Christmas Memories: a Letter to My Mother

Dear Mom,

You are tucked away in your own world, perhaps I can reach your deep depths with a few Christmas memories from years ago when Suzanne and I were but young children.

Our December tradition was to go out to dinner and have a yummy dinner. We loved the scones with butter and honey! We were learning our manners; how to eat in public.  Afterwards we would go to the 5 and 10 store and shop for family members. We tried to not accidently bump into one another and spoil the surprises. One of us would go with dad and one with you.

We had a huge  fragrant pine tree in the middle of the window in our home on State Street. We made ornaments, paper chains, hung lights and lots of tinsel. I thought the tinsel part was a pain. I wanted to just throw it on, you and dad insisted it be put on one strand at a time.

There was a television, with a round screen sitting next to the tree and we would sit on the floor by the lights and watch our favorite show I Love Lucy.

This is where I first heard Amahl and the Night Visitors. It was televised and I was enthralled. I watched it every year that it showed.  I didn't know such heavenly music existed...and the story touched my heart.

We had a small dining room and that is where we secretly wrapped our gifts.  I remember crawling under the table so that no one would see what I was wrapping. I don't recall how we got the money to buy gifts, as I don't remember receiving an allowance.

We had lots of snow on State Street which made the out buildings, barns and leafless trees look barren and desolate, a cold and eerie ghost town.

The plot of land between our home and Grandma and Grandpa Sorensen was like a big vacant playground. Suzanne and I would bundle up, no hats then, just wool headscarves, and romp in the snow. We played Fox and Hen, making a huge circle to chase one another around. Then we would plop down in the pristine snow and make angels.  It was total freedom. Sometimes Lois would join us. There was a slight slope next to Grandma's home and we would try sledding there. Not the biggest hill in the world.

Lois and Mary would take us to the Gibb's family Christmas  party. Suzanne and I would get all dressed up, hair done and be told to mind our manners as we walked out the door. The Gibbs had a large Family and we didn't know many people. One time I played the piano at the party. I am sure I would have been very scared to do that.

Christmas Eve was our big celebration All we had to do was walk next door and we were in another world of aromas, smells, sounds and surrounded by the entire Sorensen family.  We weren't very large in numbers in those days, Charlyn and Neil were yet to have more children.  Grandma would cook the most delicious dinner and we all sat at the dining room table with beautiful table cloth and china dishes.

Raising our own turkeys gave us fresh turkey for dinner, mashed potatoes, cranberry salad, mustard pickles, pickled beets, all of them homemade by Grandma.  But the best was the fig pudding with rum sauce. I can still taste it...and see the tiny fig seeds floating in the creamy vanilla-rum sauce. It was always my favorite.

Mom you were an excellent pie baker and you would have your pies to share. Everyone just enjoyed the dinner and tried hard to be polite.

We would gather afterwards in the living room, Grandpa Sorensen always in his rocker, dressed in clean overalls. He seemed grumpy but he wasn't. Under the tree Lois had a collection of mechanical toys, a Ferris wheel, tin ballerina that spun on her toes and the fabulous green Auerbach truck.

We shared gifts with one another. Neil would play the piano and some would sing. But I don't recall ever hearing Grandma Rhoda play the piano.  I was always told she was a marvelous pianist, but I never heard her play not even when I lived with her during college.

The black cloud would be Uncle Clifford yelling at his children. I could never understand that and it would make my stomach lurch every time he yelled at someone.

Christmas morning Santa always managed to come bringing lovely gifts.  As Suzanne and I got older, the gifts changed from Easy Bake Ovens and  Betsy Wetsy dolls to sweaters and records.  Christmas Day was very quiet. We stayed home and played with our gifts. We never seemed to spend time with your, the Johnson side of the family. I wonder why?

We will always love snow, because snow was a big deal on our farm.  White sheets of snow lay across the fields, stark black fence posts stacked with white top hats of their own.  The sheep would huddle in fluffy mash potato clumps. The chickens quieted their constant prattle. The cats snoozed high in the hay barn. I suppose the mice were nestled in their own cubby holes.

