An Orange for Christmas!

Mom always retained her astonishment at things that people said and did.  She was certainly sheltered from much of humanity’s depravity, despite the hard times she actually experienced as a child.

As the little lady of the house, Mom was responsible for making sure she had her uniform cleaned and pressed for school each day.  She had one uniform.  The day that the goat ate her skirt from the clothesline was for her a deeply tragic event.

The little lady had once made herself a dress from a brightly colored, parrot print fabric.  She would shudder as she described wearing it proudly, hindsight having now set in to how incredibly ugly it must have appeared; but the nuns, knowing the family circumstances, would have said nothing to the smiling little girl without a mother.

Mom used to share how, when orphaned, her brother and she were remembered by the civic organizations in which her father had once belonged.  Each holiday season, the two children would attend a party and receive Christmas Stockings that each held an orange, a peppermint candy cane, hard candies and walnuts. What a treat! Mom described the stocking’s contents as though they were as precious as gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Like clockwork, the stockings would manifest each year in Mom’s now familiar reverie. After a few years of repeatedly hearing this story, all Mom had to do was mention the word stocking and The Brat and I would start to tear up; we soon learned to squelch much of the torture by pleading:

Please don’t tell us anymore, Mommy… We will be good, really good…  Just don’t tell us any more… We will be happy with what we get, Mommy – anything – that might be under the tree this year will be just fine!  Pleeeease stop with the orange and walnuts…

We could take the goat eating Mom’s skirt much easier than we could ever handle the oranges in the stockings.  Deep down, The Brat and I both realized how truly fortunate we were; didn’t we also have all the peas at our table that the starving children in China and elsewhere did not?

Funny, but I never heard the kids across the street ever apologize for having so many gifts under their tree…I don’t think their Mom ever told them anything this sad; and she had grown up on a real farm in the Midwest!

Lights! Table Tops! Action!

Daddy worked lots of late hours; the Christmas season was no exception.  Because Mom didn’t drive, we had to wait until Daddy came home early enough on a December evening to eat, then all hop in the car to go shopping for a tree under the Christmas tree lights at the nearest tree lot, often after dark.  We were in the city.  This was the way we did it.

As much as I dreamed about a ceiling high tree (just like those pictured on Christmas cards), we didn’t have a corner that wasn’t already taken in our living room.  So, we always purchased a “table top” tree; one that stood roughly four to four and a half feet high.  Mom loved the silver tips; year in, year out, that is what came home with us on a wooden stand.  The size fit nicely on our marble-topped, Victorian table.  The table was already in front of the large picture window. There was plenty of room underneath the cabriole carved legs to tuck packages safely out of the way from footsteps;   all were simple but good reasons to keep the tree in the same place each year.

It was getting closer to Christmas, and Daddy was working long hours.  Mom announced to us that we were going to walk down the boulevard, pick out a tree, then ask Daddy to pick it up on the way home that evening.  Okay…sounded like a plan!  So, Brat and I bundled up and walked with our mother the two and a half blocks to the tree lot.  At least this time we were choosing a tree in daylight; we were excited and made the rounds, turning the silver tips around until we found one that was just right!

Somewhere between our picking it out and Mom paying for it, Brat and I missed the discussion with the tree salesmen about taking it with us.  Mom agreed, convinced that we could easily carry it, and then reminded us how tired Daddy would be by the time he got home that evening… why, we three could save Daddy a stop, right?  We could carry the tree home…  Wouldn’t that be fun?

It was broad daylight; the entire walk home, Brat and I prayed none of our friends or neighbors (whose mothers drove, by the way) would see us walking up the street carrying our Christmas tree; we had to look up to cross a couple of corners, but I would not look at any cars for fear I’d recognize anyone!

We were groaning at the thought that we might have to explain exactly why we were carrying a Christmas tree home.  I vowed that if I EVER had children I would NEVER make them do anything like this.

We stopped a couple of times to better grasp our portions of the trunk (envision the Seven Dwarfs carrying the log in the movie trailer for Snow White and you have the picture ); except that we weren’t singing.

The more we complained, the more Mom giggled, lightly reprimanding us and deciding that this was truly an adventure!  Wasn’t this fun?

That had to be the longest, two and a half blocks Brat and I ever walked. We wanted to die from embarrassment.

