Sleigh Bells in the Night…
When I was a young girl, Christmas was an exciting, but somewhat bittersweet time. As it is with all children, Christmas meant presents! However, at times, for my brothers and me, it was sometimes a reminder of what we weren’t going to receive. I remember only a handful of Christmas memories; some good and some not. The youngest memory that I can recall was when I lived with my grandparents in Madison, Wisconsin on Ridgewood Street. I was about six years old. We were all in the basement, where I noticed Christmas stockings on the wall, which hung carefully over the faux cardboard fireplace that surely grandpa put together so that we kids knew how Santa got all the gifts under the tree. Of course, we were told he arrived early just for our special gathering. The Christmas tree seemed to reach and touch the ceiling, with globs of tinsel on every branch and the lights shined oh so bright just like all the colors within a rainbow. Music was being piped out of the jukebox, one Christmas carol after another. Excitement was definitely in the air. Christmas was being celebrated with my cousins that year, where we all waited patiently to see what Santa Claus had brought us.
The gifts that Santa brought were being passed out to all us kids… one for Stevey, as grandpa use to call him; one for Sissy, one for Randy… Gifts were being handed out one after another, so I waited patiently until the last gift was passed, hoping just one of them were or me. When the last gift was handed to Shawn, I began to wonder if I was on the “naughty or nice” list that year. Granny saw that I had started to cry to myself, as I had no gifts to open. Extending a hug, granny and grandpa asked me to go upstairs to the living room to get a tissue from the box that was on the Hi Fi so that I could wipe away the tears from my face. They also asked me to look out for Santa, to see if I could see him flying around in his sleigh.
As I stood there wiping away my tears, I glanced outside the big picture window that faced the front yard. Grandpa had decorated the outside tree with beautiful rainbow lights, too. The snowfall had covered each bulb with perfection and just enough snow to make each bulb illuminate, making the colors glow intensely within the tree. It was beautiful, peaceful. As I stood there alone in the living room darkness, staring at the vibrant tree that glowed back at me, I suddenly heard a familiar sound ringing out… bells, Christmas bells, Santa Claus’ bells! My eyes shot above me, trying to find a glimpse of Santa in the skies. I looked everywhere above, but couldn’t see him anywhere. Before I left, I stole another look outside and immediately ran back downstairs to my grandparents, where I shared with them that I heard Santa’s sleigh bells! They saw the excitement in my eyes and heard it in my voice. I was absolutely convinced that I heard Santa’s bells ringing outside that living room window. It was then that grandpa told me that there were extra gifts under the Christmas tree and they were for me. Taking a picture with Santa Claus that evening, I remember being so happy, excited that he didn’t forget about me after all.
It was many years later that I had learned that granny forgot to bring my gifts out of her bedroom closet and put them under the tree with everyone else’s. I often think of this time when I went to the living room looking for Santa in the skies, especially when I view my own Christmas tree today, as it sits there in the darkness, where each and every colorful light burns with such brightness as if they are all smiling back at me.
Did I really hear Santa’s sleigh bells ringing through the air that evening when I was a little girl or was it my beloved grandfather standing outside the picture window, with perfect timing, shaking sleigh bells as I looked out the window toward the skies waiting for Santa to fly by?
“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.” ~Author Unknown
Oh Christmas Branch, Oh Christmas Branch…
Children look forward to seeing the Christmas tree go up, with its many lights and decorations. It’s a sure sign that Christmas day will soon arrive. I remember when my family and I didn’t have a Christmas tree… real or fake. We just couldn’t afford to have one. My brothers and I were aching for some sort of holiday spirit and decorations; something to make our home look festive, to be a part of, as if we did hold Christmas in the Lambert home. We lived in an apartment building on Sheffield and us kids were trying to come up with an idea on how we could decorate for Christmas. Looking out the back porch window, we saw in the back alley that one of the tenants from the above apartments trimmed their Christmas tree, as a huge branch was lying in the trash. My brother, Steve, went outside and retrieved the branch from the garbage can and brought it in with such enthusiasm that one would have thought he hiked all the way into the forest to chop it down himself! We found an old peanut butter jar in the cupboard, which my mom always used for drinking glasses. We filled the jar to the top rim with water and placed our perfectly trimmed Christmas tree branch inside and placed it on the dresser in the living room, right next to the television set. Looking a tad bare, my brothers and I decided to make some paper decorations to place on our tree. Coloring and making decorations, along with some green garland we had, we now had a Christmas tree to call our own. In our eyes, the tree that sat in the peanut butter jar was just as beautiful as the one at Rockefeller Center. Unfortunately, we had many Christmas’ like this, either no tree or no gifts from Santa.
We moved to Magnolia Avenue in the mid seventies. Being on welfare and not having many luxuries, we were excited to see chocolate chip cookies on the counter or an occasional carton of ice cream in the freezer. We never had expensive clothes or shoes and some winters barely a warm coat. We would get our clothes at second hand stores or from the free goodwill that use to be on Broadway. We kids would dream of wearing Converse All-Stars, just like the other kids in the neighborhood. But, instead, we would get the shoes that slip and slide that came from Goldblatt’s. As the old saying goes, “Don’t get the shoes that slip and slide, get the shoes with the star on the side!” One Christmas, my mother must have come across some extra money, as she gave my brothers and me money to run up on Broadway to the Army Navy Surplus store so that we could each buy a pair of our own Converse. We were ecstatic and run we did! I bought a pair of red high tops and I thought I was the luckiest kid on the block! Of course, we were only allowed to wear them on school days, while going to school. On occasion, I would sneak them on and go play ball with my brothers, only to have my mother yell from the window to come in and take them off and change into my slip and slides.
