I haven’t visited my blog in a long time because I’ve been so busy writing and publishing book #23 and 24….Dinosaur Lake IV: Dinosaur Wars and Memories of My Childhood, a collection of short stories from my 1950’s childhood. The last story in that collection is Christmas Magic 1959 and I’m actually offering it FREE as a stand alone short story everywhere until Christmas. To kick it off I’m posting it here, as well; along with one of my earliest illustrations from 1977 (I am an artist as well). Enjoy!
Christmas Magic 1959
Tomorrow will be Christmas and for me it brings back memories of another Christmas nearly six decades ago. In our house, in my childhood world of 1959, Christmas was a magical time. The yearly rituals and preparations began weeks ahead when our home would fill with the aromatic smells of homemade cakes, cookies and baked meats. The Christmas decorations would be brought out and hung everywhere to ignite our Christmas spirit. The usual visit to my Grandmother and Grandfather Fehrt’s house on Christmas Eve, the multi-colored Christmas lights and the gifts, the good will of the season, made it one I have treasured all my life. But there was one very exceptional Christmas which holds a poignant place in my heart above all others because the summer before I had nearly died, or that is what I’ve been told. I’ll tell you about it later in my story. It seemed from then on my life came into crisper focus, I cared more about everything and everyone, because I was just so grateful to be alive. This is the story of that magical 1959 Christmas.
“They say it’s going to snow for Christmas.” Jimmy was standing by Katie’s bedroom window looking out on the frigid day. The skeletal dark trees outside the windows were swaying back and forth in the cold wind as it moaned and whistled around the old house they lived in. It was a sprawling timeworn two-story brick home with many windows and a basement which housed an archaic coal furnace she, her dad or Jimmy, always had to feed and keep clear of clinkers. Clinkers were these melted molten hunks of burned up coal which needed to be pulled from the fire so the rest of the coal could keep burning and making heat to warm their home. There was a scary smelly coal bin in the corner of the basement as well with a trap door where the coal was dropped through. The house, surrounded by rolling fields and thick spooky woods, was big, it was drafty; had bare wooden floors upstairs and down, but it was home and they were happy there. All nine of her family. And many, many decades later it would inspire and be the setting for her first novel, Evil Stalks the Night.
“That’s what they say, snow for Christmas,” she had replied, her nine-year old eyes peeled for the first snowflake. Outside there was only a slate grayness and no flakes yet. She was disappointed because as most children she loved snow and loved it more if it got her a snow day off from school. “Wouldn’t it be great, Jimmy, if it started snowing late tonight–after we get back from grandma’s house, of course–and the world was totally white when we woke up tomorrow morning? It’d really feel like Christmas then.”
“Yeah, that’d be neat. We could go sledding on Cooper’s Hill,” Jimmy said, leaving the windows and flopping down on the end of her bed.
“In the daylight, sure. Maybe. But you won’t get me on that death road after dark.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Katie, you old fraidy-cat.”
But Jimmy didn’t push it. He knew after their last treacherous night sled ride down that icy street there was no way she was going to do it again.
“Are you ready to sing for grandma and grandpa tonight?” he asked, his fingers playing with the chenille tassels on her bedspread. The spread was white with a raised design, as was her sister Carolyn’s bedspread, who she shared a room with. “You won’t forget the words will you?” Jimmy’s olive green eyes flecked with gold, so like her own, met hers. Even back then he was irritatingly serious about his music.
She smiled. “Nah, I have a photographic memory, remember? I won’t forget the words.”
“Show off,” he teased. But he knew she had a good memory. She made excellent grades, loved to read and had an uncanny recall for all of it.