And Mom wondered why we babies in the family grew up believing she’d come over with the Donner Party…

We Need a Little Aspirin

(sung to the tune of We Need a Little Christmas with apologies to Auntie Mame and the rest of the family)

Verse One:

Haul out the GARBAGE!

Let the two dogs out past you; leave the DOOR ajar!

Oops! Toast is BURNING…

I should have stayed in bed –OH! Drat.

Where’d I LAST hide the jam?

 

Chorus:

Oh, who NEEDS this every weekend?

Cyber-What-Day IS this?

Where’s the IN-STORE coupon?

I had it just one second a-go

HELP! Where are my car keys?

Don’t DARE wear your best blue jeans.

Grab your coat  –  it’s TIME to run!!!

 

Verse Two:

Kids! Stop your FIGHTING!

I can’t find ONE darn park-ing spot

Even NEAR the store!

Try helping MOMMY

I promise you; we’ll get a drink

JUST as SOON as we can….

Chorus:

Ugh, who NEEDS this every weekend?

Wrap to buy and boxes…

WHAT? You’re OUT of boxes?

Kids! I see a dumpster close by

LOOK! A BOX WITH PEANUTS!

SHOVE your sister over!!!

Breathe in, GOOD Job!! Let’s RUN back home…

 

Verse Three:

There! Gifts are FINISHED!

We’ve time to dress – YES! You can

Wear your blue jeans now.

Help your lit-tle brother!

I’m putting shadow on, Hon

Can’t even SEE what he’s done…

 

Final Chorus:

OH. I need a little ASPIRIN!!!

WHAT takes jam off GIFTWRAP?

How long ‘til we get there?

Just sit BACK and watch the snowflakes

OH – WHY CAN’T I FIND IT?

GPS won’t SHUT up…

I need a little aspirin NOW!

Oh, Tannenbaum!

Mid December, we’d have our school Christmas Program.  As I climbed the grades, I knew which teachers were the most clever when it came to planning out musical presentations and art projects (those were my very favorite hours of the day).  I was observing all the details, mentally capturing what I hoped would be the best from them all for when I grew up and became a teacher.

I was really excited the year I reached fourth grade, as our new teacher was extremely creative in all she did.  By early December, she sent home a note asking all of us to bring a flashlight to school. We couldn’t tell our parents what we needed it for; we could only mention that once our school Christmas program was over with, we’d bring it back home still in one piece and still working.

Our teacher had cut squares of crepe paper in bright red, blue and green.  We were each assigned a color square and a rubber band; we fastened the sheets of color over our flashlights.  During rehearsals, she mixed us up on the stage steps to arrange the colors until she had the color mix she was looking for.  We practiced filing and climbing onto the six different levels of the stair-stepped platform until we could line up perfectly in place.  Once stationary, our class members formed the simple triangle shape for our singing tree.

Mind you, we were nine year olds, walking and climbing steps while holding and balancing our own heavy, metal flashlights that were roughly nine to ten inches long and used size C or D batteries. The last thing any of us kids wanted to do was drop our lights on the head of the kid directly below our step position!  The VERY last thing any of us wanted to experience was being the kid who felt a heavy whack on the head!  Cautioned well about our responsibility, each of us  grasped our flashlight very tightly, making sure we directed the bulb end toward the audience, while pushing the slide switches back and forth to make our tree blink on and off to the musical notes per her directions.

The big day arrived and we filed into the darkened auditorium, climbing onto the six different levels of the stair-stepped platform just as we had practiced.  The piano began its intro and we sang and blinked our way through Oh, Tannenbaum!

Our teacher always believed we could pull this off so, therefore, we also believed.   The overall effect was extremely captivating for those in the audience; did we ever delight our parents that year! As fourth graders, we were absolutely joyous and certain that no other singing Christmas tree ever looked or sounded lovelier!

 

 

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”

Matthew 12:32-34

 

Chocolate-covered Pretzels

As was her practice, Mom prepared a full course dinner every evening.  We never left the table hungry.  She served dessert on holidays and rare occasions only; her reasoning was simple:  Daddy didn’t need any more calories.

Nevertheless, optimism and some old habits die hard.  No sooner would Daddy leave the table, he’d fall asleep in front of the TV, then awake and, believing it was time for a snack, take his after dinner walk from the sofa to the refrigerator in search of sweeter things.

