I’ve always loved Christmas. I give credit to my mother for that. Even though she left us when I was young, she was around long enough to make my first five or six Christmases exciting and joyful.
Mother decorated in ways that seemed extravagant at the time. She played loud Christmas music on our big old stereo system and we would dance around the house and be silly. I learned to associate Christmas with joy and fun — and she always made sure I had fun toys waiting on Christmas morning.
When I was about 3 and a half years old — maybe the Christmas in this photo or maybe the one before it — I woke up while my parents were setting up all of our toys for the next morning. (I had one sister at the time and Mother was pregnant with the other sister.)
As they were concentrating on putting toys together and setting everything up — trying to be quiet about it — I stumbled out of my bed and came into the living room to see what was going on. As the story was told in future years, I stood there quietly watching from the shadows of the room before one of them finally noticed me.
One of them scooped me up — still half asleep and fighting to stay awake to see the wonders going on at the tree — and they rushed me back to bed, where I fell asleep again. The next morning, I didn’t remember anything about it — even though I had seen all my toys in the night.
That was the year I received the most prized toy of my childhood — an HO-scale electric model train set with a green Southern Railway steam engine and gleaming silver passenger cars which looked just like the ones in which we traveled all the time. As we moved from city to city over the years, I lost bits and pieces of that set, but I still have some of the cars — still functioning — and the engine has been replaced with one just like the original. (When the original stopped working, I took it apart to understand how it worked, but I didn’t know enough about electric motors to repair the broken one.)
As I grew up, the world got a lot more complicated. Our family fell apart. Even before it fell apart, I experienced things between my parents — ugly shouting matches that still live in my memory — which scared me. But through all the years — first growing up and then through the roller-coaster adult years — I’ve never lost the joy about Christmas that I learned in those first few years.
I still want to smell that pine tree. I still want to experience the magic of watching Christmas lights. I still want to spend the holiday with people I love. I still want to feel the transcendent joy of being with people I’m connected with in something bigger than myself.
On this Christmas, there will be no electric train under a tree. I won’t wear bright red Christmas clothes and dance around with my mother and sister. I won’t do any of those things this year.
But I remember them more powerfully than ever.
And I wish for every single one of you to experience the joy and happiness which I knew of Christmas then. And I pray that you will have the love and connection and happiness that I’m still looking to find again.
Merry Christmas to all — and special love to those who I hope to spend Christmas with in the future.