They were going to sing The Little Drummer Boy for their family that night at grandma’s house. A surprise performance and one of the Christmas presents they would give their parents and grandparents. It would be the first time she and Jimmy would officially sing together and, unbeknownst to them, it would initiate many years of their singing together as first a folk duo, in the 1960’s, and in small classic rock bands until they hit their twenties. Then Jim would go one way with his music, his life, and she would go another with her artwork and writing. She wanted to keep singing with him after that but, as they grew older, and he formed other bands (usually with male musicians), he no longer wanted to include her. She never really understood why, only that he didn’t think she was good enough, and at times over the years it would hurt her feelings and wound her heart, but she would accept it. Yet in the beginning, and for many of their early years, they happily sang together and it made her so happy. She loved it. There was something about their voices blending together, their harmonies, as they sang which gave her such pure joy she would never be able to recreate anything like it until she began writing her novels years in the future–and where she would sometimes recreate sibling characters who did sing together. But, not to digress, that’s another story, this is a Christmas tale and back to it.
The family looked forward to Christmas Eve at Grandma Fehrt’s each year because not only did they get presents but the dinner was decadently scrumptious. Baked and glazed ham, turkey, and all the delicious side dishes their grandmother was so good at making; not to mention the exquisite desserts of homemade pies and German breads which would be on the table. Holidays and going to grandma’s house was about the only time they could stuff their bellies until they were full, more than full, of so much delicious food.
Her grandmother had immigrated to America from Austria, sometime around 1910 when she’d been a child, and was a feisty, but loving woman whose entire life was devoted to her husband, George, and their only daughter, Katie’s mother, Delores, and her seven children. Their lives would have been so much worse without the love and generosity of her grandmother Mary Fehrt. Their grandfather George was more reserved, a gruffer sort of man, and though they knew he loved them, in the early years he stoically refused to show it, other than allowing their grandmother to spend money and time on them, until he had a stroke later in life and changed into a nicer version of himself. The two had lived through the Great Depression, and the hard times it had brought, and were devoted to each other. But it was her grandmother who fought to keep helping her family in any way they needed. Left-behind clothes at her and grandpa’s cleaners were often brought to them and grandma was the one who helped provide them with new clothes the beginning of each school year. The girls would get at least two new dresses, or two skirts and blouses; the boys would get two new slacks and shirts, every fall when school started. They would get new coats every winter as they grew out of the old ones. And grandmother was the one they called when they were having trouble with their mother–who sometimes seemed to lose it trying to deal with seven rowdy kids, no money and their dad nowhere around because he was out selling siding, which was his job–and they needed temporary sanctuary. They would either, when they still lived close enough, walk over to grandma’s house or telephone her to come and get them. She swooped in and saved them every time. To this day she is grateful to her grandmother for all the love she showed them until the day Grandma Fehrt died in 2005, surviving their grandfather by over thirty years.
It was 4 p.m. on December 24th, 1959, and the children were getting excited about the coming evening. They’d been anticipating the festivities for weeks and now it was almost here. Their Christmas tree, strung with hand-fashioned construction paper and popcorn chains, and homemade ornaments, was up in the front room, decorated and waiting for the gifts which would appear beneath it before the next morning–or so they hoped. That’s the way it often was with her parents, because of continual lack of money they frequently seemed to be running out and buying gifts at the very last minute on the twenty-third of December or Christmas Eve. They’d say they were grocery shopping or something similar but the children suspected what was really going on, yet never spoke of it. Their parents did the best they could, having so many kids and limited resources, and the children realized that truth. It was kind of funny, the way her parents thought they were getting away with something, being all sneaky, when the children knew what was really going on. Bless their parents’ hearts.
“Katie, you coming downstairs to watch Scrooge with us?” Jimmy, lounging on her bed, wanted to know. “It’s on in a couple of minutes.”
“I’m coming. Go on down and I’ll be there by the time it starts.”
The movie was the 1939 black and white version of The Christmas Carol they usually watched on Christmas Eve before their mother and father gathered them up and took them to grandmother’s house. It was another one of their rituals.
Jimmy got off the bed and she listened to his footsteps clumping down the stairs. She grabbed her drawing pad from the desk beside her and, picking up a pencil, added a few last minute strokes to the horse picture she’d been working on for days. She’d begun drawing right after her ninth birthday the previous August after she’d been released from the hospital. Her appendix had almost burst and later she’d learned the doctor had told her parents if they would have waited another hour or two, she probably would have died. Before her ride to the hospital, her side hurt and she lay moaning on the couch for three days while her mother and father agonized over if she should be taken to the emergency room. Money they didn’t have because, in those days, they also had no medical insurance. In the end, her mother won out and they took her to the emergency room. She had an acute case of appendicitis and, as they rushed her into the operating room, her parents prayed her appendix wouldn’t burst and she’d die. Die.
