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What I remember about Christmas

At the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee in October, the 12,000 of us who came to bask in the age-old art were challenged with recalling and recording our first memory.

My first memory was of my mama unloading the car and crying all the while. Daddy was in the Army Air Corps and was stationed at Gore Field in Great Falls, Montana where I was born. At long last, Mama was going home. The car was packed and Daddy went to the airfield to take leave. On the way down the mountain, the car slid on ice and Daddy went off the mountainside.

His nose was broken as was Mama’s heart. We weren’t going home to Alabama. But, was that my memory or just the hurting in my heart for Mama when she told the story? That’s the way it often is.  Memories are stories “laid” on the heart. The other day, I was thinking about Christmas and my thoughts drifted back to my memories of Christmas. My first memory of Christmas is a blue, plastic star. The star was crystal-clear and, when the sunlight danced through the window and settled on the little blue star, it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen.

Daddy always went down across the pasture and cut a cedar tree for our Christmas tree. We wrapped a string of colored lights around the tree and hung colored glass balls on the branches that were strong enough to hold them. My blue star’s place was at the very top of the tree. Then we hung the icicles, one at a time, so they would look like the icicles that often formed on the eaves of the house.  The Christmas tree was always set up in the living room. There was no fireplace in that room and it was cold. So, every night, I would wrap a blanket around me and go sit by the tree. Sometimes, I would go outside and look at my Christmas tree through the window. It was so pretty that it would almost take my breath.  I don’t remember a lot about the presents that Santa Claus brought. I’d circle “one thing” that I wanted in the Sears Roebuck Christmas catalogue and most of the time Santa brought it to me. A Daisy BB gun, a Howdy Doody string puppet and a silver, plastic saxophone are memories that stand clear. But what I remember most is that, on Christmas Eve, Daddy would bring in a package that had come in the mail. I could hardly wait to see what kind of ski pajamas Daddy had ordered for me. Sometimes they had feet in them. Those were my favorites. But ski pajamas were always made out of the softest cloth with pictures of skiers or Christmas trees or woodland animals. If I had not gotten anything else for Christmas, my pajamas would have been enough. But I never told Santa Claus that. Daddy always brought Christmas in the back door. It would be in a paper sack from the City Market filled with apples, oranges, dried grapes on a stem and a log-size stick of rock-hard peppermint candy.

Daddy would take the hammer and break the candy into pieces. He would open a box of soda crackers and we’d take a bite of peppermint candy and then a bite of soda cracker. The two tastes would swirl together.

“Now, that’s the taste of Christmas,” Daddy would say. And, it was. That’s what I remember about Christmas.