Growing up, Christmas was magical. It was that one time of year, besides our birthdays, that we were given a few presents and we were assured that we’d get that “one” gift we really really really wanted.
When I was 9 years old that gift was a pair of white figure skates and it was a jewelry box with a twirling ballerina inside when I was 11. That one present wasn’t tucked under our silver tinseled pine tree with the multi-colored blinking lights. It was found using clues my mom put into our Christmas stockings. My sister Donna reminded me of that tradition, as well as how opening our presents was like a “free for all”! I recall that the excitement in our living room would build as high as the pile of discarded wrapping paper, until the contents of every package was revealed.
It wasn’t just receiving gifts that made this holiday special. It was seeing others unwrap the gift we chose for them. It was cinnamon rolls and the Swiss Miss hot chocolate for breakfast. It was feeling all warm and cozy inside, as the cold snow drifts formed outside our picture window. It was all the red and green decorations, store bought and handmade, that were draped around windows, on table tops, counters and on our front door. It was midnight mass at St. Mark’s Catholic Church. It was a feast of glazed ham, mashed potatoes and turnip, boiled carrots, cloverleaf rolls with butter and apple pie for dessert. It was the short trek next door to see my grandmother and visiting with relatives at her house.
My journal entry December 20, 1985 Redondo Beach, CA:
“Going ‘home’ with Robert tomorrow…LAX to Albany…his first Christmas with my family. Anxious…he’s Jewish…it’s probably 40 degrees there now!”
We rented a car at Albany International, and followed I-90 E for about an hour. Exiting B3 for West Stockbridge we were at the Red Lion Inn in no time. While I had spent a few summer days sipping ice tea on the porch of that inn, I had never stayed there as a guest. What a treat!
Our room was in the Main Inn decorated beautifully with antiques and quaint paintings, very charming. Once settled in, I did the first thing I always do when I am in town…that is, call my mom.
Of all the things that happened that Christmas, I remember two of them the most. One was Robert’s comment, “It’s so cold here, I can see my breath!” And the other was the surprise that awaited us at my parents’ house.
I could see my dad in the side window when we pulled up into our driveway. He was a fixture there. It’s where he stood every morning drinking coffee before work. He waved as we parked the car. Both my mom and dad were at the back door before we reached it. They welcomed us in with hugs and kisses.
Inside, the house looked so festive, as I took in all the familiar sights. Yet, there was one sight I had never seen before. In the living room, on top of my dad’s favorite plaid chair was a plastic menorah with eight plastic candles, plus the shamash. Crepe paper printed with Happy Hanukkah on it was wrapped around the menorah. And encircling it all was a string of white Christmas lights. Plugged in, it sparkled bright.
I didn’t know it at the time, but now I do. That was my “one” gift that year…that something I really really really wanted. Not for myself, but for Robert. And not from me, but from my family.