My grandmother loved Christmas. My grandfather might well have been Ebenezer Scrooge himself. I remember being little, maybe 4, and being terrified that the old man would make good on his threat to wait up for Santa and hit him in the head with a brick. (Young Tom was sadistic that way, mean old man.)
When we lived with them during the holidays -- and this was the case many times during my early life -- the mother had to fight to put up a tree. Young Tom thought Christmas and all its trimmings were "a bunch of bunk."
But that never dampened the season for long. Soon, I was getting visits from Timothy the Elf, an invention of the mother's and her cousin's, her cousin, mother of my late faux brother, Steven. (Timothy would magically knock on doors and windows and wherever those sounds emanated from, I would inevitably find a prize. I was in college before I found out that the two of them were in cahoots, each having served as the noise generator for the other.)
Going to see Santa was an awesome experience usually preceded or followed by a shopping adventure with the mother and her cousin. Steven and I would excitedly point out the items on our respective lists for one another. Many times they were some of the same things. (Like the year we got matching cassette recorders. We thought we were too awesome!)
(I think these are from Christmas 1968, maybe 1969. Aren't we adorable?!)
We were only born a few months apart and shared a somewhat diluted bloodline but were as close as two siblings ever dared be. Closer maybe. Our gifts to each other and the play sessions that followed were some of the best parts of Christmas for me. Some of the Christmas specials I sneak in occasionally were ones that he and I watched together during their FIRST RUN on TV!
I forget sometimes what the wonderment of childhood was like at this time of year. I know that Santa and gifts and a stocking filled to the brim aren't the point, but I had the rest of my life to find that out. I'm eternally grateful that I had those first early years to enjoy the magic and make believe and the electricity of anticipation. And that awesome time with Steven. I miss that more than I can describe. There just wasn't enough of it to last a lifetime.
But over the years, Christmas evolved into a holiday that wasn't about me. It wasn't about toys or trees or Santa. It was about the birth of the son of God. (I had 11 years of Catholic school to drive that home.) It was about others. It became about trying to recreate some of that wonderment, but in a different way, for somebody else. That's one of the reasons the program at work is now such a special and very large part of my holidays.
I got a special gift last night from the mother. The mother who rarely says anything about the work charity program except to ask how it's going or how it went each year. I was telling her I had some things to load up and take to the local agency by the house for two of our adopted families, part of "straggler" donations that seem to show up every year. I was not prepared for the comment that would spur.
"I'm proud of you," she said. "You really are a good person and you have a good heart. Don't ever change." From the mother. The mother who might freely say this to someone else about me, but almost never to me.
I don't even need a bow for that.