My Last Thanksgiving at Mom’s

“The weak fall, but the strong will remain and never go under!” ~ Anne Frank

Even though I was in my own home, sitting in my own bedroom, I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t like the atmosphere that was in the air, the tone that was suddenly being set. It was dirty and I could hear it and it made me feel uneasy.

My bedroom didn’t have a door. It seemed like every bedroom I had in all the apartments growing up on Magnolia Avenue, it was always my bedroom that never had the door. The only privacy I ever had came from a makeshift sheet that was usually tacked up with a bunch of nails. This was always my bedroom door. There was never any way to block out the noise from the other rooms. There was never any knocking to announce that someone wanted to come in. Instead of twisting a doorknob to enter, it was always a sweep of the arm to push the curtain aside. There was never any privacy. My bedroom appeared to have been built as an afterthought, as drywall was slapped up into the main living room to try and create another room – my bedroom. However, the wall was never completed. At the end of the wall there was a small area of approximately four feet tall by one foot wide that wasn’t drywalled, as if they had plans to tuck something within the space. Not wanting to have a gaping hole looking into my room, I took a very large board and placed it up against the hole. I drew the “Love Is” characters on it so that it didn’t look unfinished. The board didn’t cover the hole completely, but it worked enough. Once again, my privacy as a young teenager was sacrificed.

Thanksgiving was upon us and my mother was at the grocery store buying food for Thanksgiving Day dinner. Mom had received her welfare check and she was buying groceries to fill the cabinets and fridge for the holiday. This usually meant we would have a treat of chocolate chip cookies or Neapolitan ice cream. We would also have a fat turkey for Thanksgiving, with all the trimmings, canned cranberry sauce, breaded stuffing that would be made from scratch and, eventually, shoved up the turkey’s tush to cook all day. Mom would make real mashed potatoes and not instant like we normally ate. Corn from the can that tasted more like tin than corn, salad, which consisted of only lettuce, drenched in Miracle Whip salad dressing. Dinner would end with a store-bought pumpkin pie with a dollop of cool whip. This menu was a yearly traditional meal that we all looked forward to having. Mom took her grocery list and food stamps and was off to the store to buy all the holiday fixings.

Mom asked me to stay home. She asked me to wash the dishes that were in the kitchen sink while she was at the store. I hated washing the dishes, mostly, because mom never bought normal dish washing soap. Trying to save her pennies, we washed our dishes with laundry detergent. The soap would never dissolve properly and I felt as if I was washing the dishes with pellets of sand. My brothers weren’t at home. Most likely, they were with their friends playing a game of tag football at Truman College, which we lived almost directly behind. I was left at home with Melvin and a man named Butch. Butch was a family friend, who we met and knew while living in another building years before on Sheridan Avenue. I remember Butch having two daughters, Maria and Sonia, both which seemed to have been slightly off not only in the looks department, but in the personality department as well. Maria and Sonia were mentally challenged to a degree and both lived in a home that offered assistance to their kind. On occasion, they would come to visit their father, spending the weekend with him. They were larger women and they always sat outside on the building’s front stoop. Maria, the redhead, was mean and feisty, while Sonia, the brunette, was more easy-going. Her personality was much softer. She would sit there and play barbies with me. Once, Maria picked me up and literally tossed me into the air and across the sidewalk. I fell into the dirt and landed on my knees. She said I was in her way, therefore, she decided to toss me like a ragdoll so she can get down the front steps. Their father, Butch was short and chubby himself, looked like he had no teeth when he talked and always wore his hair short, like a crew cut. He seemed to have a stuttering problem, where his words took forever to say. His wardrobe consisted of only white T-shirts and Dago T’s. I always found Butch to be on the feminine side, especially by the way he talked and presented himself. He was very flamboyant and liked to dance around the room to his radio. It was hard for me to picture him as a father. I would listen in on conversations between mom and Melvin, where they would comment that Butch was a queer and would suck a dick a mile long. I was old enough to understand what that meant. He liked men. However, it was obvious that he had a relationship with a woman at one point in time because he had two daughters. Butch also had a brother named John. He seemed to be the normal one of the family, that is until I woke up one morning when I was younger and saw him boinkin’ my mother on the side of the bed. Waking up from sleeping on the floor in our one-room apartment, I asked her what was she doing. She told me to lie down and go back to sleep, which is exactly what I did and I never mentioned it again. It seemed like this family, John, the girls and, in particular, Butch, had followed us from neighborhood to neighborhood and somehow was always in our lives from the time we lived on Sheridan throughout the time we lived on Magnolia. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now. Now that I was older, I knew exactly what was going on, especially between Butch and Melvin.

