Middle School Memorabilia, Part I


The fragility of memory has always bothered me. Even as a child, I hated that many experiences were already lost. During Atlanta’s mild February days, my parents would reminisce about the lovely white winters in Kentucky. Don’t you remember the huge snowman we made when you were three? No, I didn’t remember, and it angered me. Just as it angered me that my Georgia friends and I were so snow-deprived that the slightest dusting of powder, or more typically, ice, sent us outside in deliriously futile attempts at snow-related activities. The sled would get mired in leaves and mud, the smallest snowball was elusive. We would return inside wet, cold and grumpy. I had spent my babyhood in a winter wonderland, without a single memory to show for it. The old photo of me in a snowsuit stirs no wayward recollection. It seemed terribly unfair.

Partly in an effort to make up for the transience of memory, and partly because I have a strong thread of OCD, I save the stuff that declares I was there. My parents’ attic was once filled with boxes of papers attesting to my life’s various stages. There are letters, artwork, class papers, books, school information, playbills, calendars with notes of daily activities, and much more. Although I realize the line is fine, I’m not a hoarder. Not every scrap of my past made the cut; much has been thrown away or recycled over the years (sometimes, I admit, reluctantly). My collections are organized, to a degree.

Now that I live in a house with storage space, on every drive up from Atlanta, my parents bring along one or two of those memory-filled boxes. They are determined, little by little, to win back some space in their home, while mine becomes more cluttered. This Christmas, a battered file box labeled Middle School arrived with them. Its timing was perfect. It offered a window onto my early teen years, when I was my daughter’s age. And it proves that my memory is not altogether unreliable.

My seventh grade year coincided with the desegregation of the Atlanta Public Schools. This was accomplished, I am glad to say, without the riotous tumult that occurred in certain cities (not all of them southern—Boston comes to mind). The perceived threat of greater diversity prompted a few families to flee our in-town neighborhood for distant suburbs. But we would stay the course, as would most of my friends. This was no time to pull up roots so recently planted, roots that were just beginning to flourish. We believed in equal rights for all people, and we were in this together.

We were bused to a newly created middle school adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus. Previously a high school, it was a massive, rambling, red brick structure built in 1922. Impressive, yet down-at-the-heels, it would have made a spectacularly atmospheric haunted house. I can see it as the architectural star of American Horror Story: Schoolhouse.  Even now I have the occasional eerie dream that I’m lost in the shadowy recesses of the sub-basement, or peering out from a broken window in a third-floor classroom. If the details are vague, the spirit of the place remains very much alive in my mind.

The life that teemed within the walls was equally unique. The school brought together a diverse young population. We spanned every spectrum. There were kids from the grand old homes of Ansley Park, from Techwood Homes, the country’s first public housing project, and from every Atlanta neighborhood in between. All of the major ethnic groups were represented, as were many of the more obscure ones. For most of us, it was the first time we were outside our own comfortably familiar environment. For all of us, it was an adventure. A nearly unforgettable one, as my memorabilia box confirms.

My 7th-grade schedule.



Memory: Persistently Disintegrating and Rebuilding


If time moves at a bewildering pace, memory is equally problematic. Over the years, I have clung to certain recollections, the details etched in my mind with crystalline clarity, only to realize later that they are erroneous.

I was absolutely sure, for example, of the enormity of the airplane on my first overseas flight. As I remember it, in coach there were four seats across on the two side rows and ten in the center. I thought my friend Jackie and I were in that miserable middle section. A frail, elderly couple was marooned in the very center, and I felt terrible for them. Recently, when I found my notes from the trip, I read in my own eighth-grade cursive that there were three seats on each side row and only four in the center.  I had been so sure about that central row of ten. While this may seem an insignificant point, in my mind it had been pivotal. It was hard proof of the plane’s great size and cattle-car conditions.

I am not alone in my flawed remembrance. Recently, the iron-clad nature of the eye-witness account, once accorded special precedence in crime solving, has been cast into doubt. A witness may be supremely confident of what or whom he saw, but still he may be dead wrong. Perception is likely to be flawed in various ways, including the angle of vision, circumstances surrounding the viewing of the event, even one’s emotional state at the time. Memory is not set in stone, but prone to suggestion and easily colored by prior and later experience. It’s an ongoing drama being constantly reshot. As time passes, our memories both erode and build up piece by tiny piece, like shifting beach sand in a storm. Salvador Dali’s paintings of melting clocks capture this truth: over time, memory is simultaneously persistent and disintegrating.

