I have a lot of memories of Christmas, mostly positive and happy ones. My parents seemed to make it a priority that the children had a good Christmas no matter what they had to do to accomplish it, well within legal means of course. In 1953 when I was five we moved into a small farmhouse near a town called Desoto, I guess it was about 50 miles or so from St. Louis. We lived in the house for a few years and it had a few acres of land, some of it used for farming; something my mother loved to do. Nothing big but enough to keep us in garden delights for much of the year, something at the time that I did not really appreciate, being a kid and all. The house seemed big at the time but now that I look back it was quite small, at least for a family our size; at that time there were 8 of us with 3 more to come in the next few years. The house had a laundry room when you came in and it was also used to hang raincoats and winter items etc. Connected to it was the only bathroom with a shower; next came the kitchen, then mom and dad’s bedroom, followed by another room with 4 sets of bunk beds that all the children shared. Changes were made later but that was pretty much what we had. Also near the house was a small barn that we later used as a chicken coop. My parents would buy 200 chicks at a time and grow them for our food. I suppose we had chicken three or four times a week and to this day I still love chicken. I never seem to get tired of the foods I had as a child.
Well, Christmas was coming and you all know how exciting that is for children still young enough to still believe in Santa Claus. At that time dad owned a gas station in East St Louis so he was gone much of the time. He had to put in 12 hour working days to make enough money to make ends meet. So mom was pretty much alone to deal with 8 active children. She did a great job in taking care of us, she always seemed to be in good humor and very patient; well at least most of the time. I remember that Dad took three days off that Christmas and it was wonderful to have him home for such a long period of time. We went out into the small woods we had and got ourselves a really big tree¦ and I am not saying this because it was big in relation to me, no it was big in comparison to the room that the tree was put it. I remember that Dad had to cut off some of the top, so that it would be able to stand upright, now that was big; probably the biggest we ever had.
It took us a day to decorate the tree and we had a great deal of fun doing it. Mom and Dad laughed a lot, we played Christmas music and had cookies and milk. After the tree was done we shut off all the lights in the house and waited until dad lit up the tree.
To this day the glow of Christmas lights in a dark room brings me back to that moment when the peaceful glow of the lights filled the room. We just sat in silence for quite a while and then we all laughed and cleaned up the room.
Christmas Eve came around and Mom and Dad got us to bed early. It seemed, believe it or not, that we all went to sleep pretty fast, which is quite a feat when you have a house full of kids excited about Santa coming. Well perhaps not really, they kept us pretty busy all day, and we played games in the evening. Then they read us stories and then plopped us into bed. Pretty smart, keep the kids busy all day, no naps and they will fall asleep in no time.
I guess I woke up after midnight since the whole house was silent. I sat up in bed and looked at the beautiful tree with all the lights and felt a great deal of peace come over me. Then I noticed the gifts, they were stacked halfway up the tree, wrapped in colorful wraps and arranged in the best possible way. I was stunned and just sat there and remained very still, inside my soul a great silence descended and seemed to embrace me. I did not want to wake anyone I just wanted the moment to last forever but of course, it did not. I put my head back on the pillow and fell right back to sleep. Now that I think about it I think that was my real Christmas present that year; the beauty of that moment and the peace that it conveyed to me.
To this day I don’t know how my parents pulled off that Christmas and I never asked since I did not want the magic of the experience taken away from me. That memory is an anchor of sorts for me, for along with other special moments from my childhood, these experiences which were few, far outweigh any of the other memories that were painful or fearful. Perhaps I was on some level really understanding that what I experienced at that moment was the manifestation of my parents love and the lengths they would go to show it. Also perhaps I was learning something about the love of God as well.--Br.MD