I had finished up washing the dishes. I wanted to get back to my room and not be around Melvin whatsoever. The utter sight of him made my skin crawl. Him sitting there in his recliner chair, smoking, polluting the air that I breathe, wearing his creepy little shorts. I even noticed that they were hiked up more than usual that day. Melvin and Butch were watching TV. They were eerily quiet and said little to me. Leaving the kitchen, I crossed their path, walking back into my room. Even though I had no bedroom door to shut me out of their existence, I felt relieved to know I was in my own space. Standing in my room, I was in front of my own TV, flipping channels and trying to pass the time until mom got home. She had just left for the store and I wished that she were back home already. Melvin and Butch were in the living room. The living room consisted of two twin beds, which was sort of set up as a bedroom, with the beds up against the walls. It seems like we never had a formal living room either. Most likely, because mom and Melvin could only afford a one-bedroom apartment and my brothers always got the bedroom… and the door! As Melvin sat in his recliner chair, Butch was sitting on the edge of one of the beds, the one closest to Melvin. I could hear both of them starting to talk, their voices low, almost whispering, as if they were trying to hide what they were saying. I started to get that uncomfortable feeling again, that same feeling as when I knew Melvin was about to touch me, my breasts and, eventually, my vagina. I felt like I was in the middle of something that was wrong, something that shouldn’t be happening. As I stood in front of my TV, I turned down the volume slightly so I could hear what was going on in the other room. I was hesitant with my thoughts. I was hoping I didn’t hear what I thought I did. In between the whispers, there were noises coming from their room. They were sexual. I started to make noise of my own in my room, moving things around my dresser, banging books, trying to remind them both that I was still in the house and only a few steps away. I was hoping that they would stop whatever they had started. Did it work, I thought? Unfortunately not. They both ignored me, as if I was the Wizard of Oz himself… “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Moments later, they continued with their groping one another. By this time, I was so uneasy with them being there that I yelled from my bedroom, “You two better stop because I can hear everything that you’re doing!” Silence filled the living room once again. When is mom getting home, I thought. For some reason I knew that they would stop once she got home, as I knew what they were doing was behind her back. They probably couldn’t wait for her to leave. On the other hand, did mom know what they were doing and, most likely have been doing, for years? Is this why she asked me to stay home with them, in hopes that they wouldn’t do anything with each other while I was in the apartment? I had a strong feeling that mom knew many of the inappropriate and crude things Melvin was doing, but just kept them all to herself.

I heard them start-up again. I could hear the wet noises coming from their privates, the slapping of skin back and forth. I could hear their whispers. By their conversation, I was under the impression that Butch couldn’t get it up, as Melvin kept asking him, “Are you sure you don’t have to go to the bathroom? Well, let me try again.” With that comment, I had heard enough. Swinging open my curtain, I stepped out into the living room. Melvin and Butch did some shuffling with a jacket that lay over Butch’s lap. I told them that they were both sick fucks and didn’t they realize that I was just in the other room? I also told them that I was going to find mom and tell her what was going on and what they were doing. With that, I stormed out of the apartment and headed to the grocery store up on Sheridan and Montrose, where I knew mom was shopping. Was Melvin nervous that his dirty little secret would be exposed? Did he even care?

As I ran to the grocery store in late November, I realized that I should have worn a jacket, as it was quite chilly outside. However, I left the apartment so quickly that I didn’t even think. I just knew that I needed to get out of there. As I was racing to reach the grocery store, my mind was having a race all its own, thinking of what I had just witnessed back at the apartment. Why can’t I have a normal life? Why do I have to live the way I do? Why do I have to run looking for my mother and report to her what I had just witnessed? Would she believe me? I never ever shared with mom the sexual abuse that Melvin did to me. Not only did Melvin like little girls, he also liked older men. Would this open up something that I knew was going to be just awful? I didn’t want her to know what Melvin had done to me. I didn’t want to disrupt our already dysfunctional life any more than it was. I didn’t want to be in trouble. I rehearsed in my mind how I was going to tell mom once I found her in the store, that Melvin was having sex with another man and while I was only in the other room.

