Christmas was a reminder of how little we had in this world.
People will often say that the spirit of the holiday is not about what you receive but what you give unto others. And this would be true if my family were philanthropists or even middle-class living the American Dream. But we were a family of three children trapped in the divorce of our bitter parents, and our dad had once again stiffed our mom on child support. We wouldn't be celebrating Christmas with a sumptuous feast or opening presents under a Christmas tree. No, our family was crammed into a 1974 Ford Maverick, driving from Denver to Grandma's condominium in Tucson.
Colorado winters are fueled by below-freezing winds that preserve the landscape in snow and ice as far as the eye can see. It was a miracle the Maverick was still running but it had come with a price: the heater no longer worked and its vents couldn't close. As Mom drove the car atop snow-encrusted roads, we children wrapped blankets around our feet hoping that, somehow, the icy temperatures pushing their way through the vents would spare our feet. We were raised to be resilient but even we had our limits. Pleading, begging our mom to stop driving and find us a warm place to stay for the night, she eventually, reluctantly, granted our wish. With what little money she had left, we rented a small motel room where we spent most of the night soaking our feet in warm water, watching our skin change color from pale blue to pale pink.
The next morning we got back into the Maverick and barreled on to Arizona. Our mom had gambled with success: the weather changed from freezing cold to warm and sunny as we traveled further south. We stopped only for gas. Grandma was disappointed when we arrived in Tucson; we were not expected. Mom's gamble that Grandma would save Christmas didn't pay as she hoped. Grandma allowed us to sleep on her couch and air mattress in her second bedroom, but she had no intention of spending any money on us.
Christmas morning. Mom drove our car to Safeway where the last of the Christmas trees were outside the store entrance and free to anyone who wanted a fir with brittle needles and half its branches missing from the bottom of one side. The physics of wind against the car managed to scrape even more needles off the tree as we returned to Grandma's condo. We propped the tree in the living room against a wall. "That's the saddest tree I've ever seen," said Grandma, then resumed smoking her menthol as she watched television.
My brother found a potato in Grandma's kitchen and began to carve an angel for the tree. We were too afraid to adorn the tree with anything other than the angel for fear of further losing branches and needles we were expected to pick up when it was time to throw it all away. A day or two later, we kissed Grandma good-bye and returned to the harsh Colorado winter.
Tomorrow my partner and I are driving from Seattle to Olympia to stay overnight at the home of his mom and stepdad. We'll likely buy soy lattes at our neighborhood café for the drive; listening to various CDs as we ride in heated leather seats. We're staying overnight in one of the spare rooms, and Christmas morning the rest of the family will join us. The family will all gather around the living room on Christmas morning and exchange presents. We're bringing a bottle of hazelnut wine to share with everyone after Christmas dinner. We'll say our good-byes then drive back home to Seattle full of good cheer and comfort.
Christmas is a reminder of how much I have in this world.