Thank God, she didn’t. Afterwards she languished in a hot hospital room (she could still smell the antiseptic, bloodied bandages and feel the pain of the stitches which left her with an ugly scar to this day) for four days. Ech. She’d gone through an emergency operation and once she’d returned home, barely in time for her ninth birthday, her family, so grateful she was still alive, had given her a huge celebratory birthday party. Her gifts were a Brownie camera, cash and lots of drawing supplies. The first thing she’d drawn had been a horse’s head copied from a decorative wall plate she had hanging on her bedroom wall. Now she couldn’t stop drawing. Horses mostly. She adored horses. Someday when she was grown up, she promised herself, she was going to have a horse of her own. Maybe two. As a rich artist she’d be able to afford a beautiful house and a horse or two–or that was the dream of her grown-up life. If she could have looked into the future, she’d see she’d have a series of nice houses but she’d never have the horse.
As the wind kicked up, rattling the loose windows, and the afternoon darkened further, Katie reluctantly put her drawing pad and pencil away and went downstairs joining her sisters and brothers to watch The Christmas Carol. It always put her and her siblings in the Christmas spirit though the skeleton ghost of Christmas future would scare the bejesus out of them, especially the littlest children. But her favorite holiday movie was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because it reminded her of her poor family, of herself, her thirst for knowledge and her desire for a better life. She loved her family but they didn’t have much money or material things. They wore hand-me-down clothes, their house was filled with used furniture and they’d lived in a succession of rental houses their whole lives. She and her siblings rarely had enough lunch money and, sometimes, they didn’t have enough food. Katie wanted something different for her future, yet she was aware and thankful for the love her family had for each other. The love made up for many things she and her brothers and sisters never had. It made her childhood special, money or no money.
In the large front room she sat on the threadbare sofa with her sister, Carolyn, while her brothers, Jimmy, Jonathan, and Christopher were stretched out on their stomachs on the large round rag rug. The two smallest children, Mary and Dorothy, were taking naps in their cribs until the journey to grandmother’s house would begin. Otherwise they’d never make it through the night without being crabby.
Over the years Katie had come to think of her family, for various reasons, as the Walton’s of the 1950’s (not the 1930’s when the true Walton’s series took place) because they had the writer (her), the musician (Jimmy), a vain pretty girl (Carolyn), an eager out-going girl (Mary), the younger children, a loving mom, dad, grandma, grandpa; they lived in an old rundown house, were poor, and there were seven children. They were exactly like the Waltons–only not on television. It was a fantasy she held onto for many years and still smiled at when she thought about it. She’d loved the Waltons and everything they stood for. Love. Caring. Family values. Good people. Most of the time, not all, her family was like that. Over the years they’d have their tragedies as all families had eventually, but she would hold on to that innocent fantasy until her siblings began dying around her many years later and she had to leave the fantasy behind.
When the movie was over their mother came in and shooed them off to clean themselves up and put on their best clothes for the night. As her mother always maintained: we might be poor but it doesn’t cost anything to be clean and look presentable.
Outside it still wasn’t snowing, but it was bitterly cold. The temperature had been falling for hours and the wind was now screaming through the trees outside the house. She thought: banshees probably sounded like that.
During the last half of the movie her dad had come home and when everyone was ready to go, coats, hats and mittens on, the nine of them were packed into his old big-finned Buick and they drove off to grandmother’s house. As they traveled through their neighborhood they passed a group of carolers singing Silent Night and she waved at them from the rear seat. They smiled and waved back. For a moment she wished she was out there singing carols with them, knocking on doors and drinking hot cocoa, but going to grandma’s house would be so much more fun, and it was really cold out there.