I felt like I was running a marathon, as I ran down Montrose Avenue, past Racine, Clifton, then underneath the El tracks and then finally past Kenmore. Just up ahead there was the Jewel grocery store on Sheridan Avenue where mom was picking out a turkey for a family dinner. A dinner where we were all to sit down and be thankful that we were together, a family that doesn’t harm or fault one another, a family that doesn’t allow sexual abuse in their lives, even though I knew it was all lies.

As I walked around the store, I took a look down each of the aisles looking for mom. One after another, I knew she had to still be in the store somewhere. Finally, I found her. By the look on her face, I could tell that she was surprised to see me there, especially since she left me at home. She could tell from my own face that I was upset. I began to get angry, which made me start to cry. All my emotions were trying to spill out all at once. I tried to keep my voice down and explain to her what was happening back at home. The more I talked, the more upset I got. I told her that Melvin and Butch were doing things to each other in the living room and that they knew I was in the bedroom. She told me to stay with her, as we went to check out and buy the cart of groceries.

Mom hailed a yellow taxi, where we put all the groceries into his trunk. I remember sitting inside the cab, with its huge bench seat from window to window, looking out the window, trying to anticipate what was going to happen once we got home. Instructing the driver where to go, mom and I didn’t say a word all the way home. The palm of my hands were sweaty, as I rubbed them against my pants. My heart began to pound faster, as we pulled up in front of our building. We unloaded the groceries from the trunk and made our way up the stairs and into the apartment. Once inside, we both realized that Butch was gone. He left, leaving Melvin sleeping in one of the beds in the living room. Mom instructed me to put the groceries away, while she sat on the other bed, lighting up a cigarette. I could see her sitting there, puffing away madly, as she watched Melvin sleep and half-undressed, her head sagging low. I went into my room shortly after I was done putting all the groceries away. The silence was nerving, so I turned on my TV. I never heard another word again about the incident that happened that one holiday afternoon. I don’t know if mom ever confronted Melvin about the situation or if she kept everything to herself. Most likely, if she had brought it up to him, he would have denied it, calling me a lying whore. However, if I knew my mother, she didn’t open her mouth whatsoever. She didn’t like to confront Melvin, as he was abusive and violent. Surely, this was one of her own secret tortures within. Oh, how that asshole controlled her.

That year, Thanksgiving had come and gone, without a word being said of what had happened just days before. We continued on with our holiday meal as if we were the perfect family, smiling, laughing and joking. As we sat at the table pretending as if nothing was wrong, I would try to make my brothers giggle during grace. Grace consisted of just a few generic words. We never said grace at any other meal except for Thanksgiving. “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for our food. Amen.” Done. As my brothers would recite the grace, I would extend my legs underneath the table, so my naked toes would reach their side of the table. As their heads were bowed low and praying, my toes would creep up from underneath the table, where they would be just inches away from their faces. Their eyes closed, my toes danced directly under their noses, wiggling them back and forth, slightly skimming the tip of their noses. We tried not to laugh out loud because the atheist in the room would have gotten pissed off because we were giggling during grace.

Melvin had sexually abused me when I was younger and it was a dirty little secret that only he and I knew. However, that day with Butch, I learned of Melvin’s other dirty little secret; that he liked to fuck men, too. Sadly, it appeared that mom had her own secrets of Melvin already scared deep within her mind that she kept there until one afternoon where she no longer could.

I found mom sitting on the back porch one summer afternoon. I came home and, as I always did, I asked my usual question… “Where is Melvin?” It was a pleasure when he wasn’t around. The atmosphere was more at ease, my brothers and I were more at ease, comfortable, as we didn’t have to whisper or walk on eggshells, tiptoe around an abusive drunk. We didn’t have to watch what we said, especially in front of Melvin, where it would trigger an argument or an ass beating. “Where is Melvin?” I asked again. “He’s sleeping in the garage.” My mother responded. I could tell mom was hiding more information than Melvin just sleeping in the garage. I questioned why he was in the garage sleeping when he had a bed in the house. “He’s in the garage sleeping and has locked the side door. I couldn’t get in, but I looked through the window. Melvin is sleeping with his pants half down, next to another man.” She quietly confessed. I thought to myself, was it Butch? But, it wasn’t. Then, she proceeded to half-ass show me a set of pictures that she found of Melvin, where he had taken at one of those photo booths in Woolworth’s. Melvin had pulled his pants down and took pictures of his genitals. I could tell that she was upset, but I wasn’t sure if it was more over the found photos or of Melvin being in the garage sexually with another man… again. Surely, it had to be both.