Sometimes, if Mom was out of the kitchen, he got lucky; he managed to find some cookies or something sweet hiding in one of the cupboards.  More often than not, Mom was still at the sink.  She’d watch Daddy go to the freezer and check to see if any ice cream was left.  She didn’t even have to ask, she knew what he was looking for.  Not that she kept quiet …

Honey, didn’t you have enough to eat already?

Don’t worry about what I’m doing; I’m just walking around…

Daddy would come back out into the front room, drink what was left of his after dinner coffee (black with a little bit of sugar) and try to look pitiful enough to evoke sympathy from us two girls or anyone who happened to be handy.

Your mother never has anything good around here to go with coffee…she hides everything, you know…

During one of our first holidays together, my husband and I traveled down with our “first born”, a cockapoo named SammyDog.   Mom, who was afraid of most dogs, actually liked Sammy Dog; they had become a mutual admiration society.  Sammy Dog liked all the leg of lamb bones Mom saved for him, and Mom liked the fact that he was as friendly, harmless, and as well-behaved as he was.  She would often ask us if we would take Daddy back with us for a couple of weeks and try to train him to behave as well as the dog.  Daddy just ignored the remark.  Daddy loved dogs so; with Sammy Dog around, Daddy at least felt he had an ally.

One particular evening, Daddy roamed around, looking for something to eat.  As a rule, we girls automatically assumed our old roles and were good daughters; in years past, we would have scrounged up a treat from one of Mom’s hiding places for Daddy to have a little something with his evening coffee.  This time, however, we saw an opportunity to have a little fun at Daddy’s expense; so, once Daddy had returned to the living room empty handed, my sister and I walked back into the kitchen.

Sammy Dog had received some presents for Christmas.  Sitting on the washer with the bag of dog food was a small box of doggy pretzels.  They were chocolate-covered, apparently to make them look really enticing to the buyers and pet owners.  Knowing our father’s penchant for anything with chocolate on it, we girls found a dessert dish and carefully arranged the chocolate-covered pretzels on the fancy glass plate.  When Mom saw and heard what we were working on, she tried to protest but was giggling so hard we had to ask her to quiet down!  We left the filled dish on the corner of the washer, right near the refrigerator.

Daddy missed the pretzels on his next round.  He came back out and sat down to resume watching TV.  So, one of us quietly returned to the kitchen and this time, moved the glass plate out to the dining room and laid it on the table’s corner nearest to the kitchen doorway.  If Daddy were to get up again (chances were good, we were there visiting and he was trying to stay awake), he’d have to walk by the dining table on his way to the refrigerator.  Sure enough; it wasn’t long before the optimist again got up…

Well, well…what have we here?

We pretended not to notice or hear as he picked up one of the chocolate-covered pretzels and returned to the sofa.  He was chewing the “cookie” and sipping his coffee, but by his expression, we could tell it didn’t taste as good as it looked, and he was beginning to regret his first swallow.

Where did your mother get these?

I quickly got up and ran around the other door into the kitchen’s nook where I joined Mom, both of us giggling and trying to hold back our laughter, still waiting for the finale. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get the reaction I was hoping for.

Daddy only remembered my Anadama bread (a New England corn bread) that I baked once and was told in no uncertain terms to never ever make again!  Trying to be more diplomatic this time, Daddy whispered to my younger sister,

Who baked this crap?  It tastes like s@&$*%(#t.  Your sister didn’t bake again, did she?

 

Monday’s Child

There were times the last four decades when I couldn’t lose myself enough over the weekend to regenerate the energy I’d need for the coming week.  Just as my parents did, I’d succumbed to the worker bee mindset; the protestant work ethic so to speak, except we were Catholic.

Of course having Mom and Dad as role models didn’t exactly teach me how to relax; and I had no idea what I really wanted or was timid enough not to dream aloud.  So, I GAVE MY ALL in the employment positions that I acquired; fortunately, they were educational and helped me later discern what I didn’t want to do.

Monday.  Another week and the beginning of another month!  My first job as a morning teacher for a private daycare! Tuitions are due, so smile and remind the parents that the payment is due today…smile sweetly and tell them it’s no problem; (yes, we’ll still feed your child) but, don’t forget the check tomorrow or a late fee will apply.  No problem, we love having the little darlings here, not to worry….especially when they share with us that they didn’t have time for breakfast or, instead of a hot meal, they ate ice cream this morning!!! Wow, how lucky can they be???   We teachers are excited, too!  We are anxious to have the sugar highs over with so we can exert some discipline, introduce the new songs for this month’s program, and get them settled by naptime; good that the theme this month is farm animals.  We’re gonna need Old MacDonald’s help…

Monday.  Another brown bag.  This one holds yet another weekend project surprise for the repairman…seems that the hubby tried to “repair” the small appliance, but removed one too many screws and couldn’t remember how it all went back together again.  So, he tossed it into the crumpled brown bag and – too embarrassed to drop it off on his lunch hour – sent it with his wife so that SHE could drop it off to our little ma and pa repair shop.  The repairman looks inside and asks,

What was wrong? What was the original trouble?