They drove, as the song says, over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go, with some of the children squabbling with each other and driving her parents crazy–until they reached the city. There was still no white stuff drifting down and she so wanted it to snow. Snow would make the night perfect. She rolled the window down half way and sucked in a gulp of the fresh December night air. It was tangy with a hint of mustard to it. She liked the icy air.
A minute later their mother said, “Katie, close that window. It’s freezing.” And she did.
Katie liked open windows even in the winter and would all her life. At night, she’d lay in her bed and when she believed her sister Carolyn was asleep, she’d sneak to the windows and crack open the one nearest to her bed. She had to have that fresh air. If she was lucky her sister wouldn’t notice and when dawn came she’d close it before her sister woke up. Some nights Carolyn would wake up and shout at her to shut the window and, of course, she would. Then she’d wait until her sister was asleep again and reopen it an inch or two.
Even after all the years that have passed, she can still see the strings of Christmas lights lining the housetops roofs, red, white and green, on the houses, businesses and live trees everywhere. For her, half the fun of going to grandmother’s house, or anyplace else for that matter, on Christmas Eve was seeing the Christmas lights. Everyone turned them on for Christmas Eve. Her grandmother’s subdivision, a newer one on the south side of St. Louis, was filled with cookie-cutter ranch style houses with beautifully landscaped yards and on that night they were decorated in those now archaic large multi-colored Christmas bulbs so prevalent in the 1950’s. Seeing them, even today, sent her back in time. Driving through the neighborhood she’d stare at the twinkling lights framing the houses and think she was in some kind of a winter wonderland, it was so pretty. Her grandparents’ subdivision was like being in a different world, it was opulent, not bare and sparse as their world back across the bridge seemed to be to her.
They’d pull into the concrete driveway and her brothers and sisters would fall silent, simply admiring the house adornments and trees encircled in illuminated lights. Grandma and grandpa’s house was usually decked out as much if not more than their neighbors. Her grandmother adored Christmas; loved every holiday and went all out, outside and inside, for each one. Easter. Valentine’s Day. Thanksgiving.
On Easter they’d go over and search for hidden dyed eggs in grandma’s backyard, and in the basement there would be two enormous baskets for each of them, lovingly filled with hand-picked chocolate Easter bunnies, marshmallow eggs, jelly beans and miniature toys. On Valentine’s Day her grandparents often showed up with heart-shaped boxes filled with Hersey’s kisses and those tiny hearts with sayings on them. On Thanksgiving they would gather at grandmother’s house and have a huge turkey with chestnut dressing, pumpkin pies and other delectable food. Her grandmother never forgot a holiday and never forgot them. Her mother and father loved and cared for them, but her grandmother filled their lives with selfless and endless tender affection. That selfless love also helped to shape Katie’s life and optimistic outlook and would serve her well in her future.
Her Grandmother Fehrt was also the storyteller of her generation and Katie believed it was how she inherited her storytelling gifts. Grandmother would sit them down on holidays, especially Halloween when she’d dress up like a witch and ring their doorbell, and weave fantastical stories for them to listen to. Katie recalled this one Halloween tale her grandmother would tell about a time centuries ago, in her old country of Austria, where a rich child had died and been buried and a poor starving man with a sick child dug the girl up for the expensive ring they’d buried her with. He cut a finger off to get the ring and it woke up the girl (who wasn’t really dead, she just had the sleeping sickness… grandmother said they hadn’t embalmed the corpses in those days). It scared the thief, thinking the girl’s ghost was after him, and he ran away. Of course, the girl went home to her parents, alive, and, thus, the yarn had a happy ending. Katie thought her grandmother’s stories were what started her writing at a young age. Storytelling handed down from grandmother to granddaughter. It, too, would repeat itself in the future for Katie’s fifteen year old granddaughter, Caitlyn, is already writing stories.
