Amid the shopping carts, Black Friday, Walmart warriors, and the mounds of boxes we collect, we sometimes forget (make that I sometimes forget) how Christmas was for our parents and grandparents.
My mother loves to shop and go for a “looky-loo.” Today she’s out at Costco, the place I cannot enter upon pain of claustrophobia. Sometimes I wonder why she has to buy so much, especially since she grew up very poor. But it may be for just that reason.
Mom shared her Christmas Eve memories and through them, I relate back to the real reason for the season. This is one of her stories:
Every Christmas Eve morning, since I can remember, the firemen came to my barrio of Little Silao, in Pomona (CA). This Christmas was special. This was 1932 and the middle of the Great Depression. FDR was the president.
Times were hard, but my family was lucky. My mother had a vegetable garden, fruit, and walnut trees in the backyard, rabbits and chickens too. We had enough to eat, barely enough for clothing, and no money for toys. I was four and wanted a doll.
We didn’t have a Christmas tree that year, but we did have a little table in the living room which mama decorated for the arrival of baby Jesus. She bent tree branches to form a small tent and added little green fans of pine needles over the branches to form a shelter. Large and tiny pinecones and red berries decorated the sides, pine needles were scattered at the entrance. An empty wooden manger sat in front of this small cave among the pine boughs. This looked very pretty and it smelled good too, fresh and woodsy.
Perched on the worn wooden chair against the living room window, I scanned the street in front of my house. A shiny red fire truck turned into Newman Street, my street. Firemen, in their uniforms, rode on the running boards of the truck. They stopped five houses away from our place.
One of them climbed up to the top of the truck and handed blue, gold, and red boxes to another fireman and he handed them to another one who stood on the sidewalk.
“Here they come, here they come! Papa, mama, Catarino, Jose, Concha, they’re coming.” I almost fell off the rickety chair.
I had to tell the others about the firemen and the Christmas gifts. I ran from room to room shouting their arrival. My brothers and sister ran out of the bedroom, my mama with baby Adela walked out of the kitchen.
“Maria, no grites. Sientense por favor.”
She didn’t like me yelling and told me to sit down.
Catarino was the oldest at 10 years, Jose was eight, Concha six, and the baby was one-year-old. Everyone sat down, except me. I ran back to my chair at the window.
“Here they come!” I shrieked and ran out the front door onto the sidewalk and everyone followed.
My cousins, across the street, were already outside jumping up and down shouting, “They’re here, they’re here.”
Maybe I would get a ball and jacks, real ones. Concha and I were tired of playing jacks with washed apricot pits and an old rubber ball. Maybe I’d get a real doll, one of my very own. That would be better than the paper dolls I cut out from the Sears Catalogue.
The shiny red truck rolled to a stop right in front of my house. The fireman began calling out names, “Concha, Maria, Jose, and Catarina.”
Catarina? That’s a girls name. My brother was “Catarino.” He unwrapped the box and his smile disappeared. It was a doll! He held up the box to give it back to the fireman, but I ran towards him shouting “I want it, I want it.” I got to it before Concha did and ran back into my house.
The doll had a beautiful red dress on with shoes and fluffy hair. I was so happy, I carried my doll the way mama carried baby Adela.
For the life of me, I can’t remember if Catarino took the present meant for me or if the firemen gave him another gift. All I remember was that pretty doll.