A Christmas Scene in 1849

NIF front cover 9-2-16Here’s a brief Christmas scene from Now I’m Found that takes place on Christmas Day 1849.

By this point in the novel, my protagonist Mac owns a store in Sacramento. Two other characters, Consuela and Huntington, live there with him. I’ll let you read the book to find out how all this came to pass.

     . . . [A] quiet group sat down to a beef roast Consuela prepared—just Mac, Consuela, and Huntington. After they ate, Mac read the Christmas story from the Bible, and Consuela sang a Spanish hymn. Mac didn’t understand the words, but the tune haunted him. He remembered Jenny’s clear voice singing “Amazing Grace” and other hymns at services along the trail, and in the church in Oregon City once they were settled.
     “Why so sad, Mac?” Consuela asked, tears in her eyes.
     “Thinking of home,” Mac said, then realized the trail and Oregon, where his thoughts had led, were not his home. “And you? Why do you cry?”
     “The same.”

I hope your holiday season has been happier than Mac’s and Consuela’s, and that you have spent it at home or with people you love from home.

And I wish you all the best for 2017.

O Christmas Tree . . . and Keepsakes Ornaments

img_20161217_193943-copy

This year’s Fraser fir

My husband and I are fans of live Christmas trees. Actually, I’d be tempted to have an artificial tree, but I love the evergreen scent of a real tree. So I put up with the messy needles every year.

For the past several years, we’ve purchased Fraser firs, an evergreen native to the Appalachian region. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and was not familiar with Fraser firs. In fact, when I was a child, we usually had pine trees or Douglas firs, which are actually members of the pine tree family, despite their name.

I remember a park ranger teaching a group of kids one time to identify trees using the saying “prickly pine and friendly fir.” The Douglas firs I knew had prickly needles (thus confirming they are really pines). By contrast, the Fraser firs we’ve bought have been very easy to move and decorate, though they drink more water than a marathon runner.

img_20161219_074932-copy

Crayola and backpacking ornaments

Because I worked for Hallmark, I have purchased Hallmark Keepsakes ornaments for the past thirty-five (or more) years. I started work for Hallmark in 1979, and I know I bought my first ones in or before 1982, because I have an ornament for “Baby’s First Christmas” dated in 1982—the year my son was born.

img_20161219_075133-copy

One of our many puppy ornaments

Over the years, I tried to buy ornaments that related to things my kids were doing. So during their grade school years, I bought Crayola ornaments. When we had dogs, I bought puppy ornaments. In 1994, when my son was twelve and started mowing our lawn, I bought Santa with a mower. (I don’t think my son appreciated that one.) I’ve bought Boy Scout ornaments, a baseball Santa, a football Santa, a moose on snow skis, and a reindeer on a jet ski.

img_20161219_075211-copy

An embroidered ornament and Santa with a mower

Not all my ornaments are Hallmark Keepsakes. I have a set of embroidered ornaments I started when my husband and I rode the bus to our offices. That was not a successful experiment (I couldn’t work on them without motion sickness), but I later finished them and still have the set of six ornaments.

img_20161219_075256-copy

Santa playing baseball

I’ve kept all these ornaments for over thirty-five years now. My kids have only recently become stable enough in their living arrangements to trust with keepsakes. (At least, I consider the ornaments to be keepsakes, as the Hallmark trademark says they are.)

img_20161219_075028-copy

Reindeer on a jet ski

My son is still an apartment dweller, but he bought a Christmas tree for the first time this year. We’ve discussed my sending him “his” ornaments after this holiday season, so he’ll have them for his tree next year. So this might be the last year some of these ornaments will grace our tree.

My daughter owns her home, but professes not to like my taste in ornaments. She has yet to buy a tree of her own at Christmas, and she has a dog who attacks Christmas tree lights. I think I’ll keep her ornaments for a few more years.

img_20161219_075041-copy

The angel at the top (not a Hallmark ornament), another embroidered ornament, a daughter’s First Christmas, and Santa playing football . . . and more

 

Merry Christmas to all of you, and may your holiday lights shine bright!

On Rocking Horses, Reading About Horses, and Real Horses

Xmas 56 (cropped)I’ve posted about my first Christmas before. Someone in the family—my father or grandfather—was good enough to take a picture of all the presents I received from Santa Claus before I was awake to see them. (Not that, at eight months, I could have done too much damage to them.)

Many of those first Christmas presents remained in our family a long time. My first doll, mentioned in an earlier post, that my mother kept, and that I found after my parents died. The rug in the shape of a cat that I took to kindergarten.

rocking-horseAnd my first rocking horse.

Actually, I think this was the only rocking horse that I or any of my siblings ever had. I used to love visiting friends who had the big horses on springs that really bounced the rider around like a bucking bronco. But all we had was this sedate little fellow that moved gently back and forth on an arced wooden base when propelled by the rider’s weight.

