I wrote two years ago about going to see Santa Claus at Lloyd Center in Portland, Oregon. I’m pretty sure the year was 1961. When I wrote that post, I couldn’t find the picture of my brother and me with Santa.

Well, now I’ve found it:

I hope Santa brought you everything you want for Christmas this year, and may 2018 be your happiest year ever.

Merry Christmas!

My Last Gift from Santa

In my birth family, Santa Claus brought presents to children through their high school years, but that was it. Because I was the oldest kid in the family, the parameters around childhood experiences developed as I grew up. I’m not sure when the End of Santa rule was determined—if Santa announced it to me in advance, or if I only found out when he no longer left me anything. I seem to recall some discussion leading to a mutual decision between Santa and me.

But in December 1972, the year I was a senior in high school, I knew Santa was still planning to show up for me, as well as for my younger siblings.

I wanted a typewriter that year. An electric typewriter. After all, I would be heading off to college the following September, and a typewriter would be useful—maybe even a necessity.

I’d taken a typing class the summer after I was in the eighth grade, thinking that I’d have to type some papers in high school. I was dreadful at it, but summer school classes didn’t count in my high school GPA. I think the fastest I ever typed that summer was 35 words per minute, and those words were full of mistakes. I didn’t improve through my high school years, though I did type some of my longer assignments.

The only typewriter we had at home was an ancient manual machine my mother had acquired when she was in college. She wasn’t a very good typist either, and my father couldn’t type at all in those days. (Though he took to it after he retired, when he started using computers regularly, and became a pretty good four-fingered typist.)

By contrast, my maternal grandmother, Nanny Winnie, was an excellent typist. She had been to a year of business college (basically, secretarial school) after high school, and she was very fast. She was so fast that she usually typed her personal correspondence with friends and family. Which was a good thing, because her handwriting was barely legible. I remember visiting her when I was quite small, and she clattered away on the keys typing letters while I played on the floor beside her.

By high school, I was too old to sit on Santa’s lap. To let Santa know I wanted a typewriter, I typed most of my papers the fall semester of my senior year. That meant I had to draft them early enough before they were due that I could slowly peck out a final version on my mother’s old typewriter.

“Why are you typing everything?” my mother asked me one evening as I pounded out a term paper. “Is it required?”

“Not really,” I said. “But I think it looks nicer.” I continued to hunt for those elusive keys, hoping Santa would get the hint.

Santa brought me two suitcases like the one pictured above and the soft carry-on, but not the smaller hard-cased carry-on.

On Christmas morning 1972, I followed my usual practice of sneaking from my bedroom to the living room in the wee hours before dawn. Some years, my brother accompanied me, but that year, I spied alone.

There, under the tree, was a set of luggage—two green Samsonite suitcases and a matching carry-on tote bag. Those must be for me, I thought. I’m the only kid going anywhere this year.

And there was a Smith Corona electric typewriter. At 5:00am, I couldn’t take try it out, but I vowed to be up again as soon as the rest of the family began to stir.

A Smith-Corona typewriter, just like the one Santa brought me

When the appointed hour for children to arise came, I was back in the living room with my typewriter. It had a manual return, but electric touch in the keys.

Unfortunately, owning this machine didn’t improve my typing skills. I managed through college and law school on that Smith Corona, but I didn’t improve as a typist until after I began using a personal computer in the mid-1980s and got a lot more practice. Perhaps that will be the topic of another post.

What was your last gift from Santa?

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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?