Magical Christmas Memories

Do you remember magical Christmas window displays from your childhood? The ones with moving characters set in scenes, filling window after window in the big downtown department store?lazarus christmas tree

A few weeks ago, we stopped at the Precious Moments chapel near Joplin Missouri on our way home from our trip east. Walking through the store/café building brought back wonderful memories from childhood of enjoying special Christmas displays. The “village” was filled with a variety of moving characters—an artist in his studio, a carpenter on a roof, a chandelier-lit ball seen through a tower window and more. My kids were amused by the scenes. I was taken back to childish excitement.

precious moments village“Look!”

precious moments artist“What fun!”

precious moments dancers“Oh, Oh…look up there! They are dancing!”

My kids, as usual, humored me. Some times they just don’t really understand…

These moments took me back, way back to my childhood. To the long drive in the dark, all the way to down town Columbus, filled with overwhelmingly tall buildings. We got out of the warm car and walked, all bundled up against the nipping cold, looking into each display window along the sidewalk at the Lazarus department store. We walked from window to window, all the way around three sides of a city block, oohing and aahing over the scenes, each more wondrous that the last: elves in Santa’s workshop, classic stories (such as Alice in Wonderland) come to life, winter forest scenes, or scenes of polar bears and seals. (Were there penguins mistakenly in the same scenes? Or is that just a faulty imagination?) Tinny Christmas music was playing from speakers. Other families enjoyed the spectacle in front of and behind us. It felt like Christmas, looked like Christmas, and sounded like it, too. lazarus christmas window

Eventually, it was over. We had seen all the windows. We had oohed and aahhed until we were sated with wonder. We piled back in the car, then dozed in the warmth until we finally got back home and tumbled out of the car to head to our beds, with visions of window-scenes dancing in our heads.

Memories of “we always…” (Did we really? How many times did we actually make that pilgrimage??) Memories of wonder, and color, and movement. Memories of special family times at Christmas.

A few weeks ago, it was nice to be taken back, to be reminded, of the simple things that become magical when seen through the eyes of a child…

Some Things Never Change…

Much as I delight in change, there is comfort to be found in tradition, in “we always…”, in little things that can be relied on. The kids and I recently took a trip back to Ohio. My mom fixed a traditional dinner while we were home. And this time I not only enjoyed the little “always” things, but took a few photos as well.

Mom fixed a ham, and I snitched a few bits of the dark, crunchy bits of skin. There were also olives and 5-cup salad. Olives are enough of a family tradition that my little sister made a special hand-crafted fired-clay olive holder in art class one year. And 5-cup salad? It is a tradition handed down from my mom’s mom. “Salad” is really a misnomer—I’m not sure there is a single healthy thing in the dish. It is made from one cup each of mandarin oranges, crushed pineapple, mini marshmallows, coconut, and sour cream. Yum!

cranberry relish

Yummy "red stuff"

And no family dinner is complete without “red stuff” as my kids used to call it. Cranberry relish is a sweet and tart addition to all special meals throughout the year. Mom makes up large batches of it each year: grinding up fresh cranberries and oranges in her hand-cranked counter-mounted meat grinder then adding sugar to taste. Dinner sized batches are frozen for later use. To my mind, the relish must still be half frozen. To my little sister, it should be thoroughly thawed. She wasn’t present this time…so I got my way and enjoyed the icy taste!

Another tradition is using the “roly-poly glasses” for special occasions. Years and years ago, my Dad’s little brother worked in West Virginia and my mom bought a bunch of these special glasses at a glass factory in the area. I always get to use the pink one—and have fended off my sisters for years.

roly poly glasses

"my" pink roly-poly glass

I share most things with my kids, including tastes of bridge mix and starbucks frappucinos. I share food and books. I share shoes and clothes. But…I do NOT share “my” pink roly-poly glass. Sorry, Anna! Some things I just won’t share!