Like many preteen girls, I went through a stage of fascination with horses when I was about ten. I read Misty of Chincoteague and all the sequels by Marguerite Henry. I read The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and a couple of those sequels. And I read My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara and its two sequels.

But I rarely encountered an actual horse in my life. Only once or twice did we ever vacation in a place where we could take trail rides. My first substantial time spent on horseback was when my husband and I took our kids to a dude ranch in Wyoming in 1990. After a week on horseback, I yearned for the gentle swaying and narrow girth of my toddler-sized rocking horse.

So I was thrilled a few years ago to see the old nag when I visited my youngest brother around Christmas time. Somehow, his family ended up with my little pony. His daughters are too big for it now, but I imagine he still has it. Maybe they even bring it out of storage to put under the Christmas tree.

What old relics from your childhood have you found?

On Heffalumps, Hookers, and Humor

Here’s a (sort of) Christmas story I’ve never posted before. I wrote it for a writers’ group holiday party a few years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

On Heffalumps, Hookers, and Humor

mMugZTSQ4XYjmDRF06mOI1g PoohThe winter when I was four, I wasn’t supposed to know how to read, but I did. When Mommy read me stories and had to stop in the middle, I read ahead. Sometimes I forgot to turn the page back and lost our place.

One day in December, just before Christmas, I sat on the floor playing by Daddy’s bookcase. Daddy was getting a P-H-D. His books were boring. They had lots of numbers and squiggly lines that weren’t letters, and were called “Metal-lurgy” and “Ther-mo-dy-nam-ics.”

That day I saw a new book on Daddy’s shelf called Winnie the Pooh.

My grandma’s name was “Winnie.” Her real name was “Winifred Hooker,” but everyone —even Daddy—called her “Nanny Winnie.” Except for Mommy—my mommy called Nanny Winnie “Mother.”

Mommy often told her friends she used to be a “Hooker.” The grown-ups always laughed at that, but I didn’t know why. “Hooker” had been Mommy’s name until she married Daddy, so I didn’t see why that name was funny.

Sometimes Nanny Winnie called herself “Mrs. Claus.” She wrote on all her Christmas presents “from Santa and Mrs. Claus.” I could tell it was Nanny’s writing, because it was very messy. That’s how I knew the presents weren’t really from Santa—they were just from Nanny Winnie. (Besides, Santa didn’t wrap his presents.)

Now I’d found a book about “Winnie.” And about “Pooh,” which made me giggle.

I pulled the book off the shelf and opened it. It had pictures. But they weren’t boring pictures like in Daddy’s books. These pictures were of a bear, and a boy, and other animals. This book looked like one of my books.

I took the book to Mommy. “See what Daddy has,” I said. “Is it for me?”

She didn’t want to tell me, but finally she said, “Yes, it’s one of your Christmas presents. Since you found it, you can have it now.” Even though it wasn’t Christmas yet.

Daddy started reading it to me that night. Mommy had read the book when she was little, but Daddy never had.

Winnie the Pooh wasn’t like my Nanny Winnie at all. He was a boy, not a girl. And he was a bear. And he had a friend named Piglet.

And he was dumb. The book even said Pooh was a “bear of little brain.”

In one story, Pooh went round and round a clump of bushes in the snow with Piglet. They were tracking heffalumps. Every time they went around the bushes, more tracks appeared. Daddy laughed so hard he couldn’t read.

Why did Daddy think the story was funny? I didn’t think it was funny—I thought it was stupid. The pictures showed Pooh and Piglet following their own footprints in the snow. There weren’t any heffalumps. Heffalumps was a made-up word.

I decided Winnie the Pooh was a silly book. I couldn’t understand why my very smart Daddy thought it was funny.

It’s taken me sixty years’ experience with some people of little brain to understand why Daddy laughed.

And why Nanny Winnie signed her presents “from Santa and Mrs. Claus.” Because Christmas is a time when everyone is Santa.

This story raises lots of questions: When have you found a present that was hidden? Or when have you played Santa for someone else? And when have you had to deal with people of llittle brain? 

Mystery of the Old Doll Solved

MTH first doll croppedWhen I was cleaning out my parents’ house last spring, I found an old doll. Its body was corduroy, it was stuffed with something soft, but had a hard plastic face.

I remembered the doll from my childhood, but I didn’t know where it came from. Was it mine? Or my mother’s? I couldn’t remember ever playing with it. All I knew was that the doll had been around as long as I could remember. Because it was so old, I kept it.

My sister, brother and I also found boxes and boxes of pictures in the house. Everywhere we looked, it seemed, there were more pictures. We didn’t go through them at the time. We stowed all the boxes in my sister’s minivan, then put them in her dining room in a Seattle suburb.