I wonder what mom would have thought if she knew I was on Melvin’s long list of weird sexual antics. Would that put her over the edge? Would she have cared? Did she already know? Did mom just accept Melvin’s sexual preferences? Would she finally kick him out, I thought? Being sexually abused was my own little secret and I had no intention of releasing it from my frightened mind. I was so afraid that the family we did have together, my brothers and I, would disappear, just like the little girl, Judith, who we knew growing up in our apartment building. The Department of Child Protective Services came and took her because her parents were unfit, or so they said. This had always been in the back of my mind that they would come and take my brothers and me away, never to see each other again. We were young enough to be tossed into the system, but not old enough to be on our own. Therefore, I always kept my mouth shut. My brothers and I lived at home until we were old enough to make our own decisions and move on.

It was years later when I finally had my own studio apartment, I announced that I would cook my first Thanksgiving Day dinner for everyone. I invited my brother, Jeff and my mother over to spend the day with me. Mom knew enough not to ask about Melvin’s invite. My brother, Steve, was living in Michigan at the time and unable to attend. I wanted to have all the trimmings to my dinner just like mom always made. I lived in a one-room studio apartment that consisted of a small kitchenette, bathroom and walk in closet. The appliances were small, particularly the stove. It was one of those small apartment stoves and was half the size of a normal one. It was difficult to cook a regular meal on, let alone a ten pound turkey in the oven! However, I still tried.

“On Thanksgiving Day we acknowledge our dependence.” ~William Jennings Bryan

Following my mother’s tradition, I set my alarm for 4:30 in the morning to prepare the turkey so that it can be popped into the oven by 5:00. Mom shared with me on how to make the stuffing and prepare the turkey, step-by-pain-in-the-ass-step! Getting up this early in the morning to prepare a turkey wasn’t exactly my ideal way of starting my day. I was so tired that I prepared the stuffing between yawns. The onions weren’t diced to perfection, they were more like chopped into chunks. The bread looked as if it was hacked by a hatchet than torn into bite size pieces. As for the celery… let’s just say that they would have looked better in a tall glass of Bloody Mary’s!

The stuffing was finally prepared, with its seasoning of sage that seemed to permeate my hands, along with the onions. Shoving the stuffing into the turkey’s cavity between slitted eyes, I packed it as much as I could. As I tied the legs up with twine, as to make sure the stuffing didn’t’ have a chance to escape, I maneuvered the pan into the small oven at 350 degrees. The turkey was in the oven to roast by 5:00 a.m. It was shortly thereafter, that I popped myself back into bed to continue my dreams!

Hours later, I woke to the smell of turkey wafting in the air. It seemed more pungent than ever, most likely due to my small apartment. Cracking open a window, I began to prepare the rest of the meal; potatoes, corn and, of course, that overly drench Miracle Whip salad. Jeff and Mom arrived a few hours later, where we sat, chatted and waited for the turkey to be done. I checked the turkey and basted several times throughout the morning. By 1:00 p.m., we were all getting hungry. Mom commented that the bird was in that oven for almost eight hours now and surely it would have to be done. She was the expert, I thought. Turning off the stove, I pulled the turkey out and oven to make its grand debut.

What an entertaining disaster, I thought! The turkey that had been bathing in its own juices for almost eight hours wasn’t even near done! It was so rubbery that it could have bounced its way back to the farmland from where it came! Mom and I came to the conclusion that it was due to my “Easy Bake Oven” of a stove. Because it was so small, the oven must have not been able to accommodate the size of the turkey. My first Thanksgiving dinner was a flippin’ flop! Laughing our way through the rest of the meal that we could eat, I had to make the best of the moment, so I took pictures of my first attempt at cooking Thanksgiving.

