We never had a lot of money--our father was a freelance artist and our mother was a stay-at-home Mom (in the lingo of the 1960s a "housewife")--so Christmas was not about lists and specific desires: it was about possibilities, things I never knew I wanted or needed but which turned out to be the stuff of dreams. It was about toys that seemed to last forever: metal roller skates with a key; the Flexible Flyer sled (even though it rained that Christmas); Etch-a-Sketch and Lite Brite.
It is Christmas Eve, 1967, and I am five years old. I live with my family in a ranch house outside of West Chester, Pennsylvania, in the far western suburbs of Philadelphia (read: the sticks) and I am--and always will be--the baby of the family.
I have a brother and two sisters, all older than I am, and I worship the ground upon which they walk. My brother Ken (the oldest) is great with electronics and machines; my sister Kel (who was the middle child till I turned up) likes to teach and Tina--11 years older than I--is in the midst of being a late 1960s teenager, wearing outrageous clothing and listening to Motown albums on her portable record player. They are my best friends, my other parents, my mentors. They put up with me, teach me things, let me read their textbooks and listen to their music.
Mom has made what seemed like thousands of butter cookies--all decorated with colored sugar or sprinkles or those little sugar balls that roll everywhere except onto the cookie. Mom makes the best butter cookies in the world, rolled out so thin that if there is not enough flour underneath the dough, or if it is too warm, it will tear like paper. But oh, bite into one of those cookies and it will melt in your mouth, buttery and sweet.
It is my bedtime. The house has been decorated: outside, Dad has hung the multicolor lights, and inside fresh greens lend their pungent odor to other holiday scents. We have painted a festive design upon the large mirror in the living room (this tradition continued until my father remarried and moved away). A fine Christmas tree had been procured and erected in our living room, but it stands unadorned. I go to my room excited but it is not difficult for me to fall asleep...
...because I know that at some point I will wake up in the night.
And when I wake up in the night I will visit the bathroom, and when I visit the bathroom I will look to my right, into the living room, and see, in the light of the hallway nightlight, the tree, fully decorated, glittering with tinsel. Packages are piled under the tree, but I don't investigate them: even at the age of five I can appreciate the sheer magic of the moment as I stand, by myself, staring at this tree and gifts which have appeared while I slept. This was a private moment, my moment, fantasy and reality all at once
This was my favorite holiday gift, given me by my whole family. It cost nothing but time, and gave me the happiest holiday memories of my life.