night there was a knock at the door. Mom told me to open it and when I did staring up at me was Santa Claus. In his hands was my space helmet. He came in and sat down. He said he came early to see me so I would know for sure that he knew where I lived. He pointed to a spot on the ceiling. It was a valve of some kind that opened up. He said that was “my chimney” and that he would make it inside our house with no problem. He then said he was busy as he had a lot to do before Christmas Eve, and he left. I didn’t bother to see if he had a sleigh anywhere, I just knew for sure that he was real!
An Uncle’s Love:
My Uncle Jake was my mother’s younger brother. They were about eighteen months apart in age and very close. He was a strapping man. About 6’ft and 180 pounds with the strongest hands and grip I ever experienced. He taught me how to shake hands saying that when you meet somebody for the first time you look them in the eye and shake their hand like you mean it! Unless it was a woman of course.
He served in the navy and saw combat in the South Pacific. I am certain he suffered from what we now know to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as I heard stories about his nightmares. He was a commercial painter, bar tender, owned a taxi cab, and was a merchant seaman. He traveled the world. He also married often. Four times to be exact with two children each by his first three wives, Betty, Laverne, and Shirley. Yes you read it right.
After my dad died my Uncle Jake made an effort to be there for me. He would come by our house and play cards and after I got my drivers license I would take him on his errands and sometimes out to eat. He could be a very intimidating man if he was irked , which made me feel safer with him than anyone I had ever been with or have been with since.
Christmas time at my grandparents in New Orleans was loud. The Italian influence was evident as people seemed to holler more than talk. It wasn’t unusual to hear laughter, cursing, crying, and laughter again within a brief period of time. Finally we would get around to opening presents.
I was probably no more that thirteen when I saw my uncle standing in a doorway. He motioned me to come over and he pulled me inside the hallway where it was just him and me. He then handed me a small hand held transistor radio. I knew it wasn’t a new radio. It wasn’t even wrapped. But I didn’t care. He was looking out for me the best he could. A little over a decade later we lost him to lung cancer but I carry him with me, especially when I shake hands with people.
The Best Christmas Present Ever:
One of my first cousin’s is my Godfather. He is about twenty years older than me so he was more like an Uncle. Just like my Uncle Jake after my father died he tried to step up and fill that void for me. And he did in every way but one and I always felt bad about it. He never could find me a Christmas present I liked and I never could disguise the fact that I didn’t like them. It made us both feel bad.
I always have dressed conservatively when left to my own tastes. My mother would often dress me in what she though was “stylish” clothing. Bell bottoms, silk shirts, loud colors. Once I got to high school I rebelled and started dressing to my taste. I was fortunate enough to attend an outstanding private school and my peers wore golf and tennis shirts, khakis, corduroys, and top siders, so I wanted to fit in with them. But every Christmas my Godfather would give me clothes from All American Jeans or some other clothing venue like that. I would try to smile and say how great they were but he knew better. He would look at me in a button down shirt, khakis, and penny loafers and mutter something about me dressing like an old man.
I finally went off to college. When I came home for Christmas I was determined that no matter what he gave me I was going to get genuinely excited and make sure he knew I liked it. When it came time to open presents I saw my present from my Godfather. As I unwrapped it my face lit up. Inside was a case of beer and fifty dollars!!! It was, and still is, the best Christmas present I have ever received!
What I have realized is that all of the above have one common thread. Love. Unconditional love manifested in acts that create happiness for others. They are just a sample of the blessings that I have received in my life and are the motivation for me to try and do those very things for the people I care about.
May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!