A Christmas Day

One Christmas stuck forever in a man’s mind, a memory like an old Polaroid in faded sepia tones.

It was ’65 or ’66.  Small living room in a little white clapboard house on Spring Street.  Hemmed-in by a hospital parking lot on one side and a creek ditch deep enough to hold a train car on the other.

A red cedar Christmas tree in the corner, cut from somebody’s fence row out in the country in a time when folks didn’t mind you doing things like that.  Decorated with a string of popcorn, a lot of tinsel, and some of those big colored lights that appear to be back in fashion.  A few store-bought ornaments, but mostly construction-paper Christmas shapes and candy canes.

Presents under the tree, some wrapped in fancy printed paper, others in simple colored tissue.  A hand-made Christmas stocking hanging from the mantel, just below a wooden Nativity scene.

A boy got up about 4:30, because he could no longer lie still and listen to the mantel clock strike the hour and half hour.  Presents from Santa arranged on the oak floor in front of the tree.  Cowboy hat, gun belt, and two shiny cap-gun six shooters.  A Jellystone Park set complete with Yogi, Boo Boo, and Ranger Smith.  A bag of plastic army soldiers, enough to have his own little Vietnam just like the one he could see on a 12-inch black and white every evening at six.  Other small items, now forgotten.  The Christmas stocking yielded an orange, a few pecans, and a roll of Life Savers.

It was a great year. A BIG haul. Important to a boy in a working-class family in Alabama in the ’60’s.

Why?  Because that was pretty much it for that year, with the exception of a couple of presents on his birthday.

That’s what made a boy think about Christmas all year.

“No’s” and “put it backs” filled the rest of the year.  The boy was a man before he realized the reason — there wasn’t any extra money back then.  Money kept the lights on.  Kept gas in the car to get to work and back.  Kept food in the refrigerator.  Kept up hope that the refrigerator held out another year or two.  Christmas required sacrifice.

Different world now.  A man’s kids never understood.  A man’s grand kids have no chance of understanding.  A single trip to Target can trump that ’60’s Christmas.

But then again, that ’60’s boy had more in his stocking than his parents had on their Christmases.

Don’t misunderstand this little tale.  The man isn’t complaining about his childhood, or bemoaning the prosperity that allowed him to buy gifts for his grandchildren this year that cost more than his daddy made in a month back in ’66.

It’s just a memory a man will replay tonight, as he does every year.  All lights off except for the tree.  Aware of the time going by.  Trying to get that ’66 feeling back.

Here’s to your Christmas memory.  If you don’t have one, make it this year.

21 thoughts on “A Christmas Day

  1. Love you Ray. You put things into perspective. And what you said is so true. I’m glad my kids and grandkids don’t know poverty but they will never appreciate what they have like we do. Merry Christmas. Patty Sent from my iPhone


  2. Thanks for sounding off. Been quite a spell. Christmas is a good inspiration.That unnamed fellow’s memories aren’t so different than mine except mine came from an earlier decade. What comes to mind more than anything was a 45-rpm record of Gene Autry singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I don’t know why that one thing has lived in my memory for so long.

    Felíz Navidad, señor. As I write this, a noisy musical group is walking down the street outside, blaring away with trumpets, trombones and drums.

  3. Merry Christmas Ray. I think one reason I enjoy reading your blog so much is our similar upbringing in the the same hometown. My experience is so close to this, but your eloquence makes it so real, I can almost smell the cedar tree!

  4. Merry Christmas Ray. Love this and the memories you shared. So true and to the point of an ERA in time. I sat looking at my tree last night and thinking of a special part of my childhood. Bonus’s were always handed out on Christmas 2 days before Christmas with the Railroad companies in Chicago. My Uncle and Aunt had 6 children but at the time alone 5.

    Uncle Frank had lost one arm so he came and got me from my Grandparents home to help him shop on Christmas Eve. He shopped with excitement. Then we would go to his home and slip up to the attic where the wrapping of the gifts took place and then he would drive me back to my Grandparents home. But like a child his excitement was so special. A few years ago a cousin sent me photo’s and as I sat there I remembered how important Christmas bonus’s were to families. There were no credit cards at that time nor did people take out loans. The reality was times were ever so different. Children knew that of all the things they wanted they had to narrow down the list.

    Pat O

    1. That sounds like a great memory, Pat.

      I think a big part of the giving in days past was the sacrifice of the giver and the joy he got from the giving something that was really wanted. Now it has almost become a burden because a lot of people have what they want already. The option is the “gift card” which takes all the personal touch out of the giving.

  5. MERRY CHRISTMAS RAY, best wishes for the upcoming year. Yes, I can recall such Christmases. My grand kids asked questions this year about Christmases past, they really have no idea, all good though, but it seemed more

  6. Your Christmas memories are the same as mine, even though I was a kid in the 40’s and 50’s. It seems impossible to explain to the kids and grands how special a single, longed-for gift can be, because now we’re all practically buried in STUFF.

    On a fun note: it’s unseasonably warm up here right now. We made those ice lanterns and they’ve been sitting on the front porch melting for days. The good part is that, as they melt, they start to look like etched glass. They’ll be puddles by tomorrow night, but right now they look so pretty with the candles lit. Merry Christmas.

  7. My Christmas gift!
    Wonderfully written.
    May we all have fond and warm memories of special gifts we once yearned for
    at a tender age.
    I’m glad to see you got your groove back, Ray. I’ll work on mine.

  8. Well-written! Makes me see that tree and Christmas morning! Hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas!

  9. I well remember that Christmas and so many others. There are a few pieces of Jellystone Park still with your Mom in dresser drawers, etc. I remember the poem that was on so many Christmas cards back in the day, unknown author. “Never a Christmas morning, never an old year ends, but someone thinks of someone old places, old times, old friends.” Christmas, definitely a time to remember people and blessings. Loved reading this gift from you.

  10. Omg.. you hit it. This brought back that same feeling I had at Christmas and could never accomplish again. Never knew you were a writer… you never knew I had a crush.

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