Her grandmother was also someone who enjoyed helping other people. A true believer, she went to church, St. Simon’s, every Sunday morning and sometimes Katie, Carolyn, and Jimmy would spend the weekend (when their mother could spare them) and go with her. After church, as a treat, their grandmother would drive them to Heimburger’s Bakery on the south side of St. Louis and get them whatever they desired. Katie would get a chocolate-covered cream puff or ask for a cheesecake (she still dreams of that cheesecake it was so good), while Carolyn and Jim would get donuts. Their grandmother always had time for them and was generously kind. She’d make them root beer floats when they stayed overnight and watch the scary movies shown on Friday night’s Spook Spectacular with them. Another reason Katie grew up to love horror movies and books and someday would write some frightening novels and stories of her own. Katie loved her grandmother so and when she left after the weekend was over, she’d leave loving notes behind which her grandmother would smile and read when the kids went home. The older woman was one of her guiding lights and Katie wanted to be like her in every way, with her undying optimism and religious faith, and over the years she fought to emulate her. She owed her her basic life’s outlook and probably her creativeness and tenacity.
Grandmother and grandfather had had their house built just for them and Katie thought of them as rich because of it and the new cars they had every few years. Neither one made much money, working at a local cleaners as they did, but they were so smart with how they frugally spent it, they had enough for themselves and, often, for their daughter and her needy family. She couldn’t count the times they’d been hungry or needed the electric or water turned back on and grandmother and grandfather would arrive with groceries or the money to have the utilities reconnected. They were their angels.
That Christmas Eve inside their house it was another fairyland of a different kind. As she remembered it, her grandmother had lighted Christmas trees and Christmas stuff in every room. It was like a Christmas store. Her ornaments, trees and holiday figurines were cherished treasures she’d had for years and brought out every Christmas. Katie loved that the holiday items she saw as a nine year old she had seen for years and would see all her life, or as long as her grandmother remained in that house. Her grandmother lived to be ninety-five while her grandfather lived to be sixty-six. After he died her grandmother, lonely but forever trying to be productive and happy, stayed in her home until, late in her eighth decade, she moved in with Katie’s mother and father. Everyone missed that welcoming house after it was sold, but nothing could take away the memories.
That night they filed in, shivering from the cold, dropping their coats and mittens along the way, and grandma, with a face full of smiles, had been there to hug and greet them. Then she led them downstairs where the real party would begin. The lower room would be decked out in grandmother’s best decorations and in the far corner the real tree would rise up to the ceiling, fragrant, shining and magical, with an electric Lionel toy train (grandfather’s pride and joy) choo-chooing around its tracks, enclosing a tiny village with tiny people, beneath it. Brightly wrapped gifts were piled under the tree and the table in the middle of the room would be covered with plates of homemade iced sugar cookies, candies and snacks. Katie was a chocoholic and craved anything chocolate. Milk chocolate and chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas being her favorites. The real food would be brought out later for them to devour and enjoy. She can still see that room in her mind, still smell the delicious aromas and feel the enchantment of the place and the night. To an emotional and hungry child’s eyes it was paradise.
“I hear you and Jimmy have prepared a unique treat for us tonight,” her grandmother asked, her glance including Katie’s brother. Mom must have told her what they had planned. Grandmother’s two brothers, Katie’s Great Uncles John and Joe, both jewelers in their real lives, were also musical and had big bands up until they died after long lives. So her grandmother encouraged any musical talents her grandchildren might have. Grandmother herself liked to sing and Katie thought she had a sweet voice, but grandmother’s brothers never let her sing with either of them. And again, funny how history would someday repeat itself with Jimmy and her.
“Yep, we’re going to perform a Christmas song for everyone,” Jimmy declared with a big smile. “That is if Katie can remember the words.” He sent her a smug look and chuckled.
“I’ll remember the words,” she told him for the tenth time and gently punched his side. They both knew she’d remember just fine.
“Katie,” her grandmother, taking her aside, whispered, “I know how you love Aunt Myrtle’s date cookies. She and Uncle Lester dropped by earlier today and left a bag of homemade cookies for all of you. I looked and there are some of those date ones inside.” Their Aunt Myrtle and Uncle Lester weren’t really blood relations, merely old friends of her grandparents and Katie’s mother, but they called them aunt and uncle anyway. They’d always been around, it seemed, for as long as she could remember. Aunt Myrtle made these absolutely divine meringue cookies stuffed with dates and every Christmas Katie hoped her aunt had made and left some for them because she liked them so much. The couple was older than her grandparents and rarely drove anywhere after dark, especially in the winter when the roads could get slick with snow and ice, yet they always sent Christmas presents and cookies for all of them.