You and dad always provided a lovely Christmas holiday for us. We didn't go to church, but did have music playing.  I'll Be Home for Christmas always made you sad. So today it makes me sad.

Maybe as someone reads you this letter today, your mind will slip back to the holidays we loved as a young family.  You will remember dad wrapping up your old ski clothes and presenting them as a gift...your look of surprise, then the real present, a mink stole.

It Happens

What is a girl to do? It comes around once a year, as regular as the sun rises, the dreaded “B” word. Now for some it is a Celebration. For some it is a sense of growing up. For some it is a gripping sense of fear. For some it is a bother and annoyance. (We can put her in the latter category.) For today it is HER Birthday!

Nothing special like 20, 30, 40, 50, or 100 years more mature. It is just an ordinary birthday but on an extraordinary day.

HER morning started early when the sun played peek- a-boo behind the lingering  clouds, which dropped 21 inches of pure pristine snow. Before her spread a magnificent Birthday cake, with thick, creamy marzipan frosting draped over every little bump and crevice. Mother Nature had provided HER with an once-in-a-lifetime Celebration Cake.

What could she do but RUN and get HER camera, put on some slippers, and head outside. Hmmm slow down, not so easy; it was a challenge as the snow had drifted into every nook and cranny, creating a challenge to open a door. But this was a Birthday girl on a mission!

The whole white world was one magnificent present. A feast for the senses: the sound of rustling bare limbs flicking off their coat of snow; the sight of a white world with no blemishes just rays of blue and lavender, spindly gray-black trees forming perimeters, like guards at attention; the glacial feel of the snow that numbs one’s fingers and fogs up camera lens; and the smell of Purity.

I heard from a pretty good source that the girl had a rather spectacular birthday and decided to not be so annoyed next year.

The Weatherman was RIGHT Part II

I had been concentrating on Photoshop downloading into my Iphone for about five weary hours. In my computerized stupor the phone rang startling me out of my numb concentration. Hmmm Harford County? Is there something I haven’t paid? I answered a cautious hello to a voice mail warning all Harford Residents of a severe winter storm quickly approaching. The anonymous angel of information gave practical advice…like NO cars on the street or they will be towed away. Be sure you have enough food and toilet paper (don’t people have more than a single roll of toilet paper at any given moment?) and reliable heat…..hmm wish we had some taco chips and salsa or a bag of Oreos. We will have to manage with open bags of lettuce, an over ripe avocado and speckling pear. It is the old pioneer spirit of making the best out of whatever is at hand. Hey at least we aren’t in a Conestoga wagon stuck on the Midwestern plains!

The storm was to make its appearance around midnight and possibly last until Sunday…whoa, canceling all those churches having their Christmas services they have planned for weeks, and the parishioners eager to wear their red sweaters with snowmen embroidered on them….But think about it for a moment, who isn’t to say it couldn’t be a more spiritual experience to just stay home, cocooned with billows of blustering snow, surrounded with loved ones.

Going to bed at midnight I left my blinds open to see the snow when it arrived. Around 3:00am I was positive I was hearing howling winds and bending trees, but it was only my cpap machine whistling up my nose!! But there was a shimmering brilliance in the room, like a hovering space craft, so I removed the pesky mask and peeked out the window…wowzers, the snow was deep and still falling.

I crept back in bed and thought back to the HUGE UTAH snows of my youth. Because my mom taught fifth grade at the school I attended, I would often have to walk home…a bit of a stretch for small legs. It was one such occasion; the snow had fallen relentlessly all day long. The dismissal bell rang and we all scrambled into scratchy wool leggings, wool coats, mine red and triangle scarves again of wool. Oops don’t forget the wool mittens. I don’t think mom even checked on me…but I started off. Once I got to State Street the snow was up to my hips and I slowly trudged home, boots full of snow, sopping wet clothes and a bit of an accelerated heart beat.