Standing in the toy aisle of ABC, a discount warehouse store in Southern California where we did our bi-monthly grocery shopping way before there was Walmart or Costco or Target, I inhaled the scent of plastic dolls brightly packaged and stacked on ceiling-high shelves. There was something magical about Christmas, even the small piece I got to celebrate.
Presents would definitely be stacked on a wall in the living room once they were revealed from their hiding places such as the hall closet. Creative shapes such as giraffes and other creatures would entertain the kids. Perhaps they wouldn’t notice there was no tree, decorations, or that the presents would be opened on the day or two before Christmas.
Visiting the neighbors across the street, I was mesmerized by the silver tree decorated just inside the front door with strings of Christmas cards hung across the top, and presents underneath. And the romance of the beautiful Christmas carols I sang with the school choir with my mother and brother in the audience was a night to remember. My step dad was usually missing, but, then, he often worked at night.
Somewhere around New Year’s neighborhood parties would hold sway. Roy Orbison on the stereo, mixed nuts, ruffled potato chips and French onion dip served in gold-leaf dishes set the stage. After too many Screwdrivers and other cocktails, the parents would sleep in and we’d get out of bed hoping to share in some of the spoils from the night before.
“Hello ‘der” told the story of somebody’s mom and somebody’s dad when the day finally greeted them after crawling out of bed. A Polaroid photo of another dad with one leg out of his pants revealing his boxers revealed more to the kids than they’d planned on.
I was thankful I had gifts and no matter what day we opened them, at least when we returned to school in the new year and when kids asked what I got for Christmas, I had answers to give. My mother said one year they were tempted to put up a tree, but what would happen if my Jehovah’s Witness grandmother should show up and see it? I remember what happened when she caught us with an American Flag for Flag Day.
Today, all of that is behind me. Today, I embrace Christmas trees, cards, carols, and all the bright lights to somehow give myself what I had missed. It’s never quite enough. What is enough is living the promise I sang in those songs about Bethlehem and mangers, wise men, drummer boys, silver bells, and bright stars. But most of all, Little Lord Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.