Copyright 2015 by Judith Nakken
December, 1969. Brown and cold in Spokane, Washington. Cold and frightened in the privacy of my own room, away from the teenagers. Six months sober, I’d been fired for the first time in my life at Thanksgiving. I had to draw on California’s unemployment, which was great because I’d get $53 per week and the Washington max was $42. Not so great, because the checks kept not coming. Not coming, and Christmas was.
The week before Christmas, I took out everything I’d bought during the year and squirreled away in the linen closet. Pitiful, the hoard consisted mostly of socks and short shorts, picked up at after-season sales. I enlisted the daughter’s aid in wrapping for her two older brothers. Single socks tubed up in funny papers soon brightened the hearth. I wrapped her pair of panty hose in Lil Abner and a pair of pale green shorts in Andy Capp.
We ate best when we were poor, the kids always bragged. Biscuits and homemade hotcakes and the “rivels” that added substance to potato and onion soup. Our kitchen boasted milk and flour, potatoes and onions and three or four strips, yet, of flavoring bacon. Four dollars were in my purse.
It snowed Thursday night. Lots and lots of snow. Fourteen year old Douglas, mittened and muffled, went out Friday with his snow shovel. At the end of the day, he possessed five proud dollars. Saturday morning he pulled the old sled nine blocks down to the Christmas tree lot. He was agonizing over his decision in the five dollar area the man had pointed out to him, when I found the cash in the mailbox.
The mailman hadn’t come yet. Two tens and a five, in a battered, plain white envelope, lay in the cold metal box. I looked up and down the street. I didn’t know any of these people. A few recovering folks were my only acquaintances. My mentor didn’t drive, and it must have been delivered last night, for the snow was pristine at the bottom of the mailbox. I could not guess then, or now, who or what blessed us so.
Visions of a little turkey with stuffing danced in my head as the middle kid hauled the Christmas tree into the yard, three hours after leaving. “I just couldn’t decide, Mom. It was important it be just right. I finally picked this one, put it on the sled and went to the man with my five dollars. Oh, Mom, the man said ‘Son, I hope your family appreciates you and that Christmas tree. You take it; it’s a gift from me.’ Mom, I still had the money! So I went and bought Dorcas a guitar strap and Marcus a book and . . . well . . . I’m not telling anything else!” He scuttled away with his paper parcel as I took in the tree.
We four decorated on Saturday night, the grandest tree ever. They shopped together with five dollars each on Sunday while I spent the remaining ten at Albertson’s. Three checks arrived from California on Christmas Eve. There was very little fanfare. We were already rich.
As I search this year for the perfect recipient, just the right single mom who works and struggles and keeps on keepin’ on, I wonder why I don’t put more than two tens and a five in this 45th anonymous envelope. After all, the dollar has devalued several times since then and my income at retirement was ten times that of the first miracle, in 1969. I’ve decided against change, however, and have decided that I am sentimental, not cheap.
Much Christmas Love to you, dear ones, and may the miracles of this life continue.
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