The years went on and we kids had gotten older. Christmas gifts felt more of like a necessity than wishing you had the hottest toy under the tree. One Christmas in particular my brothers had no winter coats to wear. They would always double up on their sweatshirts to keep themselves warm. They had nothing to protect their heads or keep their hands warm. Mom couldn’t afford to buy them new coats either, but I was still working at Jupiter, which was a five and dime store, and made enough money, along with my employee discount, that I could buy both of my brothers an inexpensive coat for Christmas.
Knowing that my brothers needed to stay warm, I bought each of them new winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves to match, with Steve in blue tones and Jeff in the color green. I wanted to make sure that that winter they wouldn’t be cold while walking to school or playing outside.
Christmas morning came and we all gathered into the living room, where the tree was still lit and left on from the night before. We were always told that if you leave the Christmas tree lights on during Christmas Eve, then Santa Claus would be able to see where he was going.
I couldn’t wait for my brothers to open up their gifts. It was a tradition that one person opened their gifts at a time, with Steve usually being first, then Jeff, me and then mom to follow last. Steve tears opens his gifts first and soon Jeff was to follow. I could see the smiles on their faces that showed such gratitude and appreciation. However because Steve was so tall and his arms were so long, the sleeves on his coat were a tad short, but he said that he didn’t mind and he was excited about receiving a new winter coat. I was very happy to help my brothers and it made me feel so good to know that they were able to open up a few Christmas gifts but, most importantly, they were going to be warm.
“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” ~Bob Hope
Gifts from the Heart…
One particular Christmas will stand out in my mind forever and that my heart will never forget. My brothers and I were very young and we found ourselves once again without a Christmas tree. We had just moved to a new building on Kenmore, just off Montrose Avenue and, surely, we wouldn’t have the luxury of finding a Christmas tree branch in the garbage, as we did once before. We decided to make our Christmas tree that year. Searching through some boxes in the closet, we did find some Christmas tree garland that was from the year before. Although it wasn’t much, it was enough for my brothers and me to make a small Christmas tree. Looking for the perfect wall in the living room, we began taping the garland to the wall. We created a triangle to symbolize a Christmas tree. As Steve, Jeff and I took a step back, we took pride in our newly displayed Christmas tree, which had a hint of glimmer from the light of the lamp that was resting on the end table.
Reality had set in and it was at that moment that we realized that we had a tree, but no Christmas gifts to place beneath it. Our mother hardly had enough money to buy us food to eat, let alone money to buy us Christmas gifts.
Wanting to continue on with our Christmas spirit, my brothers and I wanted to have Christmas gifts under our tree. We each had agreed to take one of our own personal and special toys that were our own and give it to the other for Christmas. I decided that my gift was for Steve, Steve’s gift was for Jeff and Jeff’s gift was to me. While each of us looked through our toy boxes to see what the other would like to have, the three of us made our final decisions. My special gift for Steve was a miniature toy egg beater that you would cook make believe pancake breakfast and play in a dollhouse with. Of course, not having any wrapping paper to make my gift look beautiful, the only thing I could think of at the time to wrap my gift was the bathroom toilet paper. Pulling it off from the roll, sheet after sheet, I gently wrapped the egg beater in the toilet paper and tying it up with the only ribbon I could find, which was one of my laces from my shoes. Once done, I then carried and placed Steve’s gift underneath our beautiful makeshift Christmas tree that was hanging on the wall in the living room. In turn, my brothers did the same thing. Slowly unraveling the toilet paper from the roll, they, too, wrapped up their special gifts and placed them underneath the Christmas tree. Once again, we all stood staring at our tree that now housed three small gifts underneath.
The next morning had arrived and it was Christmas Day! My brothers and I woke up and rushed to the Christmas tree with anticipation. Lying there before us were three perfectly wrapped gifts. I couldn’t wait to see what I had receive and what my brother, Jeff, had picked out especially for me. Sitting on the floor in front of the tree, I picked up the perfectly wrapped toilet papered gift and slowly unwrapped it. I received a Corvette Matchbox car and it was the coolest car that I had ever seen! It was royal blue; my favorite color!
It was Jeff’s turn next. Slowly peeling away the toilet paper, Jeff finds a Matchbox truck that thrilled him as much as mind did. Spinning the wheels, Jeff had a smile on his face that seemed to last forever.
Lastly, it was Steve’s turn to open his gift. Steve picked up his gift and placed it in his hands. He carefully unties the shoestring that I had taken from my tennie shoe the night before and begins to unwrap the many layers of toilet paper. Steve sees the eggbeater sliding out of the wrap and his eyes light up with excitement. He begins to twirl the handles with vigor, as he watches with anticipation as the beaters simultaneously mesh together as one, rotating over and over and over.
My brothers and I may not have received a shiny new bike for Christmas, or a pair of roller skates or even a talking dolly, but what we did receive was a sense of closeness that we were only able to share with one another. Selfishness was set aside that day and we were shared with others what we had. We took from little and created a special moment that only the three of us were able to share and experience.
“Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” ~ Brian Tracy
We may not have had much during these Christmas’ back in the 1970’s, but that seemed to be just fine with us. Because that Christmas, my brothers and I didn’t think of ourselves. Instead, we thought of each other. We experienced a more precious gift that Christmas day and that was no matter what you have in your life, whether riches or coal, you can always find that one special something to make the person next to you happy. Gifts from your heart make the most precious gift of all.
“Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.” ~ Gladys Tabor