“Where’s the cookies?” she asked. Her grandmother brought out a large brown bag and opened it, her fingers rustled around in it and came out with a handful of the date cookies which she offered to her. Katie crammed them into her mouth. They were as tasty as she recollected, better because she hadn’t had supper yet.
“Don’t tell your mother I let you ruin your appetite.” And her grandmother had laughed softly before she put the bag of cookies away.
The evening went on and the first thing they did was open gifts. The children, once they spied the presents beneath the tree, could never wait to get their hands on them. Grandma had outdone herself again. She and grandpa swore the presents had been left by Santa Claus, but the children knew they were from them. Katie had never seen so many presents in her life. They were stacked under the tree, a mountain of brightly wrapped treasures. As grandmother called their names they stepped up and she put a pile of presents in each one’s arms, except for the three smallest children. Mom and dad had to help them open their gifts.
That Christmas she was given a matching houndstooth checkered skirt and mauve sweater top and a painting by numbers kit, more art supplies, a large bag of cashews (her favorite nut) and a King Arthur vinyl Colorform set. Remember those? Little cut out vinyl character and object pieces a person stuck on a flat self-adhesive background to create a scene from the story? She was thrilled with her gifts and excitedly watched her other siblings open theirs. The girls got dolls (she never liked dolls and Santa Claus knew that), coloring books or clothes and the boys got metal toy trucks or cars, Tinker-Toys, Erector Sets and games like Cootie and Monopoly.
Then they presented their grandmother and grandfather, mother and father, with their gifts for them. Simple trinkets they’d either made by hand at school (hand prints in plaster or stuff like that), painted ceramics or hand-made Christmas ornaments, or bought with their saved allowances (money which was never much and often sporadic). Her brother Jim, sister Carolyn, and her had walked up on a snowy evening a few days before to the Ben Franklin Five and Dime and picked out two fish statues (don’t ask her why she picked two trout to give them…they were just pretty colors she thought) for her grandparents to put in their curio cabinet. Of course her grandparents loved them but to this day she couldn’t believe she actually gave them fish. She presented her parents with a box of chocolates. All gifts were accepted and appreciated. It was, as they say, the thoughts that counted.
After everyone oohed and aahed over their presents and cleaned up the crumpled wrapping paper and ribbons she and Jimmy pulled their courage together and sang The Little Drummer Boy for everyone. She didn’t forget the words. They were a hit and everyone cheered and clapped and two singing stars were born.
Later, when they were older, she sixteen and Jimmy fifteen or so, Jimmy learned how to play guitar, and they began singing folk music during the Peter, Paul and Mary days for anyone who would listen. Even later when they were older they sang together in rock bands (now the music would be called Classic Rock) until they hit their twenties and parted ways…he to continue with his music, song-writing and singing, along with a computer day job, and her to follow her art as a graphic designer in the corporate world and eventually her writing, but they always remained close and continued to jam in each other’s homes as the years went by. She always loved singing with him.
After their singing performance the family sat down together and ate the delicious meal her grandmother, with help from her mother and father, had prepared. They laughed and chattered over the baked ham, roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and all the trimmings. One of her favorite dishes was the sweet potatoes and marshmallows. It’s still a favorite of hers all these years later. After supper they nibbled on the sugar cookies in shapes of bells and stars with red and green sugar sprinkles over them and sliced the pies. Her grandmother made the best lemon meringue and cherry pies she’s ever had in her life. She’d never find any pies anywhere as good. She can see her brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents laughing and eating at that table in the Christmas tree’s twinkling lights down in her grandparents’ knotty-pined basement even now. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting–or that’s how she experienced, saw and remembered it.
