Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Winter winds whooshed past as we rode on the wings of the night. We sang silly songs, swapped shotgun at the 45 minute mark, and hunted padiddles. We were little enough that our hair still whisped and floated around our heads when our hats were removed. Whoever was in back rotated her gaze between the cold countryside and Daddy's sparkling blue eyes in the rear view mirror. Whoever sat up front got to hold his huge, warm hand. We chattered about school and pleaded for snow. Missouri and December had long since agreed to cold weather, but snow remained an annual negotiation.
Mommy drove the other direction in a quiet car. We didn't cry for her that night. Though small, we had lived long enough that the post divorce child swap had become unremarkable. We knew we would see her soon. Also, the thrill of Christmas lay ahead.
Christmas in Daddy's new life was magical. Christmas Eve was spent with Nan and Pop, an evening marked with wonder. New grandparents were one of our gifts when Daddy got remarried. Christmas Day our hearts pounded at the sight of the living room floor completely filled with presents. No tree in America was big enough to hold all the gifts. Christmas afternoon we went to Weesie and Papa's. They loved us to the moon and back, as grandparents are to do, and didn't change with Daddy's marriage status.
Christmas Eve we washed busy bodies and slipped into our best dresses. Our hair was styled for us. Daddy stacked the gifts gingerly in the trunk while Mom (the new one) got herself ready. We played carefully, guarding the fanciest clothes we had ever worn. Finally we piled ourselves as delicately as possible into the car. We pointed out Christmas lights and sang with the radio. The closer we got to Nan & Pop's, the more excited we became. Anticipation was a complex flower that bloomed within our hearts with petals of nervousness and joy.
Nan & Pop's house was enchanting. It was professionally cleaned, designed and decorated. The water in the back sparkled. The linens were coordinated with the dishes. The tree twinkled elegance. Music played softly while hors d'oeuvres awakened new taste buds. Our gifts were the most beautifully wrapped presents we had ever seen. The precisely tied bows were big and sparkly. The thick paper was lovely. When we opened them, carefully placed tissue paper folded back to reveal exquisite clothing. Looking into our boxes of Christmas treasures we felt cherished.
The two little girls who rotated shotgun with me have little girls of their own now. (There are a few boys thrown in the mix, too.) My sisters each have two daughters. Today I matched tissue paper to the boxes that hold their new sparkly clothes. I folded the attire carefully then pleated the tissue paper around it. I want them to feel cherished when they look in their boxes.
There's a solid chance it won't make their hearts soar like mine did when I was small. The clothes I purchased for them aren't the fanciest ones they own. Their eyes may not see the beauty of tissue paper. But I still poured my soul into it.
Even today I feel a surge of heat in my chest when I remember the thrill of being worthy of extravagance. I want my nieces to feel that.
I also feel an aching squeeze around my heart when I remember how my sisters and I received a third as many gifts as the other kids. I first realized I was poor when Nan & Pop treated me like I was. I feel like a fool now that I know they only gave so much because they were rich. It wasn't much to them. It turns out that the same people who said, "God love ya" while giving us their cheeks to kiss also told our step mom, "Don't you love those girls, don't give them your heart." She listened to them.
I never want my nieces to feel disposable, unlovely, or unloved. Though the primary responsibility belongs to their parents, I do have a small part to play in that. I play my part with all my heart. Rather ironically I use the best feelings from my childhood Christmases to guard those babies from the worst feelings I had. So I carry on the tradition of beautifully folded tissue paper.
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