After all, traditions are traditions, and some things are not meant to be changed…

50 Personal Favorite Books

Books have always been a significant part of my life…and always will be. Reading is as significant as breathing to me. So I’ve added a page to this blog which lists 50 of my personal favorites, along with comments. (Plus a bonus section of favorite children’s books)

Check it out! (Click on this link or click on the appropriate “page” at the top of this blog to see my list.)

For more about my love of reading, you could re-read this post from a few months ago..

Consider taking time to make a list of YOUR favorite books—it was quite an interesting process…

You. Are. WRONG.

Some memories stick in your head for a very long time. Many of those memories are happy ones. Some are sad. And some are memories of injustice. Two such memories from my growing up years still have the power to make me clench my teeth. Still have strong emotion attached.

When I was elementary school aged, our family went to a party at a neighbor’s house. I have no idea if it was a holiday party or a “block party” or some sort of open house. I clearly remember adults talking and talking. I don’t remember kids running around, but we must have been. The snack table was glorious with every imaginable treat. There was even a big bowl of…BUGLES! I was going to grab a big handful, but remembered just in time that my folks would probably get upset with me if I was so greedy. So…I put just one pointy Bugle on each finger. There! Not too many snacks plus I could have fun playing with them before eating them one by one.

And then, then the injustice occurred. My dad saw me with my fingernails of salty snacks. He took me I don’t know where and lectured me. He said I was rude. He said I was greedy. He said lots more. As I stood there, seething inside, I wanted to yell “You are WRONG!” but knew that would only make things worse. So, finally, 40-some years later I will give voice to the little girl that was me: “Dad, you really didn’t understand. I respect you. I love you. But that time? That time you were indeed wrong.”

The second strong memory of injustice was during Junior High School. I had a wonderful art teacher. I loved art class. I could be creative AND use lots of color. It was enjoyable AND I was good at it. Art was a highlight of that year. At one point, we had an assignment that was challenging for me. We had to draw someone’s hand(s) holding something. I drew my mom’s hand, holding a glass. It was hard to make it look realistic. I drew it and re-drew it. (Did my mom patiently sit there while I worked so hard? Or was I re-working the picture from memory? I have no clue…) Finally, it was finished. I was proud of the shading. Proud of the realistic wrinkled joints, short stubby fingers, and veins on the back of the hand.

I was excited to turn in the project. I was certain I would get a good grade on the assignment. Even more important, I was sure the teacher would be happy with what a good drawing I had made. A few days later I got it back…with a lower than expected grade and no positive comments. When I asked the teacher about it, she explained that it was an okay drawing, but that I had made my mom’s hand look like an old person’s hand but it was supposed to be a drawing like a photograph, showing reality. Oh, Ms. Art-Teacher. You Were WRONG! Over the years, at random moments when I see my mom’s hands, and, increasingly, when I notice my own hands, I think again, you were SO wrong. Both my mom’s hands and mine ARE short and stubby with wrinkled joints and with veins showing on the back…

Why do I tell you these two stories? Partly because these are memories that still hold strong emotion. Partly as a reminder to myself to be more careful what I say to kids around me since words can be so powerful and echo for years into the future. And maybe, just maybe, by writing down the explanations I wish I would have had the courage to give when I was young, these stories will gradually lose their power. Maybe the echoes will fade. Maybe these injustices will become an insignificant part of my past. Maybe I can move on to other stories from my past with more positive echoes…

The Cleaning Police

This time the "cleaning police" pulled everything out from under the bed and in the closet...

I’ve been part of the Cleaning Police for many years now. You know…trying to teach our kids how to be civilized. Trying to teach them how to clean. Trying to teach them why they should want to clean. After so many years, I get tired of being a Clean-up Officer sometimes.

Now, I need to make it clear. My standards are not high. In fact, I’ve probably been at risk many times of losing my Officer status with the Cleaning Police. If our house is not filthy and the dust-bunnies are not yet taking over the corners, I see no reason to waste time with chores. We have far more interesting things to do!

