12.14.2012

A true Christmas story.

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Our home looked like the set from Elf
I wish you guys could have seen it. It's been almost twenty years, but I remember every fantastic detail  - the construction paper Santas with cotton ball beards, the tracings of our hands to look like reindeer antlers, glittering cardboard gingerbread men, garlands of brilliantly colored paper chains, and accordion cut-outs of little men holding hands. Every year, my mother orchestrated a great whirlwind of Christmas decorating, completely constructed by myself and three younger siblings, aged 2-12. We would belly-up to the dining room table, and become lost in a world of rudimentary crafts, fashioned from household refuse. Toilet paper rolls became the bodies of elves with pipe cleaner appendages. A trio of paper plates was transformed into a snowman. Baby food jars were rolled in glitter and filled with peppermints. Newspapers, coffee filters, popsicle sticks, coke cans - nothing was safe from our safety scissors and Elmer's Glue. Then we'd cover the walls with our crafts. Every square foot. The paper snowflakes, suspended by fishing line, hung so thick from the ceiling that my Dad had to duck through the hall, parting a pathway with his arms, like walking through a jungle thicket. You know the scene in Elf, when Buddy decked the halls of the department store? It resembled a less refined version of that, forged from the clumsy fingers of excited children. We even hung up the undecipherable scribblings of Peep, our baby brother, not even in kindergarten. It was the best thing we'd ever seen, and it happened every year.

I can only imagine what the neighbors must have thought. We were the poor people at the end of the cul-de-sac, and they'd often seen the white coats rush in to whisk Mom away for her semi-regular mental breakdown. On Christmas, they'd stand wide eyed at the doorstep, clutching a fruitcake, and craning their necks at the the spectacle within. Just the abundance of decorations was overwhelming enough, but compared to their blow mold Santas and gilded wreaths, our winter wonderland of recycled paper crafts seemed utterly bizarre. The best part about being kids (and mentally ill, perhaps, too) was that we were oblivious and proud of our motley creations, and we'd joyfully greet our visitors with our eyes sparkling. Unlike their tasteful, store-bought decorations, ours had real magic, brought to life by the imaginations of silly-hearted children.

As the years went by, our home life slowly began to crumble. It's a long story, wrought by a gambling addiction, mental illness, and a string of hard knocks. We went from living in a cul-de-sac in a friendly subdivision, to a cramped dorm at St.Vincent dePaul's Center for Women and Families. We were assigned an apartment on the shelter's campus, a modest two bedroom concrete box, with thin walls and few windows. Our neighbors were ex-prostitutes, recovering addicts, and battered women. They were unlike any people we've ever seen before, and most of their children had never made a paper snowflake, let alone had a Christmas tree.

When Christmas came, our new surroundings did not phase my mother, or at least she didn't let it show. We never needed money to get into the Christmas spirit, we just needed toilet paper rolls and popsicle sticks. Mom scraped together enough food stamps to bake iced oatmeal cookies, and as they were cooling on the counter, we welcomed every kid in the building into our kitchen and handed them a crayon. When we were finished, our neighbors came to our doorstep just like before, only it was their eyes that were sparkling. Mamie, the large and in charge woman down the hall, sang, "Lordy, Lordy!" and kissed us all. The mothers wept, laughed, and smiled through mouthfuls of crumbs, and their children leapt from foot to foot, excited to point out their paper snowflakes.


16 comments:

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    1. Thank you, dear. Glad you liked it.

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  2. This is wonderful. Thanks for the inspiration.

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  3. i never, ever comment yet regularly read- i had to echo the previous poster. absolutely beautiful. xx

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    1. Hello! And thank you for the nice comment.

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  4. You are the coolest blogger I've ever read, keep up the great writing. I never miss your posts, you make me miss the south, lol. From an alabama admirer transplanted to cold nyc, love ya, crystal

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    1. Aww, really? That's very nice of you to say. Roll Tide!

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  5. I missed this before, just read it now from your best of 2012. Maybe it's my weakened state, but that made me cry.

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