In late July, I visited my sister and went through the photographs my father had kept. I spent most of a day in her dining room, thumbing through envelope after envelope of snapshots. If one envelope was mostly me or my family, I dumped it in my stack. And envelopes that were mostly of my sister or my brother and their children went into their stacks.

I didn’t have the time nor the energy to sort picture by picture. Envelope by envelope was all I could handle.

Then I boxed up my stack of pictures and put the boxes in the back of my rental car. My husband and I were headed from the Seattle area to Cannon Beach for a family reunion with his side of the family. In Cannon Beach I transferred the boxes from the rental car to my sister-in-law’s car. She had driven out from Missouri and agreed to drive the boxes back to Missouri for me.

After my sister-in-law delivered the boxes to my house, I stashed them in my dining room, still unable to go through them one by one.

Finally, sometime late this fall, I decided to organize the pictures at least by generations. I thought some of them might be helpful in jogging my memory for this blog. There were a few old pictures of my parents. Many of my childhood. And many more of my children’s childhood. I found some gems, but I’m still missing pictures I know I saw in my sister’s dining room. They must be someplace—perhaps in one of my siblings’ stacks, if not in some box of mine I’ve misplaced.

One of the photographs I noticed as I went through the pictures this fall was of my first Christmas in 1956 and all the presents I received from Santa Claus as an eight-month-old.

Xmas 56 (cropped)

What Santa Claus brought me for my first Christmas in 1956

And there in the photograph next to Humpty Dumpty was the little doll I found almost fifty-nine years later in my parents’ house. So the doll was mine—probably my first doll.

(And as a side note, I think the cat-shaped rug on which the doll sits was the rug I later took to kindergarten, when I argued with another little girl over which of us got to use our favorite cubby. Many of the items I received that first Christmas remained in our family for many, many years. The rocking horse is still in the family today.)

I don’t know why my parents kept this doll. Since I can’t recall playing with it, it doesn’t have much meaning to me. Unless the meaning is in the fact that my parents kept it—it must have had meaning for one of them, probably my mother. Perhaps the doll brought back memories to her of her first Christmas as a mother, of a time in her life she treasured.

When has a photograph solved a mystery for you?

A Christmas Stocking Tantrum

mantel at Christmas 20151220_213210

Decorated for Christmas, 2015

My Christmas preparations are about finished—the cards are mailed, the packages wrapped, and the house decorated. I still have some cooking to do, but it will get done.

I don’t do a lot of decorating for holidays. When the children were small, I made token attempts for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. I did a bit more at Christmas. Now, Christmas is the only season that gets any recognition at all in our home.

But we typically have a real evergreen Christmas tree (unless we are traveling for a week or more). I get out two tabletop artificial trees, and I line up the Christmas cards we receive on the mantel. I hang the children’s stockings on mantel hooks my husband installed many years ago, though the children (now in their 30s) no longer allow me to fill them.

Every time I hang the stockings, I smile at a memory of my daughter as a toddler.

J stocking20151220_213218

Son’s stocking

As a baby, my son—our older child—received his stocking from my husband’s great aunt, Aunt Evelyn. She had a friend who made Christmas stockings of appliqued felt and sequins and other decorations. The stocking was a lovely gift for our little baby’s first Christmas. His stocking depicts Santa Claus making a list and it bears our son’s name embroidered at the top in heavy gold thread. (He now usually goes by James, but was “Jamie” as a child.)

By the time our daughter came along a few years later, Aunt Evelyn had lost her source for Christmas stockings. I bought a stocking at Hallmark for our baby daughter. But it didn’t match our son’s stocking.

M stocking 20151220_213238

Daughter’s stocking

When our daughter was about three, I found a felt appliqued stocking about the same size as our son’s. It showed Santa and a snowman sledding, with a starry blue sky overhead. I bought it and took it home to show my daughter.

She didn’t like it. Her name was not embroidered on the stocking. She burst into tears. “I want my name on it!”

“Let’s just hang it up,” I said. “Everyone will know it’s yours.”

She cried more. Big sobs.

“I’ll embroider it for next year,” I said. “I don’t have time now.”

No deal.

“I don’t have any gold thread,” I said. “If you want it to match Jamie’s, you’ll have to wait.”

More sobs.

“Fine,” I finally said. “I’ve got blue yarn. That’s all I have. It won’t show up very well, but it’s your choice—blue now or wait until next year for gold.”

Blue yarn won. I whipped out a needle and the blue yarn and embroidered “Marcy” against the dark blue sky.

And so it has remained for more than a quarter century.

When have you as a parent had to placate your child? (Or been placated yourself as a child?)

The Orange Juice Incident

I know it is un-American, but I do not like orange juice. The pulp in it clings to my tongue and doesn’t go down easily. The acid churns my stomach. And it’s just so orangey.

