Updated: Dec 25, 2019
It was 1970-something. We were so poor that year that Mama told us we wouldn’t have a Christmas tree. I remember feeling oh, so very disappointed - that deep dark disappointment that a child can sometimes feel. Back then, schools still decorated trees in their lobbies and just before Christmas break, the school offered that tree to any child who didn’t have one. Naturally, I raised my hand. They gave me that tree and someone from the school (to this today, I couldn’t tell you who) drove me and it back to the little trailer in which we lived. My mother sent him away, of course, with the tree. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the gesture, but she was not about to accept the charity. That weekend, my father took my older brother and me out into the woods and we cut down a small tree. We dragged that tree back to our trailer, put it it in a package that we decorated and hid from Mama. There were no presents to go under that tree, but in the morning, Mama “unwrapped” her gift and we spent the day decorating it. Looking back, that was a good Christmas.
I remember another Christmas a few years later. My father had passed on earlier in the year and we were having a rough go of it. Mama worked two jobs to support her family and sometimes, when money was really tight and my mother could not afford the sitter, she held me out of school to watch my younger brother and sister. I didn’t mind so much. School was boring and I enjoyed staying home to read the encyclopedia set (the set that someone had given to us in a care package after Dad had died. It was an old set dating back to the days before Hawaii was a state, but I didn’t care. The articles and information were still interesting.) I thought for sure that we would have no Christmas that year. To this day, I don’t know how she did it, but somehow, my mother was able to get a tandem bike for my brother and me to share. That package was under our tree on Christmas morning. Looking back, that was a good Christmas.
A couple of years later, Mama was remarried and we were living in another house, I remember a Christmas where it seemed we were flush with cash. Maybe that was because the insurance money had finally come in from my father’s death or, maybe, having two incomes in the household made things easier. That year, my brother and I each got our own bikes and two, brand new, Kodak cameras to boot (with flashcubes!) Because Mama knew that I loved coca-cola, she carefully packaged up a twelve-pack of that beverage - all for me. Looking back, that was a good Christmas.
I remember another Christmas just after my fifteenth birthday. I wanted a car so badly that I could taste it! Of course, Mama said that if I wanted a car I had “best get a job.” So, I worked at as a busboy at a restaurant and tried to save up some money. Mama got me a car for Christmas that year. Of course, it wasn’t real. it was a little matchbox car that she carefully wrapped in a package and teased me about for years after. Looking back, that was a good Christmas.
After high school, while still living in the same city but no longer in her home, I went to visit Mama for Christmas. She did a lot of baking each year and this one was no different, the counter was covered in pies, cakes, cookies, fudge, brittle, and whatever else she got it into her mind to cook that year. After dinner, like she always she did, she sent me home with a care package of leftovers. Looking back, that was a good Christmas.
The rest of the family went off to another state when Mama's husband was stationed away. Because I was trying to get through college, I stayed behind. Money was tight all around since they were trying to keep the house in Texas while paying rent in that other state, and I was struggling to pay my bills and tuition. I remember the long trek on a Greyhound bus to surprise her that Christmas, and I remember taking her jewelry to the pawn shop so that she could buy what she needed to make a Christmas dinner. I remember wrapping little odds and ends of meaninglesss little things in order to create a package for my siblings so that they might have some sort of present that year. Looking back, that was a good Christmas.
Then there was the year, after returning to Texas, when on Christmas Eve, Mama was admitted to the hospital. We left the table all set, but with no food upon it when we drove her to the ER. After surgery, when the medication began to wear off, she thought she was a cow. How we laughed over that. Christmas dinner was a week late that year and we wrapped a little ceramic cow in a package for her. Looking back, that was a good Christmas.
Thereafter, when I lived 1,500 miles away, I did my best to come home each year. Not always, mind you, and not nearly often enough. The flights were crowded, long, and money was tight - the cost of a round trip flight was more than I could swing sometimes. But those Christmases when I made it home to Mama, she had the big dinner ready. And whether I made it home or not, a care package arrived at my door each December filled with her homemade cookies, fudge, and even her tamales. Looking back, those were good Christmases.
In 2001, Christmas was a hard one. Mama had passed that September and no matter how many times I went to the mailbox, that care package never arrived.
For the last several years, my partner and I have hosted Christmas dinner. I make sure to cover the counter in homemade cookies, pies, cakes, candies, or whatever I get in my mind to make that year. I always package some up to send away with whomever shares the day with us.
It’s not the tree that matters. It’s not the day that matters. It’s not what you get or what you give; what you have or what you want. It’s not the travel. It’s not the food. It’s not the package.
It’s the care that’s goes into the package.
May your packages be full of care and may you have a very Merry Christmas.