For extra money, we worked the farm fields, babysat, mowed lawns, collected bottles and poked fingers in phone booths.
Christmases, though, were especially hard and there was a time I thought that Christmas cheer wasn't going to come to our home.
I remember it distinctly.
“We won't be having a tree this Christmas,” Mom announced one day.
“But ... but ... where are you going to put the presents?” I asked, mortified.
“I don't know about that,” Mom replied.
I was stressed. I was worried. I was just a kid, I thought, and kids shouldn't have to worry.
Then one day, my concern, frustration and resentment turned to resolve. I decided to do something about the problem. I was going to save Christmas.
Of Teacups and Trees
How to get money for presents? It's not like I could make bottles out of thin air. But by shovelling sidewalks, I scrounged up three dollars. I knew that I could buy a few things for that price at The Salvation Army thrift store.
Mom usually took me to the store with her, and that weekend I had three dollars to spend wisely. But when I looked around, I realized that I didn't have enough money to buy everyone a gift. I was sad, and I tried to figure out how to stretch my money.
A sweet, little old woman with grey hair came out from behind the counter. In a squeaky voice, she asked me why I was picking things up and then putting them back. I told her that we weren't going to have a Christmas if I couldn't get presents for everyone in the family.
The woman beamed a big smile and asked me to come with her to the back of the store and wait while she went off to talk with someone. She came back with paper and a pen. We wrote down the names of my family members. She told me to make a check mark after I finished getting what I wanted for each member. (Today, every time I do that, I am reminded of the kindness of The Salvation Army.)
The woman told me to get as much as I wanted and assured me that I would have enough to buy it. I filled cart after cart. When it was finally done, I was pooped! She folded the clothes and placed them in garbage bags, gingerly placed board games, action figures, dolls and toys into other bags. Then, in a roasting pan, she placed kitchen utensils. The last item I handed to her was an English teacup, which she wrapped several times in fancy paper. The whole shopping trip cost me exactly three dollars—so the woman told me. She said I was a smart shopper.
I then went to the side of the building, loaded our car and went to a burly man standing in the garage. He came back with a garbage bag of wrapping paper. I went to the other building and an older man smiled at me and handed me a voucher. I felt like I was Ms. Claus!
You're probably wondering what happened to the Christmas tree. That week, Mom was able to get a tree. It might not have been the biggest tree and it wasn't strong enough to hold a lot of ornaments, but we got a tree! Mom propped it up on the sewing machine and covered it in Christmas colours. There was more than enough room underneath it for presents.
Sharing the Moment
I will never forget the happiness of that Christmas morning. The last present I handed out was the teacup, but when Mom unwrapped it, she looked upset. The handle had broken off the teacup. I thought she was mad. She held onto that cup with two hands and looked at me with weepy blue eyes. I didn't realize until I was older that she wasn't mad that I gave her a second-hand broken cup, she was happy that I took the time to try and help spread Christmas cheer.
That English teacup followed her in all her moves until her last one.
The meaning of Christmas shouldn't be how much money you spend on giving, but what you do with your time. By giving and appreciating the efforts of those who give, we all share in the spirit of giving.
And during this time, let's also remember those who are less fortunate.
(Photo: © iStockphoto.com/mediaphotos)