My earliest Christmas memory is of sneaking halfway down the stairs and sitting there spying on Santa’s helpers as they arranged gifts under the tree for the four of us children. I also remember being hustled back to bed as soon as I was discovered! I think I may have been five or six that Christmas, and when morning finally came and I opened the biggest gift, I was blown away by the wonderful “walking” doll that would move her legs if you held her arms and moved her from side to side. She had eyes that opened and closed and she could make a feeble cry. She had long red hair that I could comb and braid. I felt that I had to be the luckiest little girl in the whole world, and I still have that doll today.

She was almost a casualty of the house fire I spoke of last month, except for the kindness of a woman who worked for a local cleaning service. She painstakingly restored my precious baby doll after I had called and told her how much it meant to me and asked if she could help. She said she couldn’t promise anything, but set to work on her own time washing away the soot and grime, painstakingly cleaning the long hair strand by strand. She gave her back to me a few weeks later with only a faint odor of smoke still lingering, and didn’t charge me a cent. She said the look on my face was payment enough.

Another memory from when I was still quite young involved a Christmas gift of my very own sewing kit. It was a round red plastic kit containing an assortment of colored thread, needles, scissors, pins and even a kid-size thimble, each in its own compartment! My mother was a gifted seamstress and she gave me scraps of material and taught me to sew with a needle and thread. I learned to make simple clothes for my cat to wear; I dressed her in a little skirt, put a bonnet on her head and placed her in my doll carriage where she would lie on her back and drink milk from a tiny baby bottle. That feline was so cooperative and we had the best times together!

Our freshly cut Christmas tree, filling the house with its unique scent, always went in the same corner of the living room. A small Plaster of Paris nativity set was arranged on a white sheet under the tree. Dad fixed a tiny white picket fence around the display, and the small cardboard stable was dimly lit by a single bulb that was inserted in the back. I remember lying on my belly in front of the display, pretending that I was there with Mary and Joseph, helping to keep the baby Jesus warm. That same nativity set is now among my Christmas treasures, having been saved because it had been stored in a part of the attic that the fire hadn’t reached.

It was a tradition to go “treeing” and visit our relatives and neighbors and sample the homemade cookies, fudge and other treats that were put out when company came. I think the adults enjoyed various festive drinks at each house and Christmastime seemed to get even merrier as the evening wore on! I especially liked going to Aunt Louise and Uncle Boots’ house. They had two real Christmas trees set up with an elaborate train set running between the two trees. There were little houses, a tunnel, mountains, bridges and miniature trees. When I wasn’t playing with my cousins, I spent a lot of time on the floor watching the engine pull the cars along the track, pretending I was a passenger in one of the cars, headed for some exciting new destination.

One of my most favorite Christmas memories happened more recently. My granddaughter Rachel spent four years in the Air Force and missed being home on Thanksgiving and Christmas during her deployments. Living in a tent in the middle of a scorching desert left her with only dreams of a white Christmas.

One year as Christmas approached, she was stationed in the Azores, off the coast of Portugal. She usually was able to send me a quick text message every few days just to let me know she was OK. Then something happened and several days turned into a week without having any word from her. I was just sick with worry.

On the 22nd of December that year, my daughter Lisa called to tell me that she needed to deliver my Christmas present early because she had no place to store it and didn’t want to haul it around in the car. I couldn’t imagine what it could possibly be that had to be delivered at ten o’clock that night. When she pulled into the driveway, I was instructed to sit in my recliner as my other three grandchildren covered me from head to toe with a blanket. I heard Lisa enter the front door amid much grunting and groaning, saying how heavy the present was and that she was having a hard time getting it up the steps. After a few minutes one of the grandchildren pulled the blanket off my head, and there stood my Rachel! SHE was my Christmas present, home safe and sound from halfway around the world! I squealed, leaped up out of the chair and grabbed her in the fiercest bear hug, crying and kissing her precious face. Christmas memories don’t get much better than that!

But not all memories are good ones. Being away from family and friends during the pandemic last year left most of us feeling bereft. The isolation of being alone at what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year was a trial for many people, as evidenced by the uptick in substance abuse and domestic incidents. That’s why remembering the good times and looking forward to our family gatherings and traditions this year is so important. No matter what your Christmas memories entail, enjoy the good ones, remember the loved ones who are no longer with us, try to help those less fortunate, and give thanks for being together again this year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all my readers!

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Marilyn Secco is a retired teacher and author of the book “Front Porch Tales.” She has 2 children and 5 grandchildren and lives in Kersey with a temperamental cat named Tidder. Contact her at mbsecco@windstream.net

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