With only a fortnight left to finish any Christmas crafting projects I want to get done for this year, like the hapless Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, I find myself ruminating on Christmases past.
One of the projects I am currently working on is a Duke blue inspired soccer ball, and I made good progress on it today.
I finished 5 of the 20 needed hexagons,
and made substantial progress on 5 additional hexagons.
And as I work on this soccer ball which will be a gift from a mother to her daughter, I am brought back to a particular Christmas long ago, when my mother bestowed on me, my most remembered Christmas present ever.
My own mother’s mother, my grandmother, emigrated to the United States at about the age of 10.
Many parts of my grandmother’s life were not easy. Cursed with a good work ethic that did not afflict her older sister, my grandmother was kept at home to help with the boarding house, while her older sister was allowed to go to school where she learned to read.
Meanwhile, my grandmother, in perhaps an effort to get away from her father and his boarding house, married young. If the official record of that event is to be believed, she was 19; however, family history and other official documents suggest that she was most likely 16.
My grandmother was a practical and pragmatic woman, and her practical and pragmatic nature was reflected in the gifts she gave. No Christmas would be complete without new underwear.
My own mother was more carefree and mischievous, but like own her mother, she has a practical and pragmatic streak that she cannot always overcome.
Such was the case in December of 1970.
I grew up in a time when (at least it seemed to me) every girl on the planet (save me) had a Barbie doll. Long before it was fashionable to be appalled by Barbie dolls, my mother had declared them off limits, so my play with them was limited to occasionally being allowed to handle the beloved Barbie of a playmate and to help look for the small plastic shoes that seemed destined to fall off of Barbie’s impossibly high arched feet.
In addition to not owning a Barbie, I was an only child when it was not chic.
At the time, only children were presumed to be spoiled because they did not have to share a room. I, however, found it to be more like living in a fishbowl. There was never anyone to distract my parents, and I was always outnumbered by adults. If I heard them use a word with which I was not familiar, I was summarily told to “look it up.”
I would then grumble about the difficulty of looking up a word one doesn’t know, but more than once, I ended up reading the dictionary for an extended period of time because whether I found the word I was looking for, I always found something of interest.
At first, Christmas of 1970 did not seem as though it would be particularly memorable. I got any number of small gifts I no longer recall, and I no doubt got new underwear, but it was the gift that hadn’t arrived that had my attention.
My mother assured me it was the gift to end all gifts, and that I would be very happy with it once it arrived.
Christmas vacation ended, and I went back to school. My gift still had not arrived, but I was convinced that my mother must have finally relented and that the Christmas present had be a super special Barbie doll, so when I returned from school one day and my mother announced that my now belated Christmas present had been delivered, it was with much joy and anticipation that I opened it.
To my consternation, once I had removed the wrapping and packaging, I discovered that instead of the much anticipated Barbie, I instead had a first edition copy of the newly released American Heritage Dictionary.
At the time, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what I had gotten for Christmas, and to my relief, no one thought to ask. Eventually, I came to like the dictionary, but by then I was out of high school.
I think what I have come to learn most from the American Heritage Dictionary is that ultimately, when we give any gift, we are giving a part of ourselves.