|Mike, Eddie & Me (Betty)|
We all have a favorite Christmas memory. This is mine. The picture was taken on my first day of school in San Diego, California. The story takes place on Christmas Eve of the same year.
San Diego, California, 1959 -The house we lived in was just blocks away from the San Diego Zoo and the mission at Balboa, so our yard was often filled with exotic sounds like the roar of a lion, the call of the peacock, the trumpet of elephants.
We didn’t have much money, but my mother could always find a way to make Christmas special for us. She made many of our gifts and baked lots of cookies.
Dad had been looking for another place to live, further out from town, so we’d spend the weekend looking at houses. I liked one particular house very much because it had an upper story which fascinated me. There was even a life-sized cardboard cutout of Shirley Temple in one upstairs bedroom.
The former owners had left a pile of trash in the yard. On that pile, I found a handmade doll cradle. It was broken and dirty, full of leaves and rainwater, but to me it was a treasure. Only rich kids had such things. I knelt down beside it as children often do, to get a better look. In my heart was a deep longing, too innocent to be described as covetous. I wanted a doll cradle like that one.
On Christmas Eve, my older brother and I were begging to stay up. “Just a little bit longer, please.” To no avail, for I’m sure my mother had a million things to do to get ready for the big day. She stubbornly resisted our pleas. Then she received a little unexpected help by way of a stiff breeze outside. The front door blew open about six inches or so. Mike and I stopped our pleading to gaze at the door, then at each other. His eyes were large and his mouth formed an “o”. Chills tickled my spine.
“See there?” Mom said, always quick on the uptake. “Santa is trying to come, but you two are still up. He can’t come in while you’re awake.” There was no more argument. We ran as fast as we could and jumped into our beds.
Early on Christmas morning, we tiptoed out of our rooms to see what treasures Santa had left for us overnight. Oh, there seemed to be so much stuff beneath that tree. My brothers dived in at once, grabbing toys and showing them off to each other. I stood in awe, for there to my great surprise and joy, was the same little doll cradle I had seen on the trash pile. I knew it was the very same one, even though it had received a fresh coat of powder blue paint and was no longer broken.
Mom had made a small mattress and pillow, complete with embroidered sheet, pillowcase, and quilt. A brand new doll lay on top of it all. The doll could cry real tears and wet her diaper, but I barely noticed. I was enraptured with the refurbished cradle, even though I knew its last home had been a trash pile.
Long after I outgrew playing with dolls, that cradle sat in my room. When I was finished with it, Mom (who seldom threw anything away) used it as a planter. Every time I saw it, I remembered that special Christmas. It became one of my most cherished memories.
It’s not always necessary to spend a lot of money to make Christmas special. Sometimes a little imagination and a whole lot of love can bring the most joy to someone’s heart. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Originally posted December, 2009