Yesterday's Magazette

4 – A Christmas To Remember

A Christmas To Remember

By Margaret L. Cooper

In 1968, my Navy husband Bob was on a six-month cruise. Our income was small, bills were too many, and Christmas was coming.

With Bob around for all our other Christmases, I knew nothing about buying or setting up the tree or stringing outdoor lights. I wondered if I could convince our five small children that Christmas had been moved to May when Daddy would return.

They didn’t believe the story, so kiddies and I went to the tree lot and bought what I considered to be an average tree. Too late, I realized I’d purchased a ten-foot blue spruce pine for our tiny apartment. For three days, Robert – my oldest at nine years – helped me saw off the bottom of the trunk to make the tree fit in its holder. We needed another day, well maybe an hour or two, to get the tree to a standing position.

There was no way with my fear of heights that I was going to string up the outdoor lights, so I convinced the children that putting them indoors would be far better.

“We’ll be the only family on the block with outside lights on the inside,” I said, smiling hopefully.

“Great idea,” Paul and Diana, eight and six years old, said.

Patrick in his four-year-old wisdom said, “Okay, but only if Santa says we can do it.”

Teresa at the “Terrible-Two” stage was too busy mixing Cheerios in the gingerbread batter to worry about lights.

Next came the problem of decorating the tree.

Ten little hands grabbing the same string of lights or the same box of tinsel, or the same breakable heirloom bauble didn’t help my nerves. So after making five piles of My Very Own Decorations For Just Me To Put On The Tree, I found some sort of order and even a peacefulness that lasted long enough for me to hide all breakable heirloom baubles.

When we finished with the decorations, much of the tree was still bare. The kiddies, unperturbed, worked with enthusiasm up until Christmas Eve making their own decorations. Coloring book pages, cut up greeting cards, even homework assignments that had earned a sticker or approval from a teacher hung proudly on green branches.

Presents were small that year, but plenty. You know: “Quantity instead of quality.”

Snow fell on Christmas Eve. Not much. Just the lacy flakes that drift and glide across frozen ground to leave enough whiteness without stopping traffic.

Robert lured his brothers and sisters to bed early with countless stories about Santa’s progress from the North Pole. Then he tiptoed to the living room where, as Man of the House While Daddy’s Gone, he helped me wrap presents and realized that Santa was, after all, a dream in the heart instead of a man on a sleigh.

For Christmas dinner, we all had our very own “turkey,” a Cornish game hen golden brown on each plate. After dinner, I sat at our table starring at messy plates and leftover food, and watched the kiddies with their presents.

Robert, who later become a medic, sat reading his Golden Book Encyclopedia.

Paul, the future scientist, was helping Patrick, destined to become a qualified electrician, put together a wind-up train set.

Diana, a nurse in the making, was teaching Teresa, a budding artist and future carpenter, how to draw kitty cats and puppy dogs.

Bumps and bruises, heartaches, along with much happiness lay ahead, but I wasn’t thinking about anything that day except the Christmas the children and I had celebrated alone, while Daddy served his country at sea. And, strangely, no other Christmas has touched me in the same way.

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