I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ghosts of Christmases past

Christmas with Mama and Daddy
This picture was taken in 1943, and it's not really my very first Christmas but the first one where I wasn't just a few weeks old. One thing I love about this picture are my parents in the upper left. Mama is wearing a lacy apron and must be opening something from Daddy, who is leaning forward in anticipation. I sit in the middle of the picture, oblivious to everything but the shiny object in my hands.

I don't know who took the picture, but I suspect it was my aunt or grandmother, since I think we are in their home. It was such a long time ago, but it began my childhood appreciation of Christmastime. And here we are again, as the planet moves around the sun and completes the journey to the winter solstice once more. Four years since I retired and we moved to the Pacific Northwest; how time flies.

Last year at this time I got the news about my dear friend Emily, that she was severely injured from a parachuting accident gone bad. Then I learned that she died. A year ago today I was on the phone getting reservations to fly back to Colorado for the first time since I left. I spent less than a week there and came back home on Christmas Day. It was a terribly hard time, but I saw so many of my friends again and realized with amazement how much I had changed in just a few short years. I had transferred my affections for my previous home town, Boulder, to my new home seamlessly. There is nothing more for me in Colorado, except for the friends of my heart who will always be part of me.

If I were in Texas visiting my siblings and their incredibly huge families, I'd be enveloped in the flurry of visits, parties, Christmas trees, presents, shopping. But since I'm here in Bellingham with my partner who feels as I do, a quiet enjoyment of the season is enough. We don't have to be part of the craziness unless we want to, and we are happy to have a nice Christmas dinner together and buy ourselves anything we might desire. I ordered a new fluffy bathrobe for myself and am wearing it now, my Christmas present to myself. I will give gifts of food to my neighbors, and we have already attended the one party we wouldn't miss. It's enough.

But oh, how I remember the Christmas wishing of my childhood! I would sit and ponder what I wanted to receive from Santa, what desires might be fulfilled. I know I wanted a bride doll one year, and when I would look at her in the window of the store, I was filled with longing. Norma Jean and I actually crept into our parents' closet one year and found our Christmas presents. We stealthily opened them to see what we were getting before wrapping them back up. I think I was the instigator, being the older sister. Since I did that, I well remember the pretty dress I would receive. It's one of the few I recall.

I don't remember at all what I might have bought for other people. When I was young, it was all about the getting, not the giving of Christmas. Now that I am older, that has turned around completely. The enjoyment I receive these days is all from giving things to others, little things that show appreciation and love. Yesterday I finally sent off a pair of my earrings that Norma Jean admired one day on iChat. They just weren't "me" so I was happy to pass them on to her. She loves earrings.

My closet is filled with clothes that I don't wear any more, and I'd like to get those passed along to the right people. I had hoped to do it before Christmas, but it's only a week away now, and I'm not sure I'll get it done before then. I recently gave away some silk scarves I don't wear any more, and that was really fun, making me happy and bringing cheer to other people too.

At the party the other day, one of my friends told me she's got a tree in a pot that she brings in every year to decorate, but a chickadee has built a bird's nest in it that she doesn't want to disturb, so that it can be used again in the springtime. She always has live trees, she told me, because one of the things that bothers her about Christmas is the murder of so many trees. When I was a kid, though, one of my favorite things to do at Christmas time was to lie on my back with my head under the tree, looking up at the sparkling lights, the ornaments glinting, and let the incredible smell of the tree fill me with delight. That smell, along with the smell of gingerbread, takes me back to Christmases past.

Now that I am older, it seems that acquiring things has become more of a burden than a pleasure. Since I don't lack for much, and I seem to have plenty of food and warm clothes to wear, there's not much to wish for any more. My last big purchase was a raincoat that will hopefully keep me dry when hiking in the hills and mountains around town. Next Sunday will be Christmas Day, and until then, I'll reminisce about Christmases gone by while enjoying the present moment.


Teresa Evangeline said...

What a great photo! I like your description of what was happening. It is the giving that is so much fun, although I keep Christmas pretty tame now. I actually have come to love the quiet that has grown around it.

A nice Sunday post.

Anonymous said...

Such a beautifully written essay, DJan! You were a cute toddler. And, yes, like you, I don't want any more possessions. David and I don't buy each other presents anymore. What I would enjoy is a nice meal at a nice restaurant. My birthday is coming up next month, and I know my daughters will treat me to dinner. Looking forward to it. Simple pleasures!

Friko said...

Like for you and your life partner (I like the term) our Christmas will be quiet but very pleasant, (all things being equal).

We want for nothing, we don't need expensive or even cheap presents, a small gift and each other's company will be all we require. We will eat the food we like, drink a glass of champagne, or maybe two, and take the day as it comes. There will be music, a walk, a telephone call or two from family or distant friends, and maybe even a little nap after dinner, which we will have in the early afternoon.

I can't think of a nicer way to spend the day. There's something to be said for slowing down!

May I wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas.

June said...

"Now that I am older, it seems that acquiring things has become more of a burden than a pleasure."
Isn't that the truth?
How much crap do I need in this life? Your Christmas sounds much like ours.
I'm trying out a new (EASY) cake recipe today....it might be replicated many times over as a gift item. :-)

CiCi said...

That's a good way of saying it, looking at Christmases past while enjoying the present holiday season. I too have little I want these days. I feel so blessed to have what I want, plenty of clothes for all seasons and food to eat. All the extras do not entice me. Your belief in sharing with others is how I believe too. You were such a cutie baby and I also like seeing your mom's lap with the lacy apron and your dad leaning forward. Great photo.

Linda Myers said...

My mother was not an easy woman, but she gave my sister and me magnificent Christmases. I did just about exactly the same things for my children when they were kids.