My attempt at cooking a turkey!

My first attempt at cooking a turkey! Circa – Early 80’s

It may not have been the traditional meal that we were use to having, but we made the best of what we had. In the end, it’s not about the meal and what you cooked or how much effort you put into it, nor is it about what went right or even what went wrong. It’s all about being thankful. My last Thanksgiving at my mom’s house with Melvin’s behavior is a memory that will always be in my mind, but I believe it’s an experience that made me stronger, not only in values, but in beliefs. My life growing up was full of challenges, but it showed me how important family is and to let nothing stand in the way of relationships. Family doesn’t hurt family, family is love and, when you have love, hurt should never exist. Simple.

Thanksgiving and the holidays are all about being together, together with family and friends and the ones you truly love. Sharing time with one another, laughing, joking and experiencing a joyful moment that will all too soon be a part of the past. We need to seize all the memories we can, holding each one of them close to our heart because as our years move on into the past, the making of memories become less and less.

Although my first turkey was a failure, I would like to think the moment of being together was a memorable success.

“As we pause to thank Him for the blessings of the past year, we must not forget to thank Him for the lessons we have learned through our difficult times. We are not to be thankful for just the pleasant, easy things, but ALL things.” ~ Millie Stamm

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Remembering Moments of Falling in Love

Hearts“We all want to fall in love. Why? Because that experience makes us feel completely alive. Where every sense is heightened, every emotion is magnified, our everyday reality is shattered and we are flying into the heavens. It may only last a moment, an hour, an afternoon. But that doesn’t diminish its value. Because we are left with memories that we treasure for the rest of our lives.” ~ Anonymous

Falling in love is such a beautiful gift and experience. Who remembers when they first thought they were falling in love? Could this be the one? He makes me feel so special inside. I laugh so much when I’m with him. He gets me! Who doesn’t want to have a love in their life that is always there, to share life experiences with, to feel and share the sparks of passion with, and to make love with passionately and wishing the moment was endless? I ached to have someone in my life to make these memories with, to love someone unconditionally, to grow old with…

However, when in love, you not only have the privilege of the deepest love possible, you also have the responsibility of death.  Finding love scared me almost as much as death does. Because you know that one day, one of you will be left behind. From time to time, I think… who will go first… me or my husband? How will it happen? When will it happen?  How will I handle life if God takes him before me? How will my heart not break into a million pieces? Who will be there to catch the tears as they fall one by one into my endless diary of memories?  Who will be there to hold me, to guide me, to protect me, to give me strength and tell me that life will go on; that I will be okay?  Death is scary, as it can be handed to you in such an untimely and unexpected manner, no preparations and with no warnings whatsoever.  Unfortunately, when someone special in our lives comes our way and we make the commitment to love them, death, one day, will be one of the unpleasant prerequisites that we agree to deal with.

This is why we must live every day as if it could be our last; remembering to always love unconditionally and to hold those wonderful moments close to our hearts that made us fall in love to begin with and not only on Valentine’s Day, but every day.  Do you remember what made your heart take an extra beat? Do you remember when you fell in love, what made you fall in love? Was it their smile, was it their tender touch, was it their passion?

As I reminisce, I remember the moments that I first fell in love with my husband, Frank…

Frank and Jack

Frank and Jack in the 80’s

Pic - Frank and Jack Bikers 2

Riding Together…

His thick hair that had a hint of curl to it when it was long and his full bushy mustache, the kind that left a lasting tickle on your upper lip or the tip of your earlobe.

Frank and Jack on Bike

I would watch the brawly Harley biker melt with mushiness when he would remove his large framed glasses to show me that his eyes were actually tearing up at the moment he said he was thinking of me.

His spirit was carefree where he found joy within each moment that passed.

Frank with Ice

When he lived life on the edge and decided where he will take the day instead of where the day will take him.

I felt love when I found myself daydreaming about the new man in my life, catching myself sighing into the air, wishing I were near him.

Holding hands and noticing that mine fit comfortably into his, nestled, as if it was a custom fit.

Hearing the phone ring, hoping that it would be him or having the same warped sense of humor as me, laughing so hard until my cheeks hurt.

Realizing you never felt comfortable enough to fart in front of a boyfriend… until now.

Feeling the passion that’s between the both of us with just by a simple kiss.