But…eventually even my limits are reached. I remind the kids that we live in a house, not a barn. I calmly let them know we must start first thing in the morning to clean up the mess. I try to make it clear how important this is.

And then in the morning, they (of course) wander off, other things on their personal agendas. I finally corral them, and threaten dire penalties if they do not begin cleaning AT ONCE!

Anna's room DOES look nice when it is neat and clean!

The whining commences…but so does the work. Eventually order is restored—the house is clean, mama is happy again, and my poor “slaves” are finally free to follow their own interests again.

I try…really…I TRY to be more consistent. I remember my growing up years when Saturday morning was chore time and my sisters and I had to pick jobs out of the chore jar to complete. I’ve tried a schedule. I’ve tried chore charts. I’ve tried rewards. I’ve tried punishments. I’ve tried rotating the various jobs. I’ve tried letting each child become a “specialist” in their favored jobs. Sigh… Anything works for awhile. Then we slack off. We find more interesting things to do. And the dust-bunnies and the clutter threaten to take over our world.

I’m a member of the Cleaning Police. When do I get to resign?

First Memories

“The first memory then becomes the starting point in our own narratives of the self. ‘Our first memoris are lik the creation stories that humans have always told about the origins of the earth,” [John] Kotre writes. ‘In a similar way, the individual self—knowing how the story is coming out—selects its earliest memories to say, This is who I am because this is how I began.’” –Miller & Paola, Tell It Slant

I have been reading books recently about writing and journaling. A few weeks ago the above quote caught my attention. The idea of a connection between our earliest memories and who we are today has been rolling around in my mind ever since. I’m still not sure that I agree with the authors, but it is an intriguing idea. Here is some of what I have been pondering:

My earliest memories are like snapshots, pictures of moments unrelated to full situations. I remember my dad standing up in river water, holding out a clam for me to look at. I remember running down a road, chasing a station wagon as it drove away; followed by sitting by a campfire arguing with someone that a cat cannot possibly be a fish. I remember a bright room, a dark window, shattered glass, screams, and blood.

Over the years, I have filled in the stories surrounding these mental snapshots. When I was young, we lived in a cottage not far from the Illinois River where we went swimming in the summer. There were clams along the river bottom, and my dad would bring them up to show to me, before throwing them back.

My parents were leaders of the youth group at church. The summer that I was three years old, they took the teens on a campout to a lake an hour or so away from town. At the end of the week, my mom left early with most of the kids. My dad drove back later. Somehow, he forgot that I had not gone home with Mom, an he drove off without me. As the story goes, another family saw me toddling after the car, and took me back to their campsite until my parents returned for me hours later. (I can’t imagine what that car ride back must have been like for my parents.) During that time, my rescuers cooked up catfish they had caught earlier that day, which I was certain was mis-named.

Finally, during a winter retreat with that same youth group later that same year, one of the girls accidentally put her arm through the window while climbing into a bunk bed. That explained the noise, and screams, and blood.

According to the quote that intrigued me, the fact that these are the earliest memories my mind has chosen to remember should also connect with who I am today. Perhaps it is a stretch, but I can see some connections.

I enjoy swimming, being outdoors, and discovering new-to-me critters and plants. There is no sense of panic or fear in the broken window memory. And today, when I deal with emergency situations as an EMT or as a ski patroller, there is a sense of fascination and a focus on helping the patient.

There seems to be an even closer connection from the little me left behind at the campgrounds and the big me of today. Again, there is no sense of fear or panic in this memory. While growing up, my mom frequently commented on how independent I was. I went to summer camps, eventually for weeks at a time, and did not experience home-sickness until going to college in Canada for a year.

I apparently had no shyness about the family who took me back to their campsite. Even today, I enjoy meeting new people and spending time with them; an attribute that runs from childhood through the present. I might have been overwhelmed if I had been totally alone when my Dad drove off. With a group of people to interact with, I was comfortable.

how can a cat be a fish?