They didn’t want to go home but after a couple of hours the youngest children, with full bellies, were sleepy, they all were really, and their parents packed up the booty and plates of left-overs, bundled them into their coats and mittens and ushered them out to the car. It’d gotten so much colder than when they’d first arrived. They said their goodbyes and waved at their grandparents from behind the windows as they drove away. The car was freezing at first and they shivered in their seats, snuggled close together and some of them fell asleep as dad drove home. She didn’t fall asleep. She watched out the icy window as the city in all its Christmas glory swept past; taking in every moment and decorated house so she could relive it later and remember it forever.
Through the city, the woods and across the bridge they went until they returned home. As they pulled into the driveway it began to snow, light at first and by the time they tramped into the house it was heavier.
Mom and dad tucked the youngest children into bed and the rest of them drug themselves upstairs and, struggling out of their clothes, slipped into cold beds because the old furnace never warmed the top floor very well.
As she lay in bed, waiting to be warm again, she gazed out the ice-rimmed window and watched the beautiful snow fall over the yard, the cherry tree in the back, and the rolling fields around the house which met the deep woods at the bottom of the hill. The snow was a blanket of glistening, sparkling white diamonds. It was so lovely, magical, as the entire night had been. She told herself she had to remember…remember the night, the gorgeous Christmas lights in the city and her grandparents’ sparkling subdivision, the basement with the tree and the train, the presents, singing with Jimmy for the first time and how it had made her feel, the love of her family, the amazing feeling she’d had all night as if the evening were unreal but yet so extraordinary…and the snow. She had to remember the night as she ventured into the future and faced the great and sad things which might await her. Her life.
So she remembered.
And, yes, I grew up to be the artist I so wanted to become as a child. I would marry young to a soldier during the Vietnam era who would leave me and our six-year old son for another woman eight years after we said our vows and break my heart; after my heart recovered I’d meet and marry a second man and so far our marriage has been a good one lasting nearly four decades. I began writing at twenty-one and by sixty-six I’d have not only a life behind me but twenty-three published novels. I’d have that nice house in a quaint and quirky small town, no horse though. I would be a mother of one son, James, and a grandmother to two, a boy, Joshua, and a girl, Caitlyn. I’d be happy. And I always cherished and took with me the tender memories of my childhood and that long ago Christmas night…and many of those poignant moments would find their way into my stories.
In the future, time would take its toll on the rest of my family as it does with all humans, for there is no happiness in life without sadness to balance it out.
My beloved grandmother and grandfather, mother and father, are now long gone. My grandfather to a stroke, grandmother to old age at 95 years old. My father died of lung cancer in 1998 and my mother to heart problems in 2008. I said a final goodbye early to my youngest brother, Christopher, in 1971 when he was murdered by his best friend, who was high on drugs, and said goodbye to my sweet musician/songwriter/singer brother Jim in 2015 when he finally succumbed to throat cancer after valiantly fighting it for three long agonizing years. Of the original nine in my family there are only five of us remaining. So the memories of that long past Christmas night when Jimmy and I first sang with each other in public, surrounded by our still intact loving family, everyone joyful and carefree, has even more of a special place in my heart and always will. It was a beautifully perfect night and, in life, I’ve learned they are as rare as unicorns.
I took the love and those memories along with me on my life’s journey and it made me stronger. They sustained and helped me through the hard times…and I’ve had many. Funny, now I am as old as my grandmother and grandfather were on that Christmas Eve in 1959 and I’ve come to understand so much more with as many years of my life behind me as they had behind them then. I think I know how they must have felt because I now feel the same way. Christmas is special and having a family to love and be loved by is special. Life is special and precious and it goes by all too fast. So hold dear the good times when they come. I know that truth well now. I hope I never forget it no matter how old I get.
And that is why I so fondly remember Christmas 1959 and will until the day I die. It was the closest thing to pure magic life has to offer.
Written by author Kathryn Meyer Griffith in 2016
If you enjoyed this nostalgic short story by Kathryn Meyer Griffith…please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads if you’d be so kind and remember there are three more of these childhood short stories in my collection: Memories of My Childhood–and don’t forget I have 24 other novels, 2 novellas and more short stories out there as well, in eBooks, Create Space paperbacks and Audible audio books. http://tinyurl.com/jt7ssrh I love hearing from my readers….firstname.lastname@example.org.