As I make preparations for Christmas, my mind goes to childhood holidays in our family’s bungalow on 11th Avenue in Columbus, Georgia. Born after World War II, my older sister and I were blessed with loving parents. They knew the horror of war but moved past it.
The war - and what they learned from being away from each other - seemed to make them more determined to furnish our home with love and laughter. Friends were welcomed to our table and my mother made a little go a long way. She bought food from a corner grocery store near the mill where my Daddy worked. Sometimes a young man delivered small parcels of groceries on a bicycle.
You see, our hard working parents were driven. Obstacles faced and the Depression in their rear view mirror, they were determined to give my sister and me a happy life. I only remember my daddy laughing about going to school wearing no shoes. (No problem. No one else had shoes either.)
Mother made cakes the week before Christmas and put them in the china cabinet in the dining room. Fires weren't lighted there. No one could sample that delectable, five-layer goodness before Christmas Eve. That was daddy’s rule. The suspense of the cake-cutting was almost more than I could take.
But not quite.
Mother would bake the decadent cakes after she put me to bed, so each morning my feet would hit the floor and I would slip into the dining room to snoop. In my bare feet, I would press my nose against the glass, mouth watering as I counted the number of cakes waiting for Christmas Eve.
I had been warned not to go in the dining room in my bare feet. I theorized it was a silly rule. If I could have opened the door to the Duncan Phyfe china cabinet, I would have run my finger around the plate and licked the icing.
Later, I did other things I was told not to do. When I found my mother baking, sewing, or hanging clothes on the line, I went through the desk in the living room. This was a worse offense than counting Christmas cakes in my bare feet.
I was about 10, and even though the heaters were still not lighted in the living room during the day, I crept into the living room as a thief in the night and went through my parents papers like Nancy Drew.
One day, I came across a box wrapped with a pink ribbon. On the outside it read “war letters.” Was I ever curious? I knew this offense was going to take many trips to the living room. I was going to have to be very careful. Unfortunately, our only phone was in the dining room, or I could have waited until my mother was on the phone with one of her sisters. She only hung up when someone needed the party line.
It was close to Christmas, and our tree was fragrant as I read the letters. I shivered from the cold (and from fear of being caught by my mother) and found a letter that shook me. It was from daddy, and started as many of his letters from the Pacific. It referred to my sister, Bette, as “Boop” who was 10 years my senior.
It said: “Tell Boop she will always be my favorite.” I was horrified. My world ended right there. Tears streamed down my face. My life as I knew it was over.
I mustered the courage to find mother and say, with the yellowing letter in hand: “I knew it. I knew it.” She looked at me and the letter and read it. Sweetly she took me to my bedroom, sat on the bed as I wailed in her lap. “Honey,” my mother said, “let’s think about this.
“You were born after the war,” mother said. “You were the best surprise your daddy, sister Bette and I ever had. He never dreamed he would get to come home and we would have another little girl.”
My mother tried to comfort me.
“Oh," I said, not really convinced I was really not the favorite quite yet.
Mother then took me to the living room, lighted the fireplace, lighted the lights on the Christmas tree and we sat together for a while. She told me I was an answer to all their prayers. It was the first time she talked about the war and how daddy was in danger in the Pacific Ocean as she and my and sister were so lonely waiting for him to come home. Later, my big sister told me she waited on the front steps for mother to come home from the hospital and bring me home so she could be my mother too.
As I look back, I realize the sacrifices my parents made after the war to give us their best. It was never the best, but it was their best. It made me my best.
It’s strange that with each passing day I appreciate my parents and how they sacrificed for my sister and me. More than that, I appreciate the dignity their lives modeled for me.
As we celebrate Christmas this season, you might try to let your children know they are equally special to you - each in their own way. They are probably as different to you as my sister and I was to my parents. It is the best of all gifts.
Merry Christmas to all my readers. I wish you and all you love a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with peace, prosperity and love.
PAM RAINEY is a longtime Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. You can reach her with suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 940-293-3117.
FEATURE IMAGE: A layer cake made for a celebration. Getty Images/iStockphoto