Finally, the memory of arguing about a cat not being a fish comes with feelings of laughter. Apparently, even at that young age I was both fascinated with words and happy to argue my own beliefs. Whether considered to be strengths or weaknesses, both of these characteristics are still true of me today.

So…I look at my earliest memories. And I look at myself and who I am today. Perhaps the authors are correct and what I selectively remember builds and strengthens who I have become. Perhaps this is all a bunch of “hoo-ey.”

I would be interested to hear the opinions of my readers—based on my examples or based on your own experience. Do our earliest memories shape us or do we shape them?

Closets…

enough space for memories...

Do you know what is buried in the back of your closets? Are your closets clean and organized? Or are they filled with jumbles of clothes, piles of shoes and shelves of stuff? Mine are definitely the latter. I prefer to quickly find what I need then slam the door, to hopefully ignore the pitiful state of my closets for as long as possible.

When I think of closets, however, I realize they have played a significant role in my life—far larger than merely holding my stuff. I have happy memories of time spent in closets! Yes, I know that sounds weird. Let me explain…

I have an early memory of a family trip out west, ending up at a conference center near Seattle where my dad had a presentation to make. The housing was amazing. The bedroom held a raised stage, just begging for theatre productions by my sisters and I. We wrote a play, found some costumes, and performed for an enthusiastic audience of two. (Well, I don’t really remember if our parents were enthusiastic, or even if they were an audience, I just remember the joy of being on stage!) What does this have to do with my topic? Yep, that “stage” was a raised, walk-in closet with bi-fold doors for “curtains.”

Some time later, I spent a year or more sleeping in the closet. I was tired of my family. I was tired of having a bedroom right next to my sisters. So, I moved down to the basement. I took over the closet under the stairs. I slid my mattress under the lower steps and squeezed in a small dresser. Ahh…privacy at last! (And, no, I did NOT allow either of my sisters to take over “my” room upstairs. Good thing, too, since I eventually changed from being the troll under the stairs back into a human who wanted a normal bedroom!)

After getting married, we bought an old farmhouse in the suburbs. It was quite frustrating that the closets had been built at a time when hooks were used to hang clothes. Modern-day hangers were too long for the depth of the closet. This led to the purchase of a wonderful wood wardrobe…but none of these were closets I spent time in…

When we moved to a large farmhouse out in the country, there was a huge walk-in closet in the master bedroom. It was almost the size of a small room, with an interior cedar closet and laundry room shelves at one end. This closet eventually became a room—it was the perfect size for a nursery for the two babies born while we lived there. The playpen/crib fit snuggly in one end of the closet, with plenty of shelves for baby clothes, bedding, diapers, and toys. Our clothes fit fine in the cedar closet. My mom worried at times, that we should put a window into the walk-in closet wall. I didn’t worry about it—the babies were only in there to sleep. Plus, I had lived in a closet with no windows for a year, and it didn’t harm me!

Finally, I have happy memories of time spent digging through very special closets: the craft and gift closets at the last few places we have lived. It started with an extra closet being put to use to hold my scrapbooking and other craft supplies. With a large family, it takes a lot of space to hide gifts for upcoming holidays. So, my craft cupboard turned into a gift cupboard near the holidays. I would like to think that kids weren’t able to find the key and search the boxes for their Christmas gifts (although I’m pretty certain that’s not true). At least it seemed like a secure place to hide the gifts from prying eyes. And each time I opened the door to get out craft supplies or to hide another item I had purchased, I was reminded of the joy of holiday gift giving. I miss that craft and gift closet. Now I make do with drawers and bins. It just isn’t quite the same.

Hmmm…as I think about it, I guess messy, jumbled closets aren’t so terrible after all. They still have plenty of space to hold all my memories of closets past!

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