The dust of snow – more a sprinkle, settled on the hilly dirt and scrub lot behind our house. “Snow!, “It’s actually snowing!” I heard my brother Grant shout. And as we clambered to the windows in our matching L.L.Bean family P.J.s from two Christmases before, Grant raced into the garage, unearthed a pair of way too long skis, some rope, an old broom handle and a hoe, scrambled out the back gate, tied the skis onto his feet, and attempted to make his way, cross-country style through the crystal dusted dirt.
Grant had a way of making do with very little. In fact by then all of us were pretty adept at making miracles out of nothing. Mom taught us that. She did it everyday. And this particular Christmas, perhaps the leanest of all became the most miraculous.
Before moving into the “big house”, the three new boys slept in hide-a-way beds in the family room, where each morning at five-o’clock I woke them up with a reveille of scales, arpeggios, and the three Bs, hammering out of the old family upright.
At 6:00 I awoke my two sisters, little Joey already bouncing in his crib in his sweet-smelling yellow footie pajamas.
Then the chores began, and lunches were made, assembly line style – “Just like the Langendorf Family” – Mom would say. The family had burst from two to seven children in the space of two years and with its increase, the family pocketbook had decreased – significantly.
So this Christmas – to be Christmas required some extra-special miracle making.
The tree was decorated as beautifully as always, featuring the elegant hand crafted ornaments Mom had fashioned from garage-sale jewelry, ribbon, and straight-pins.
Perry Como, John Gary and Barbra Streisand reverberated through the big house and we all sang along, sometimes breaking into full-out Broadway routines while vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, and polishing the floors by sitting on big sheets while Mom swung us around. It worked.
Gifts were not gathering this year around the base of the tree. Almost every little window had been opened on our paper Advent Calendars, and still no presents. Santa was sure to bring a few on Christmas Eve, but by now we knew that most of them arrived well before December 24th – square, round, shakeable, and inviting,
but not this year.
Then a family meeting was called, and we were invited to “get creative”.
Soon we were all quietly preoccupied with a secret gift-giving plan.
So it went on through that last week before Christmas.
That year, instead of handing out warm coats, Mom and I went into the “rough side of town” offering up hot cocoa and hugs to the homeless folks there. They knew Mom by name because not many people were willing to actually hug them. But we did. Hugs were free.
Finally Christmas Day arrived, and as we raced downstairs, any half-harbored hope for some final-hour presents beneath the tree was decidedly dashed. Still we gathered, there on the sofa, and gazed at that beautiful tree where – this time new ornaments hung – not the usual kind, these were different. Small pieces of paper with curly-Q ribbon, tiny packets made from Christmas wrap remnants – each with someone’s name on it.
So we opened and read them:
“I owe you a pan of brownies ” one read, “I owe you three-hours of babysitting”, “I owe you a foot rub”, “I owe you some extra work in the garden”, “I owe you a game of cards” “I owe you a singing lesson”, “I owe you a spaghetti dinner”.
So the list went on…and then we went caroling.
And that year Christmas lasted an entire year as we collected on all the many presents we were “owed”.
2010 Desiree Goyette
MAY EVERY MOMENT BE A SLICE OF JOY.