Memories of early childhood are especially likely to be compilations, aggregates of our own experiences and accounts of older friends and relatives. Photos may trick us into believing we remember, when we do not. I think I recall playing on my swing set when it was set up behind the chicken lot at my grandparents’ house. I may remember using the dining room table as a secret fort before Thanksgiving dinner, reaching up surreptitiously to grab a piece of turkey. Guess I’ll never know if these memories are mine or borrowed.

In one of my most vivid memories, I’m about four years old, catching lightning bugs with two friends on a warm Kentucky summer night. The vision is suffused with a heavy Keatsian Ode to a Nightingale atmosphere. There are “verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways” and “fast-fading violets covered up in leaves.” Jarringly, amidst all that tender poetic beauty, there intrudes the sharp and uninvited recollection that the bubble gum I was chewing began to taste much like the pungent scent of the fireflies. Did this really happen? Maybe it did. As Proust has famously observed, the sense of taste can transport us miraculously into the long-ago. He had his tea-dipped madeleine; I had my insect-infused bubble gum. Perhaps if I were to sample lightning bug gum again, I would know for sure.

Memory is perversely selective. The most trivial of objects and events may be fixed indelibly and inexplicably in our minds. Yet unless we have consciously prepared ourselves beforehand, crucial episodes slip away with barely a trace. Faces of loved ones fade and blur. I don’t remember visiting my grandfather in the hospital before he died. I remember the blue dress I wore to his funeral, and I think I recall kissing him as he lay in his coffin. My shock at the firm, marble-like coldness of his face rings true, but who knows?

Memory, like life, is a work in progress, a bubbling stew of the inconsequential and the profound, the ridiculous and the significant. In both memory and life, the miscellaneous threads may tangle. We tend to look for meaning where it doesn’t exist, and fail to recognize it when we stumble upon it. Yet dead ends may lead us on new and better paths. When I’m struck by a memory’s mingled richness, sweetness and bitterness, it’s comforting to remember that it’s the taste of life itself.


Seems like I remember playing in my grandfather’s 1951 Dodge with my friend Bob.  It was the old car Grandaddy used for his errands in town and trips to the tobacco barn. My grandmother wouldn’t let him drive her much newer car, a Chrysler with pronounced fins.

The only thing I remember clearly about this day is the Sugar Daddy I was eating. It was very cold, and we were about to go somewhere.

Are you puzzled by the strangeness of some early memories?
Wonder why you recall certain details clearly and forget the main story?  I’d love to hear about it.

Where did the Time Go?

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As I’ve been looking back on those first few months with our baby girl, it hits me: how is it possible that thirteen years have passed in a flash?

With the busyness of the holidays, I hadn’t had much of a chance to think about our daughter’s first teen birthday. Now, in the silence of a nearly empty house, the realization is here to be reckoned with. Where did the time go?

I must be officially old, because time is most definitely whizzing past me. My husband and I have discussed how we seem always to be looking at events in the rearview mirror. Thanksgiving: way back in the distance. Decorating the house for Christmas (such a production): all done. The entire holiday season, with its daunting preparations, a flurry of family arrivals and departures: all done. Our daughter’s birthday: over, bringing with it a new year, a new number to remember to write on checks and correspondence. Taking the decorations down and boxing them up: almost done (a less enjoyable task, so it stretches out longer).

Time speeds by now like the numbers on our oven timer. As in childhood the years move at a slower pace, setting the timer for a short while takes forever, each five-second interval requiring its own finger punch. Suddenly, though, the digits are flying by in a blur. The roast is set to cook for thirteen hours.

The ever-accelerating passage of time is a threadbare topic, a conversational fallback that I remember considering more tiresome than the weather. But now my comments about time’s bewildering flight come pouring forth unbidden and unwanted. My baby has become a teenager, in what seems like the span of a few months. I don’t want a return to the baby phase, but I would like to know how all the stages zipped by with such haste.