Smelling the hint of cologne on his cheeks and knew he wore it for me.

The first time we slow danced and I felt his arms around me, his body tight against mine and feeling the warm of his breath on my neckline.

Frank and Jack Vacation

Vacationing in Sanibel Island, Florida

Feeling his gentle hand sweeping over my body, softly, as if he’s touching an artful masterpiece, caressing it slowly, commenting that I was so beautiful.

Hearing the words, “I love you” within a week of your first blind date and not thinking once he was moving too fast.

Sharing the words, “I do.”

Frank and Jack Wedding Day

May 5, 1990

Remembering the first time we heard the words, Congratulations! “It’s a girl… It’s a boy!”

Frank with Arla

April 6, 1992
Frank and Arlaraye

These thoughts of love help me think of the moment, the now, and not what will eventually be all of our destinies in the end.  These are the memories that keep me moving forward, that remind me that I am a very lucky woman and that I had an opportunity to love and to love grandly. It is worth loving someone and making the commitment until “death we do part?”  My answer is yes, I believe it is, even though I know that the end result will not escape me without heartache and pain. For this, my life has become richer and I would rather have taken the chance on love then never to experience love at all.

Until the end…

Old couple holding hands

Happy Valentine’s Day, Frank. I love you!

 “For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” ~ Judy Garland

Memories of Christmas Pasts

Christmas Sleigh“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”  ~Norman Vincent Peale

Sleigh Bells in the Night…

Sleigh BellsWhen 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.

Jack with Grandparents Christmas

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.

Christmas TreeAs 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.

Jack with SantaIt 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…

Christmas BranchChildren 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…

Christmas GiftOne 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.

Christmas tree with bow“The perfect Christmas tree?  All Christmas trees are perfect!”  ~Charles N. Barnard

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!

hot wheels redline blue corvetteIt 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.

Matchbox TruckLastly, 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.

eggbeaterSteve enjoyed his special gift, as well and Jeff and I did.

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 

Christmas Sign

Sign

Remembering Halloween

Kids trick or treating

“Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.” ~ Dr. Ben Carson, Neurosurgeon

It was the early 1970’s and my family and I grew up poor, but I didn’t realize how poor we were until the holidays approached us. We weren’t a family that had stacks of gifts lined up underneath the tree at Christmas time or a table full of delicious delicacies at Thanksgiving, with different entrees or desserts ready to be eaten, nor did we celebrate birthday parties with our friends, acknowledging another year older.  But, like most kids, Halloween was one of our favorite holidays.  It was our chance to get a treat, free candy, and all we had to do was knock on a few doors, say a few words, and candy would be tossed into our bags like riches.  However, this particular Halloween would be different than the others and it will be a part of my past that will always be embedded into my memory forever.

My brothers, Steve and Jeff, and I didn’t have Halloween costumes that year, which meant no trick or treating for us.  We knew there were no plans for us to go from block to block, building to building, door to door, shouting those three infamous words that would give us lots of candy, filling our bags to heaviness.   I was about ten years old and my younger brothers and I were waiting for my mother and Melvin to come home, with Halloween candy, we hopped, so that we could at least pass it out to the kids who did have plans to haunt that night.

It was becoming darker and darker and mom and Melvin were still not home.  I knew what it meant when it became dark outside on Halloween night; the trick-or-treaters would soon be knocking on our door.  Unfortunately, we had no candy to hand out to them and I was starting to feel bad.

Prop 2

We lived in an apartment building on Sheffield Avenue, just off Montrose in Chicago. Our building had had three floors, with several apartments on each side of the building. I shared with Steve and Jeff that we had no candy to give to the trick or treaters, but if I dressed them up they could go gather enough treats within our own building so we would then have at least few treats to hand out until mom came home.  I knew we would never be allowed to leave our building, traveling the neighborhood, so I told my brothers that they could only trick-or-treat, collecting candy, within our own building.

“One must be poor to know the luxury of giving.” ~ George Elliot

Scary Shadow

I decided to dress Steve up first, but as what…  Not having any Halloween costumes of our own, we suddenly had to be creative as to what Steve could be.   Looking around our apartment, I asked Steve to put some of Melvin’s clothes on which, obviously, were too big.  Disheveling Steve’s hair from left to right, he started to look like something out of a cartoon. With mom and Melvin being smokers, I took ashes from the ashtray and spread them all over Steve’s cheeks, around his chin and under his nose, making him look as if he had a three-day beard.  Taking a cigarette butt from the ashtray and placing it into his mouth, Steve’s costume was suddenly born!  Steve was transformed into a bum!  Not bad, I thought.

