I wanted a train. And a Tonka truck. And at least a dozen other things I had seen in the Sears catalog. Santa had heard it directly from me at Woolworth’s, and I was sure he had promised to deliver on the goods. Looking back, I can see that my parents were struggling along. Living in a small rented house that must have been impossible to heat, two young children, an old car. But memories are shiny things, and this is what I have from the Christmas of 1962.
We always had a real tree, decorated with an assortment of old glass balls and strings of lights. Wrapped presents were arranged under the branches. I was charged to keep the water topped off. The plug was on the wall behind the tree and this was the first year I was permitted to crawl under and plug it in.
The cookie jar stayed filled with sugar cookies cut out in stars, reindeer, and snowmen. When we went out at night, many of the houses were decorated in colored lights and plastic figurines of Santa, reindeer, and Wise Men looking at the Manger, all lit from the inside and glowing in the darkness.
The last few days of kindergarten wound down, school let out, and then finally, impossibly, it was Christmas Eve. It is a wonder I didn’t die of terminal anticipation.
The way it worked in my house was that the wrapped presents got opened one by one, after Mass and breakfast, with everyone seated and much oohing and ahhing over each gift as it was displayed. The contents of the stockings and any loot from Santa, however, was fair game when you woke up.
My bedtime was around 8 o’clock, and I was put to bed with the admonition that Santa could not come unless I was asleep. I laid there in the dark as long as I could, waiting to hear the sleigh. I don’t know what time I woke up, maybe 4 or 4:30. The house was dark and quiet. I still slept in pajamas with feet, and I slipped out of bed and padded into the living room.
Santa had come. My stocking, now packed with small items, rested in the bed of a red and yellow Tonka dump truck. I plugged in the tree and sat on the old sofa in the quiet cold taking out the contents of my stocking. Then I played with the truck as quietly as I could until finally the light began to filter in the windows.
That is all I remember of that year. I am sure that we went to Christmas Mass, had a big meal, opened the packages under the tree, but those memories are lost in the jumble of Christmas Past. It was the quiet time alone in the early morning that has vividly stayed with me.
Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.