1. I do not remember the Christmas day I received a red tractor, but I do remember the tractor and riding it up and down our driveway in Canfield, Ohio (likely the following summer). I guess somewhere between Christmas and the following June, I reached the age where memories were consciously imprinted in my mind! I loved that tractor and decades later saw one just like it in an antique store in Florida...with the price tag of $325.
2. The Christmas I received a toy swimming pool that was chewed on by our Boxer, Ringy, stands out as "first bad Christmas memory." But look at this wonderful dollhouse!
Another favorite childhood gift also involved a music box. It was earlier than the jewelry box, because I was a young girl, probably 8 or 9, and my father bought me a chime that attached to my bedroom door. Every time the door was opened, music would play. I loved that gift!
4. In my early teens I spent a Christmas in a horribly ancient wing of South Side Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. (Note: I mistakenly ID the hospital in my post, but have corrected it.) The hospital was packed and though I was there to have a tumor removed from my neck, I had to be placed in a room near the psychiatric patients and one of them yelled "Jannie, Jannie" all day long, which really freaked this 14 year old out. I remember looking out the 19th century window and feeling like a waif (I was waif-like then) imprisoned in some high tower just longing for Christmas. My sister, Joan, rescued me, however, when she and a friend showed up with a small Christmas tree for my room. (This was a private room, and very small.) I still remember her coming in the door with that tree. Yeah!
I did get to go home for a few hours on Christmas Day, but, tubes in the side of my neck, there are no photos of me that Christmas, and traipsing back to the hospital did not make for a happy teen. This was before children's floors in hospitals had cheerful murals, video games, and nurses with interesting smocks. No Robin Williams with a red nose on the floor, just a guy yelling "Jannie" all day long...
5. My father always took me with him to pick out my mother's present. He gave her a Goebel Christmas plate each year and usually something else as well. So, this required a trip to the jewelry store, and this made an impression on me as a young girl. I remember the Christmas I was 17. We shopped in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and I remember standing on the street corner with my father and big huge snowflakes were falling. Everything seemed like a Christmas scene from a pretty card, and I loved these annual shopping trips with my dad. (All of those blue plates of my mother's now hang above the cupboards in our kitchen here in Athens.)
8. In college I dated a young man who was Roman Catholic. He gave me a beautiful gold cross necklace for Christmas. His family was quite upset because it was not a crucifix. This was my first experience with the divisiveness of religion...at Christmas...
9. My first Christmas as a mother, I traveled from Florida to Ohio with baby Bryce. It was my father's first time seeing his first grandchild and, as my parents had lost an infant son, a time of comfort for them too.
10. Two years later, back to Ohio for Christmas with another son in tow, for Jesse was born and now 6 months old. I remember traveling on the plane with a 6 month old and a 2 year old. The seats seemed bigger back then... This would have been just before real concerns were surfacing about Bryce's development, so this was what I think of as a rather "innocent" time as a mother. I hadn't faced the big issues yet, though my body must have known something was up. I arrived at my parents' house with an illness that would last almost a year, and coincide with a crisis in my marriage and the labeling of my eldest son as "handicapped." My body, perhaps, knew what I did not...
11. There were several Christmas firsts:
1980s: The first time I saw the Christmas Boat Parade in Sarasota, Florida, and learned you don't need snow to have a Merry Christmas.
1990: The first holiday after my divorce, when shared custody was in place and I woke up Christmas morning to an empty house, since I would not see my boys until noon that day. I remember this very clearly. But the holidays in succeeding years settled in with new traditions and the boys enjoyed having Christmas at three places, Dad's, Mom's, and Grandma's.
1998 and 1999: Through difficult circumstances, Bryce was not able to be with us at home these two Christmases. I was happy in 1999 to be back in Ohio near my sister, Joan, but these were bittersweet holidays. I wish I'd known that better holidays were just around the bend....
The Christmas of 2001, when my youngest son, Jesse, returned home for the holidays after having graduated high school and moved to CT. Bryce was also with us. We had a beautiful tree and it was a fun holiday, giving thanks for our good luck on 9/11, when Bryce, Joan, and I were in NYC.
2007: Mark's and my first Christmas as a married couple. Bryce and Jesse joined us, as did Mark's dad and my sister, Joan. What a great day, as we celebrated so many blessings, especially the blessing of being together. Mark gave me a beautiful gold watch, which I treasure. It was also the only time Mark's dad has been able to visit our home, so it was a very special time in our memory.
2008: Our first Christmas in our home in Athens, Ohio. Finally settled in a place that feels like "home"... with both boys visiting and Joan living nearby (here she is Christmas 2008, with our friend David Pike) it was a wonderful holiday.
12. My mother makes Swedish Tea Wreaths every year at Christmas (we are not Swedish, but that didn't seem to matter...). These are given to neighbors and enjoyed by our family on Christmas morning. When I moved to Ohio, I asked Mom for the recipe and began the tradition of making these same deliciously sweet morning breads for my little family.
I've left out other Christmas memories, happy and bittersweet, because of the limitations of a blog post (it's not a book, as I have to remind myself!). I guess the point of all of this is the comfort that comes when one is ... ahem ... middle-aged and has many years to remember, and sees how events and circumstances weave together, how all those different moments, the good the bad the wonderful, make up a real life, a rich life, a blessed life.
When I was a girl it was my happy job to decorate the tree. I loved doing it and afterward, when it would be evening, and the lights would all be lit (the big old style bulbs that got hot!), I would lie on my back in front of the tree, feet toes-up under the lower boughs, arms behind my head, staring at the beautiful lights and ornaments, taking in the smell of pine. I believed just about anything was possible in the face of such easily created beauty. I still do.
(You can see photos of my favorite ornaments at this Facebook album.)
Have a very Merry Christmas!
Janice Phelps Williams, 12/2010