Christmas is a time for memories. Cards and letters remind us of friends and family. Decorations for house and tree revive special times – a corn husk wreath from the Illinois cousins, the crche a son painted on which Mary has auburn hair, kind of like Auntie Patt’s, plus handmade ornaments from grandkids.
My childhood memories of Christmas were in Vaughn with large family gatherings at a relative’s home. Women in the kitchen and dining rooms, men upstairs playing cards, tables laden with food, talking, people laughing everywhere, games that involved adults and children – those are the special memories of a large family.
The games, directed by Aunt Dorothy or Uncle D’Arcy varied from making paper hats from the gift wraps to “walking the plank.”
Special gifts from Santa? Huge “twin” dolls Patt and I received one year, with blue dresses. They may have been bigger than our baby sister.
A dollhouse, not a fancy commercial one, but a simple two-story wooden structure, and I loved it. I recently learned cousin Joyce and her dad built it, and that adds to the special memory for me.
My favorite memory of childhood Christmases happened when I was 8. I woke up, hearing small, soft noises I couldn’t identify. A sliver of light shone under the door to the living room. All else was dark.
Was Santa there? I wasn’t sure I still believed in Santa, but I hadn’t been able to prove it one way or the other.
I crept to the door and opened it a crack. All I could see were tree branches. The noises stopped. I pulled it open a bit more and peered around.
My mother sat on the floor, with boxes, wrapping paper and ribbon around her. She put her finger to her lips, then motioned me to come out. I closed the door with care and went to sit beside her.
“I thought Santa was here,” I whispered.
She smiled and continued wrapping.
On the dining table, we’d put out two cookies and a glass of milk. One cookie and half a glass of milk remained.
“Was Santa here already?” I asked.
My mother pressed a tag on the package.
“To Terry, from Santa.”
But my mother wrapped it – I watched her.
I crawled to the tree. One package was to me from Santa. I crept back to my mother.
“Are you Santa?” I asked.
“What do you think?” she replied.
I nodded, and she drew me close.
“Are you disappointed?” she asked.
I shook my head no. I was glad to know the truth.
“Would you like to help me wrap some?” she asked.
When all the gifts were wrapped and the paper and ribbons put away, she led me to the table and gave me the cookie and milk.
“This is your treat for being Santa’s helper,” she whispered. “But Santa’s helpers have to know how to keep secrets.”
“What kind of secrets?” I asked.
“Some children still believe in Santa, like your little brother and sisters. I don’t want them to know until they’re ready, like you were tonight. Can you keep that secret?”
That was my first awareness of growing up: I could be trusted with a grownup secret.
In the morning, when we opened our gifts and the little ones talked about Santa, my mother winked at me. I rubbed the top of the beautiful music box “from Santa.” It was more special because my mother chose it for me.
I watched the delight of the younger kids and decided being a helper was much more exciting than believing in Santa.
May your memories be special. Merry Christmas to all!Colleen Slater’s Out Our Way column appears monthly. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.