This year my son and his girlfriend and my granddaughters are arriving on the train on the 26th. We'll have a Christmas dinner with my other son and his girlfriend, and Santa will come to the girls for the first time at Grandma's. My son, with whom I have had a rocky relationship in some years, is helping mightily on this project. He says it's overdue.

We get to do what we want these days. How great!

Rubye Jack said...

I pretty much see Christmas as a holiday for children. What a great picture of you and your parents, and your Mom's lacy apron is so cool. (I love all that vintage lacy stuff. :))
Honestly, I really don't even think about Christmas except for when I am reading blogs. Come the day, we will have a nice big dinner and that is a good thing--the coming together of a community.
Merry Christmas to you DJan!

Beth said...

The photo is a lovely Christmas memory for you! My family has shrunk down to a precious few who are all some distance from me. I miss them most at Christmastime.

Arkansas Patti said...

I truly believe Christmas giving should only be for children. That is where the magic is.
I too had one of those years where I found all my presents ahead of time. What a bummer. I got everything I had wanted but the painful acting I did on Christmas day faking surprise, made me swear--never again.

Stella Jones said...

Lovely to look back at your photo from times gone by. It's a time to reminisce isn't it? L and I have been doing that a lot lately too. I love the idea of a new fluffy bathrobe. I'm sure you'll get a lot of pleasure out of that.
Like you say, it's nicer to give than receive as you get older.
Happy Christmas D-Jan.
Blessings, Star

#1Nana said...

One thing I really enjoy is looking at the ornaments on our tree. Although my children are adults now, I still have their ornaments from childhood projects on the tree. When my mother died I kept some of her ornaments and think of her when I hang them on the tree. So many Christmas memories are in those ornaments. Our tree is artificial. I miss the smell of fresh evergreen, but not the mess and fire danger.

Gigi said...

I'm slowly getting into the spirit albeit in a quieter way than usual this year.

I also find that giving brings me much more pleasure than receiving....so much so that I find it near impossible not to go ahead and give the gifts meant for Christmas!

I love that picture - it is precious.

Sandi said...

Some of my favorite photos are those vintage ones of myself and my siblings on Christmas morning. I love looking at the "old" stuff, and I still love vintage toys.

I am also to the age where there isn't much I want or need, and I can just get those things myself. I still love to give, though, and especially love giving things that are meaningful to those I love.

Susan said...

Your cherished memories of your parents and yester-years really hit home. How we change as we get older. Bless your dear heart for bringing so much happiness to others. The world is a better place because there are people like you. Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart and soul.

May you and your husband have a joyous Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

Rita said...

I agree. Christmas isn't a big thing for me anymore, either. I rarely decorate and am home with Karma and that's the way I like it. I love watching the Christmas specials and my favorite movies and listening to the music and carols on Pandora...filled with the holiday spirit, but prefer to be home than to all the running about. The only people I'd care to see are far away or Dagan and Leah, but they're doing the running from here to there--LOL!

Christmas was special at home growing up because there was less fighting. Mom and Dad must have loved Christmas. It was the best time of year from Thanksgiving till Christmas! I remember very few gifts, actually...just that everybody was happy. ;)

Would love to hear some Christmas memories of yours--yes! :):)

Red said...

Excellent description of childhood Christmas experience. I'm sure many seniors can see themselves as children and now, not wishing to receive much. Givings the thing!

Linda Reeder said...

You have truly learned to simplify. You sound so at peace with your circumstances. That's lovely.

CrazyCris said...

A lovely post DJan!

I laughed when I read that one year you guys found your Christmas presents! I don't think we ever found our presents from my parents (my mom was too good at hiding things!), but one year we did agree on what to get each other (some Barbies and Kens) and actually took them out of the box and played with them a bit before wrapping them up! It was definitely a weird Christmas and we never did it again...

I find myself in between the feelings you describe (childhood Christmas all about getting, now about giving). I truly love the giving of gifts, trying to find something just right for that one person (which can be so frustrating sometimes!), and the smiles on their faces when they open it! But I still look forward to finding out what my family might be getting me! ;o)

I've been going through the old Christmas photos (not always easy to find!) and I've come to realise that very rarely was it just the five of us for Christmas (sometimes yes for Christmas Eve when we were in the US). It's always been a bit of a crazy, hectic evening celebration in my family... but then we like it that way! This year my cousin and her companion and their daughter are joining us and I look forward to seeing the little girl's face when she sees what Santa has left in her stocking! :o)

Sally Wessely said...

I can relate with much of what you said here. My husband and I want for nothing and really have no need to exchange gifts. Because of the kids and the grandkids, I carry on traditions of decorating and such, but there have been years when I did not. This year it has been a comfort to get out the decorations.

I think wistfully of my childhood Christmas celebrations where aunts, uncles, and cousins all gathered at my grandparents. Those days are gone forever, but they were good days full of happy memories.

Far Side of Fifty said...

Lovely old photo..is that a dog in the right?
You have some great memories..I unwrapped a package once too..it was a game..I don't remember which one..I should have known that by the shape of the box.
You seem to be getting rid of some of your excess..scarfs..earrings ..clothing..??
I need to get rid of some "stuff" too..for a long time..I was only buying items that were used up ..food..paper products etc.. and recycled goods...I need to work toward that end again:)

Nancy said...

I can totally relate to this post. As a child and young adult it is all about the wanting - now it is all about the giving. I will begin the big downsize after the first of the year. We'll move back to our small place at the Lake so much has to go. I've downsized my closet and more will go at the end of the season. The closet in our condo is small and I'm determined not to have more than will fit. How much to we actually wear, anyway? Like you, I prefer quite celebrations. Merry Christmas, DJan - thank you for being my blogging friend. :-)