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Remembering a Christmas Past

Dorothy Lee Howard, my mom, Xmas 1964.
Dorothy Lee Howard, my mom, Xmas 1964.

 

Driving out the road on this snowy day, a sentimental country Christmas song came on the radio, "The Christmas Shoes."  It had a catchy tune, so I listened a bit…little did I know that it would so quickly transport me back to another time. 

 

"It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line

Trying to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood

Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously

Pacing 'round like little boys do

And in his hands he held a pair of shoes."

 

Yes, we’ve all had a Christmas holiday when, for a variety of reasons, we just haven’t felt the holiday spirit.  Sometimes we play along or we scale back or minimize the festivities.  Yep, I’ve been there, but the line about the little boy and the shoes piqued my interest, so I listened further.

 

"Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please

It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size

Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time

You see she's been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes would make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight."

 

Just one round this chorus, and I was transported back to the Christmas when I was 11 years old.  You see, my mother had also been sick for "quite a while" and was spending that Xmas in the hospital.  My brother, sister and I hadn’t had a chance to see her for months--she had been in Mercy Hospital that long--and it was frowned upon to have children visit in those days.  But, an exception was being made, and a couple of weeks before Christmas, we were told we'd get to go visit her on Christmas Eve.

I wanted to bring her a special gift and I knew I would have to make it myself, since I didn’t have much money.  My mother believed in God and, before she got sick, I always went to church with her.  My grandmother had a perfect idea.  It would take some time, but she taught me how to fold the pages of a Reader’s Digest magazine to make a Christmas angel.  Once all the pages were folded, we would decorate it with spray paint and ribbon, and a Styrofoam head would be fashioned to complete it.

Every day after school, I would come home and fold a certain number of pages.  I knew exactly how many I had to fold each day in order to finish my angel.  I didn’t waver….I was so excited to make this special gift for my mom.    With each page, I took delight in how much I knew my mother would like it. 

The song on the radio continued.  In short, the boy didn’t have enough money to buy the shoes, so the man in line behind him, bought them for him. 

 

"I'll never forget the look on his face when he said

Mama's gonna look so great…

I knew I'd caught a glimpse of heaven's love

As he thanked me and ran out."

 

Finally my Christmas angel was complete and soon it was Christmas Eve.  I remember that we got all dressed up in our best Sunday clothes.  My father seemed a little solemn, which I didn’t understand--after all, it was Christmas eve and we were going to visit my mother!  But maybe deep inside I understood.  I, too, was a little nervous simply because I hadn't seen her in so long.

At the hospital, the nurses were all so kind.   I remember that they looked at me kind of funny, which made me nervous.  One even had a tear in her eye.  Finally, there she was!  Propped up in bed wearing make-up and one of her prettiest robes.  She looked so happy to see us.  I didn’t remember her being that small before.  We all crowded around her bed and one-by-one gave her the presents we had made.  She loved all of them.  She told us how proud she was of us and how much she loved us.  The visit was over far too soon.

 

"I knew that God had sent that little boy

To remind me just what Christmas is all about."

 

My mother died of breast cancer at the age of 42 on January 8, 1966.  My life changed on that day in so many ways.  I remember my father telling us, "We’ll all have to love each other a little bit more now."  Christmas changed for me on that day.   The loss of my childhood innocence forever made the holiday a little bittersweet.    I always think of my mother at this time of year and, as an adult, I can only imagine how difficult her last Christmas was for her.  It was hard for us kids to leave her that night in the hospital but, you see, we didn’t know that she was dying and that this was the last time we would see her.  She knew and somehow she got through the evening.

One of life’s lessons is that out of great sadness can come great joy.  We all know this from personal experience.  And time does have a way of making things right in their own way.  I wish everyone the joy of Christmas, and the comforts that come from friends and family, memories and reflections. 

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