Christmas – 1965
It was Christmas and cold. Gusty winds blew dry leaves around dusty streets, while grey clouds threatened overhead. Neighbors had all gotten their Christmas lights up on the edges of roofs. Decorated trees could be seen proudly displayed in front windows.
Ads for every conceivable gift imaginable shouted from television sets, the stores were lit up and decorated. Downtown had the lights up and glitter banners. Everyone was running around madly, getting ready for the Big Day.
In 1965 girls were getting bolder and wearing eye-popping colors on dresses, lipstick and nail polish. Hair styles were Big! with a lot! of hairspray and the woman’s movement was just getting up on wobbly legs.
Seventeen Magazine and the new self-involved women’s magazines were just starting to replace the traditional Woman’s Day and Family Circles that I had been brought up with.
Christmas Eve, my father did the traditional thing which was to get the three of us kids into the car and make a run to the new Mall. We eagerly stuffed our funds into wallets and bags and jumped in the car.
Once at the Mall, my father deposited us and gave us a two-hour window of time. Therefter, we were to meet him at the coffee shop. Released, we ran screaming and yelling through the Mall picking up and discarding junk. The clock was ticking, so decisions had to be made, and things bought. That done, we snuggled our secret purchases close to the chest and hurried back to my dad. We then jumped in the car and went home to furiously wrap.
The next morning Christmas dawned, and my brothers and I got up and ran for the tree. After forty minutes of excited ripping and tearing, the floor was covered in brightly colored debris.
We all took a breath and sat back inspecting our stuff.
“Where’s my present?” My mother asked.
Looking wildly around, I started searching in the paper. Panicked, I began to rummage desperately but could find nothing. I looked at my mother, stricken.
“I didn’t get anything?” Her face began to fold into a sob.
My father got up and went to fix himself an early whiskey and soda.
She got up and went back into her bedroom.
“I thought you got her something!” I said viciously to my older brother.
“I thought you did, you idiot!” He hissed back at me.
“Don’t look at me!” the younger one waved his hands in front of himself.
“Aw, shit,” I said to the crumpled paper.
My mother emerged from the back with clothes on. Saying nothing, she went out the front door. Two hours later she returned. She was holding two bottles of new nail polish given to her by a neighbor. One was the new bright pink everyone was crazy about and another in white.
“Someone got me something for Christmas,” she waved the bottles at me and went back to her room again. I was making breakfast and kept my head down. It was a very quiet house that day.
The following Christmas season, my mother engaged in very few of her usual, pre-holiday preparations. I’m not sure we even had a tree. Surprisingly, there were no threats, tears, recriminations, nothing, just a sort of deadly purpose.
Instead, she announced two weeks before the event that she would be getting on a plane and going ‘home’ for Christmas. Home was the small Southern where she had been born and raised and where her mother and sisters still lived.
My dad took her to the airport and she was gone. We didn’t hear a word from her until she got back. She was to continue this new ‘tradition’ for about five more years. Our household was remarkably quiet during these times. The tradition only changed when my oldest brother, then in the Air Force, got stationed overseas. She started a new tradition of visiting him and his family. Seeing her in old photo albums, these looked to be happy trips.
1985, the Woman’s Movement was in full roar and the sexual revolution had definitely landed. I had a ‘professional’ job, meaning that it had been done by a man previous years. I was flying high with a salary, company car and expense account. Also, yes, can you believe, respect for myself, what I did and respect from others. Alright!
Christmas time, we met at my mother’s new house she had purchased herself. My parents had divorced some years previously. Mother was making her own way in the business world and doing fairly well. The place was a nice ranch in a small town and she had an entire room fixed up for her favorite hobby, sewing.
By this time, Dad was out of the picture except for an occasional dinner, and the two oldest brothers were married and gone. That left me and the youngest brother to do the Christmas thing.
We gathered around the tree and fireplace in the cozy living room and opened presents on Christmas Eve. I had a large box from mom to unwrap. I got the paper off it and pulled the top off to reveal more tissue paper underneath and some darkly glowing fabric. Slowly I pulled out what was a deep, blood red, velvet jacket. It took me a few moments to realize what it was.
“Mom, wasn’t this the jacket you were working on. . .?”
“Yes, yes, it is. You saw it before. But it never fit me right and was too big. So, I made the sleeves into ¾ length and they are so fashionable now. It’s just your size.”
I tried it on once and felt like I was wearing a Hugh Hefner velvet dinner jacket. I could not imagine a single place I could wear such a thing. I folded it back up and plastered a smile on my face.
“Thanks so much, Mom, but it’s really not my style.”
She started prattling on and on about how expensive the fabric was, etc. etc. I wouldn’t back down, no way I was taking that thing home and then pretend to wear it.
“Maybe you could sell it.”
More babbling on and on. I went and got myself a coke and soon after, found some excuse to leave the festivities early.
That early winter, I waited to see if my mother, sensing my extremely displeasure with the gift, would get me something else. She never did. Apparently, she felt that she had done her duty and Christmas was over.
In the years following, I began to tell my mother and my brother, in broad hints, what I would like to get for Christmas. In looking through old pictures recently, I saw myself with a new vacuum cleaner and a happy face. It was exactly what I wanted.
Mom and Dad are both gone now, and that brother has disappeared from the face of polite company. I am still in touch with my other two brothers, but they have large families and those families come first, especially at Christmas.
Christmas – 2015
On Christmas Day I got a voice mail message from my daughter.
“Mom,” she said in her usual breathless fashion, “I’m at Dad’s and my phone has run out of power. I’m calling on his phone. I’ll try to call you when I get home.”
Later, I called my daughter. She answered. “Yeah, hi. Um, I’m just going out. Talk to you later. Love ya!”
I sat in my living room and stared at my little artificial tree. Decorated with pretty glass bobbles, red and gold snowflakes, there was a beige tea towel tucked around the base to somewhat resemble snow. Yellow snow I thought with a laugh.
Under the tree there was not one single gift. Not even a little one. This marked the first Christmas when I didn’t get a single gift from anyone. Not one.
“Funny,” I remarked to the cat, “how much things change and then stay the same.
His response was to start licking his paw. I sighed and went to get boxes to take down the tree.