Sunday, January 6, 2019

2018 Family Memories of Christmas Past

12/19/18 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The older I get, the more reflective I become during the Christmas season.  At this stage of my life, the joyful ghosts of Christmas past bring me great joy and fill me with gratitude.

The heart of the season—the birth of Jesus— has not changed. But everything else has. Especially gift giving. I miss the old days of fulfilling childhood dreams with big and small surprises. Today we buy gift cards. Come along with me on a trip down memory lane and see if you can relate.

My family’s early history (both sides) was one of poverty. An orange in the toe of a stocking was a big deal. It also became a tradition.

My parents were born at the turn of the 20th century. My dad’s family of seven was dirt poor in Missouri. I don’t remember him ever talking about receiving a gift. He and his siblings were barefoot and wore dirty hand-me down clothes. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was in the 6th grade and he quit school to go to work to put food on the table.

Mother was an only child and her dad originally was a roughneck in the oil fields of Mexico. Early pictures of her show a barefoot girl in a dirty dress in the blowing desert sand. Later, things picked up rather dramatically for her family and I now have her beautiful French china doll.

Mom and dad met and married in Missouri and moved to California near her parents during the Great Depression. Grandpa established a business and by the grace of God they all survived and went on to buy houses and live the American dream.

Chuck’s family immigrated from Wisconsin to Calif., during WWII. In Long Beach, his dad welded the Victory Ships. It was a dangerous job but it both helped the war effort and put food on the table for his family. Later, his job at Sears bought Christmas gifts for his three sons.

One year when Chuck was about 8 or 9 Santa brought him his favorite gift ever—a Gilbert Erector Set.  He spent hours building cars and even a motorized roller coaster. It foretold his future as a craftsman extraordinaire.

In my family, I remember what seemed like lavish Christmases. Oranges and apples were in stockings. Under the tree were new clothes and a toy. I still have my Madame Alexander bride doll. My favorite was a Schwinn bicycle. The same one that I would later fall off while racing the boy down the street. It put me in the hospital with a compound fracture of my left arm.

Our kids were blessed with toys. Their dad managed stores for Toy World! A childhood dream world. They always knew what the latest and greatest toys were. Chuck would put them on lay-away to be brought home and wrapped at midnight after the store closed on Christmas Eve.

Kathy, our oldest, was an avid doll collector and had her own dad-built playhouse in the backyard. Her favorite? “My bike,” she said. “In the pre-car, parents drive the kids to a million activities days…bikes were our freedom, our connection with our friends, the beach, shopping and more!”

Son Jeff was all about speed and music: skateboards, model cars, model airplanes and trumpets.

 Grandson Matthew says, “My absolute favorite gift was a used MacBook when I was in middle school. This gift allowed me to have something to create music on; illustrate and sketch out ideas; learn about things through sources like YouTube. It was an incredible gift that allowed me to learn everything from music mixing to video editing and graphic design. It is something that will forever stick out in my mind and I am super grateful for.”

Ashley, our granddaughter-in-law remembers her family’s on-going puzzle tradition. Every Christmas morning there’s a new puzzle for everyone to enjoy. She says it keeps them connected and doing something together with very little effort.

Finally, John, our youngest son, passes on a lesson learned:
“When I was 13, I wanted a 12-string guitar more than anything in the world. Knowing that no one would buy me a brand new 12 string guitar for Christmas—too expensive, too extravagant—I put a janky, used,
"trampoline action" 12 string guitar on layaway at Heck Music in Ventura.

“When my mom heard about it, she drove me to Heck Music, demanded they give my money back, and lectured me all the way home saying, ‘Never buy yourself something before Christmas!’

“I was humiliated, and angry. I knew darned well I wasn't getting a 12-string guitar for Christmas.

“On Christmas day, my grandparents arrived. Grandpa tossed me the car keys and said, "Well, you better get the presents out of the trunk." I opened the trunk, and sitting right on top was a guitar case!

“I had to wait until all the other presents were opened before I opened that guitar case. Inside was a brand new, beautiful Yamaha FG312 12 string guitar. I played that guitar for decades, until it was (sadly) stolen from my office about 10 years ago. Best gift ever!

“The moral of the story is, never buy yourself something before Christmas...because you never know what you might get!”

Merry Christmas, everyone! And may all your memories be ones of joy.

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