Steve hobbled to the front door, wearing Melvin’s oversized shoes, holding onto his pants with one hand and his pillow case for a candy bag with the other. I felt that we created a pretty good costume, convincible, as he went to ask for Candy, not for himself, but for the kids who would soon be knocking on our door.

Prop 1

Steve went to all three floors, from apartment to apartment, collecting as many Halloween goodies as he could. Once Steve returned home and looking into his pillowcase, I knew that he didn’t have enough candy that would last the evening.  Looking at my brother, Jeff, it was becoming apparent that I would have to dress him up as well.  Once again, looking around our apartment for ideas, we soon came up with a costume for Jeff to wear.  Taking some of mom’s make up; a little lipstick to paint his nose red, some eye makeup, along with some of mom’s mixed matched clothes, Jeff was transformed into a silly looking clown.

It was now Jeff’s turn to enter the hallway of goodies.  Going from door to door, I was hoping that he would collect enough candy for the evening.  Moments later, Jeff returned, but still not having enough candy to hand out. Any moment, I knew kids would be knocking on our door yelling, “Trick or Treat!”

Steve excitingly volunteers to go one more time.  Surely, he felt as if it was more like a game instead of a dire mission to collect Halloween candy for other children.

Taking another glance around, we came up with the idea of making him look like a hobo.  To be completely honest, there wasn’t much of a difference between Steve’s first costume, which was a bum, to his second costume, which was now a hobo. They both looked the same, no matter how much we tried to change!  However, being young kids, with very few resources, ideas were limited, and we were really hoping that nobody noticed.

Bats

Opening the front door, Steve is quick on his way as he ventures out for his second journey through the building in search of candy. It was almost as if he was on a race, trying to beat the clock before the buzzer went off.  Steve hurried, knocking on all the doors once more, making his way up to the third floor and winding back down to the first.

Steve finally returns home, where he said that one of the tenants in the building commented that he looked awfully familiar, asking if he had already been there before trick or treating.  Shaking his head no and saying thank you, Steve scurries back home to our apartment to share his bag of Halloween goodies.

Dolls - Negative View

With finally more than enough candy to hand out, we placed all the goodies that Steve and Jeff collected into a kitchen bowl. We all stood over the bowl, as we eyeballed each and every piece of candy.  There were Mary Jane’s, Pixie Sticks and Root Beer Barrels. There were Smarties, too.  Then, there was my favorite, the orange and black peanut butter kisses that everyone seemed to hate. Someone in the building even tossed in a large walnut! What are we going to do with that, I thought.  We decided to keep that treat out of the bowl.

Our trance that we held over the Halloween candy was soon interrupted, as my brothers and I heard a knock at the door.  It was our first trick or treater for the evening!  With smiles on our faces, we grabbed the bowl of treats from the table and ran to the front door.  As if on cue, the little boy in front of us yells, “Trick or Treat!” as we opened the door to greet our Halloween goblin.  As Steve grabbed a piece of candy, tossing it into the treater’s bag, we couldn’t help but to be excited handing out the Halloween candy with delight!

I don’t believe my brothers and I showed any selfishness that particular Halloween afternoon. Not once, did we think of ourselves or why we couldn’t go out and participate in the holiday ritual that so many other children around us were.  It was within the innocence of ourselves that we wanted to share with others. That day, it was all about how we could help and give to others; to a child who was soon to knock at our door, a child who we didn’t want to leave without a piece of candy. We may not have had the opportunity to walk from street to street trick or treating ourselves, but we still had fun creating costumes and collecting and giving candy to others. Perhaps, this is why Halloween today is my favorite holiday of the year and, anyone who knows me, would agree.  It’s a chance where I can create and be expressive and hand out candy to all the goblins that knock on my door.

That Halloween day, we may have been poor in candy, poor in money, poor in life but, I believe overall, we were very rich in spirit.

 

Have a Happy and Bootiful Halloween!

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