A&T Dec 1989 (cropped)

Theresa & Al, several days AFTER the Orange Juice Incident

I also don’t like to travel during the holidays. I started being responsible for my Thanksgiving and Christmas travels when I was seventeen and went to college three-thousand miles from home. Ever since then, I’ve lived far away from at least part of my family and have had to fly frequently on holiday weekends.

Once my husband and I started working, we tended to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his parents, who lived just ninety miles from our house. Those car trips weren’t too bad, unless the weather was dreadful.

But every third year we traveled to the Pacific Northwest for Christmas with my parents. Once we had children, we had to schlep their belongings—including all presents—halfway across the country. I usually shipped boxes in advance and hoped they arrived before we did.

Christmas 1989 was one of our years to travel west. My parents lived in Richland, Washington, at the time, which required two airplanes from Kansas City. My children that year were four and seven.

I had shipped our presents—wrapped and unwrapped—to my parents ahead of time. I only needed to pack clothes for myself and the kids. My husband was responsible for packing for himself. (He usually was, and we often had to go to Wal-Mart the day after we arrived to buy socks or underwear.)

Packing our clothes was a complicated endeavor. I had to decide on the appropriate garments for church, dinners at fancy restaurants, and everyday activities in the middle of winter. I had to limit myself to the number of suitcases that two adults could carry, because our children were not big enough to provide much assistance. One result of my logistical calculations was that I decided I would make do with one raincoat with a zip-out lining.

December 1989 was the coldest month on record in Kansas City. On the morning we left, the temperature was minus 22 degrees. We had to leave our house at 6:00am to get to the airport in time for our first flight.

The taxi arrived to pick us up at the appointed hour. The kids and I were ready. My husband and I carried the bags to the taxi, and the kids and I got in the back seat.

“I’m going to turn off the water,” my husband said.

I understood why he was turning it off. I didn’t want the pipes to burst while we were away any more than he did. But couldn’t he have done it BEFORE we were in the frigid taxi? I shivered in my coat, even with its zip-out lining.

Finally, hubby climbed in the cab, and off we went.

Check-in at the airport went smoothly. My husband announced he wanted breakfast before boarding. Our seven-year-old son chimed in, “I’m starved!” He was always starved, from birth until age 25. Maybe longer.

We entered the airport cafeteria restaurant, put food on our trays, paid, and found a table. I took coats off the kids and then myself, piled them on a nearby chair, and we sat down to eat. I was exhausted. Not particularly hungry, but exhausted with the effort of preparing for the trip, rising early in the morning, and getting myself and two children ready for a week-long cross-country trip.

“Be careful with that,” I said to my husband when he picked up his bottle of orange juice. He had a habit of shaking drink bottles before he opened them.

“It’s okay,” he said in that placating tone he uses when he thinks I’m being silly.

“You’ll spill it,” I said, as he starting shaking the orange juice bottle.

“Nah,” he said.

The cap flew off the bottle, and half the juice landed on my coat. Mostly on the outside, but some on the zipped-in zip-out lining.

I didn’t swear, because of the children, but I was damn angry. “That’s the only coat I brought!” I yelled. I grabbed some napkins and tried to blot the juice off my coat.

“Let me do that.” My husband tried to take the napkins from me.

“You’ve done enough,” I said through my teeth.

The kids’ eyes were wide, their mouths gaping. Dad had clearly screwed up, even worse than THEY usually did. What would Mom do now? They’d seen her go ballistic over smaller things.

I did my best to salvage the coat. We ate our food in silence, except for my caustic comments toward my husband, such as “Did you think I wanted to smell like orange juice all week?” and “I told you not to shake the bottle” and “You’ve done this before, you know. Why didn’t you listen to me?”

Then we went to use the restrooms before the flight. I took my four-year-old daughter into the women’s room with me. As we washed our hands, I dabbed at my coat again with water and paper towels, still fuming about “stupid man” and “thinks he knows everything” and “it’ll be sticky the whole vacation.”

My four-year-old sidled toward the exit.

“Where do you think you’re going?” I yelled.

She started to cry, huge tears welling out of her eyes. Many years later, she told me all she wanted was to get away from me.

But, of course, I couldn’t let a four-year-old loose in the airport. “Get back here!” She took one step closer to me, but still sobbed.

That’s how we boarded the plane—me reeking of orange juice, my daughter crying, and my husband and son silent.

The only good news is that I got the single seat, and my husband had the children in the row of three across from me. And the dry cleaners was open on Christmas Eve, so my coat got cleaned.

For the quarter-century since that Christmas, this has been known in our family as the Orange Juice Incident.

Xmas 1989 dinner cropped

Christmas dinner, 1989, with the exception of Grandpa Tom, who took the picture

What problems have you incurred during holiday travels?