The wife can’t remember because it took over fourteen months of cautious reminding (nagging) before hubby dear finally picked it up yesterday, then threw in the towel, as the game was going to start in five minutes.

Whether the repairman declares it fixed or suggests it be given a proper burial, the item will sit on the shelf until the next payday or back to school week; whichever comes first. In either event, the family has learned to live without it.  Its features and benefits, once a godsend to the modern kitchen, are no longer as necessary since the town now has a MacDonald’s on both the east and west side, and Mom doesn’t have to cook five nights a week anymore.

Monday.  I can play homemaker half the week! It’s the perfect fit for a young mother with a second grader, as I can also parent-teach in the morning, get paid for it, then come home for the afternoon and be waiting to greet all the little critters who have me through Wednesday as their Mom-on-the-Block; kind of a personalized Jack-in-the-Box but with an apron, offering snack foods without labels or toys, and providing a safe place for the neighborhood kids to gather for bathroom stops and play.

Monday.  There is still more week than money at the end of the month. Even now, with all my budgeting experience and cooking techniques, I can find myself with the occasional surprise of a missing household item.  As a young bride, I remember the morning I ran out of paper towels and debated whether an extra absorbent kitchen towel or Kleenex layers would make a better grease blotter…thankfully, God is kind, and I have never had to make that choice again.

Today, I’m out of eggs.  Upon further examination, I have the makings of a great Mexican feast; except for the required tortillas.  So, I will forage through my “emergency shelf” and freezer, and then put together some forgotten combos that I haven’t fixed for a long time.  It’s three days before payday, but we’ll make it as we always did.

Come next Monday, I’ll have eggs and tortillas!  How great is that?!!!

STANDING UP

I was reminded of Mom, who continued to stand for older people on the bus or in the doctor’s office; she was over seventy years old herself, and we would remind her that she no longer had to give up her seat; in fact, she’d earned it and could safely enjoy staying seated.  She didn’t really acquiesce until her ankles began to weaken and she became unsteady.

Such was the déjà vu moment that spoke to me as I watched the group of older men come forward, each in turn, as their names were called.  This was a moment for decorum…

I watched as the once young soldiers resumed their youthful, military stance; one could almost imagine each reporting for duty as they were called in alphabetical order.   Despite their fragile gaits, each had once again straightened up just enough to return to uniformed days when they had been warmly greeted by their loved ones.

This was a simple but touching ceremony.  Those who walked without a cane or walker stepped forward and stood at attention while the caring woman pinned the red carnation on their lapels and thanked them for their service.  Slightly exuberant but still possessing the shyness of their youth’s generation, each ambled to a nearby seat so as to allow the next Vet his very own moment of recognition.

A couple of them were strong enough to raise themselves up from the wheel chair seats that brought them to their place in line outside the room’s entrance, where they managed to stand ever so briefly but long enough to receive their carnations eye to eye.  They fell carefully back into their wheeled seats and worked their way back to the end of the line so that the next Vet could move forward.

I tried to imagine the individual yesterdays these men had known; some of us who watched the brief proceedings during our lunch were younger by at least thirty to forty years… from my brief encounter with WWII and Korean War history, I could only surmise the reels of memories still rolling inside each of these old soldiers.  I had had older cousins who had served at the same time as these gentlemen. But as in most families, ages tended to stay within ages, and reunions were more difficult to get to these days; I had to admit: I knew very little of my own cousins’ stories.

My membership in a service club had brought me to this senior living residence dining room this week, wherein tradition extolled these precious individuals at least one day each year.  Some of these men had once celebrated Armistice Day; and like my older cousins, they were at least a generation younger than my mother would have been, had she been sitting here at lunch with me.

Like Mom, they understood the simple courtesy of giving up a desired seat so that another older member could take in the brief but respectful place accorded him by the rest of his senior living comrades in arms