Christmas 1969 was a magical time, one that represented the holidays clearly and without fanfare. How nostalgic!
With the stars glowing brightly in their shimmering armor, and Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song softly playing in the background; a nostalgic haze looms across the sky, and I’m transported back to 1969, and the most riveting Christmas of my childhood. Hence, every time I see a child riding a bike, or making a cake in an Easy Bake Oven, my mind drifts back to that incredible Christmas 41 years ago.
As I recall, excitement was in the air as I rushed into the living room, where I saw my grandmother putting the finishing touches on the turkey. Peering at the stove, she asked me what I was looking for. Slightly flustered, I remarked, “my presents.” Smiling my grandmother responded, “Well you’ll have to wait until everyone gets here.”
As my grandmother pointed to the tree crammed with twinkling lights and colorful ornaments, I saw stacks of presents just waiting to be opened. Checking the names, I asked her if there was anything for me. Without changing expressions, she nodded at the presents in the corner. There were at least 10 gifts in all.
“Oh boy,” I thought, “all those presents, and they’re mine.” Like most children, I couldn’t wait for the rest of the family to arrive, I wanted to tear into those gifts right then and there. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to wait long.
With my parents, aunts, uncles and grandmother looking on; I let out a shriek as my hands tore away at the beautiful wrapping paper. I opened up one box after the other, finding inside toys, money, shoes, clothes and a deluxe Easy Bake Oven. A smorgasboard for any kid. However, the piece de resistance, was a blue bike that had been carefully hidden in the bathroom the night before.
Straddling my bike, the flash from my mother’s camera caught me off-guard, as she snapped a photo of me attempting to “burn rubber”. And before you ask, yes I looked goofy. My feet barely touched the pedals and I had difficulty with the handle bars. But I didn’t care, because I was so happy.
As the remaining gifts were opened, I strolled into my bedroom and put on one of my new dresses, a pink and white ensemble dripping with lace. Hey, believe me when I say it was gorgeous!!!!! Remember, this was the 1960s and lace was hot, so no giggling, okay? Now back to the story. When I entered the living room, modeling my new dress, my family was seated at the dining table. Looking at me, my mother smiled as everyone commented on my frilly duds. After that it was time to eat.
For the next 20 minutes we dined on turkey, stuffing, potato salad and every dessert imaginable. Looking at everyone seated at the table, my heart was warmed by those seven people as we basked in the holiday spirit.
At that tender age, I couldn’t grasp the true meaning of Christmas. For me it was a time for getting gifts and eating candy. The only thing on my mind, was me. And honestly, isn’t that the way most kids feel?
After we ate, the rest of the day was a hubbub of fun and thrills. My aunts took turns riding my bike, which I didn’t mind, since it was a tad too big for me. And they eliminated any displeasure I may have felt, by riding me on the handle bars. Wow, talk about a wild adventure! For the rest of the day we rode up and down the street, with me encouraging them to go faster and faster.
Hours later the day was over, and we returned home. As we entered the door my grandmother’s humming could be heard. That was music to my ears. Smiling broadly she asked me if I wanted to join her in finishing off the remainder of the pecan pie, to which I replied with a gleeful “yes mam. “
As we ate our pie, we reminisced about the day’s events. Sensing my joy, my grandmother asked me if I had enjoyed my day. She only had to take one look at me, to know what the answer was. Afterwards, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and wipe away the stickiness of the pie from my hands.
A minute later I returned and our conversation resumed. If anyone had wandered into that kitchen, with its red tile and checkered wall paper, they would have seen a little girl and a middle-age woman quietly enjoying one of those poignant conversations, only grandmothers and granddaughters share.
As my bed time neared, I put on my pajamas and took my teddy bear and placed it on the pillow next to me. And as I lay in the darkness, the cold air nipping at my ears, I took a moment to reflect on December 25, 1969. Unfortunately, the more I thought, the sadder I became. I was a kid, yet I remember feeling remorseful, that never again would my entire family spend another Christmas together. Little did I realize, that my thoughts were a premonition of things to come. The next year, my two uncles celebrated Christmas in Vietnam, and things were never the same.
I have celebrated many holidays since then, but I can still recall that one with total accuracy. I can still visualize those smiling faces. My parents’ joy, my uncles so young and handsome, my aunts wide eyed with wonderment and my grandmother’s hearty laughter.
Today, my family and I still gather around the tree and open presents. But for me, Christmas has lost much of its magic. My youngest uncle was killed in Vietnam and my grandmother proceeded him 17 years later. Moreover,commercialism has replaced the true spirit of the holidays.
And as I write this passage, thoughts of Christmas Past gingerly tug at my heart. It is then that I close my eyes and return to that marvelous Wednesday 41 years ago. Back to a day forever woven in the joy and simplicity of a child’s memory.