Another symptom of my advancing age is that, against my better judgment, I persist in noting the rapidly increasing height of every child I know. My goodness, how you’ve grown! I can’t believe how tall you are! My daughter typically appears more willowy after a night’s sleep. She and her friends are growing like the pokeweed that nearly took over our back porch one summer. I found similar comments particularly tedious when I was young. They’re equally irksome when I say them. But they are true, and the situation begs to be acknowledged.

I take some solace in the fact that I do not ask this question of children and teenagers: Do you have a boyfriend? A girlfriend? At least I don’t ask it yet. As a girl I was bombarded with that exasperating question by distant family members during visits to Kentucky. I guess it was the only remark that came to mind. There was no satisfactory answer. “No” signified that I was unpopular and deserving of their sympathy. “Yes” meant more questions to follow: What’s his name? How old is he?. . .His name is Marcus Aurelius and he’s 35! Oh, who cares? You’ll never meet him!

Time flies, the kids are growing like weeds, and I’m getting older at the same pace. I may blubber on about such truths, but I haven’t surrendered my life entirely to cliché.  At least not for the fleeting nanosecond that is now.

Good Times with our New Baby

Our daughter, around three months, marvels at her crib toys.  My husband particularly loved the way her hair stood on end, resembling the fluff of a baby chick.


A little farther along in my journal, descriptions of the sweet, endearing ways of our daughter become more frequent. She was still upset and no doubt uncomfortable much of the time. Her new world apparently continued to disappoint, but perhaps she was learning to lower her expectations. Increasingly, she expressed happiness and ease as well as anger and frustration. And in my eyes, she was becoming less other, more human. As she looked up at me and smiled, wrapping all her tiny fingers tightly around one of mine, it was impossible not to feel overcome by motherly love.

I recall, just like it was yesterday, standing at the changing table in our little nursery, entranced by my little girl, three weeks old. She liked to gaze out the window onto the snowy street below, then turn toward me, her eyes open incredibly wide and her lips pursed, as though mimicking fear or surprise for comic effect. Sometimes she’d stare intently at the curtain and appear similarly impressed. Can you believe that curtain? Isn’t it the best thing ever?  When she was so inclined, it didn’t take much to please her, just as it didn’t take much to rouse her fury.

She loved my big fuzzy stuffed bear. One of her first deliberate actions was to stretch out her arms to feel his fur. She did this repeatedly, and when I brought him close she’d bury her face in his fluff. With great satisfaction I recognized a future fellow dog lover.

Her smiles and periods of contentment increased. She watched me cheerfully as I cooked or folded laundry. When she was truly excited, her entire face lit up and her small body launched into motion, shoulders shifting, hands reaching, legs kicking, brimming full with the joy of life. And when she settled down, she did so with a luxurious stretch, ending in an exuberant flourish, arms high above her head, fingers outstretched gracefully. It brought to mind a gymnast’s gesture after a spectacular dismount. Maybe this world wasn’t so bad, after all.

Around three months, we started hearing little laughs, mixed in with her ongoing babble of sounds. It wasn’t until five months that we were rewarded with extended, exultant giggling. As she sat in her swing, my husband fanned her vigorously with the Virginia road atlas, an activity they had enjoyed for some time. She clearly loved the feel of the breeze on her face. With each burst of air, she’d breathe in with a delighted gasp, her eyes widening. After a considerable build-up, she erupted in giggles. A magical, enchanted, musical sound, the laughter of an angelic elf. Not surprisingly, she still relishes the feel of the wind on her face. She loves skiing, riding roller coasters and speedboats, and going fast in general.

Our daughter began to discover fun and excitement in many sources: her toys, her feet, her toes, and her fingers, which she would often lick very daintily, one by one, as though having just polished off a fried chicken dinner.  At four months, we bought her an “exersaucer” that allowed her to practice putting weight on her legs. She loved jumping in it, spinning around, rattling its various attachments, all the while making singing or talking sounds, usually very loudly.  For a while it was like having a miniature Stanley Kowalksi in the house, bellowing a jibberishy form of Stelllllaaaaa!

Now, as my daughter whistles piercingly while doing her homework, it seems that in some respects things have changed very little.  Inside my tall, elegant teenager, I can still see that baby, a whirling dervish of energy, noisily rocking her exersaucer, awake to all of life’s wondrous potential.


A welcome smile.


Asleep in her swing.  Thank goodness for that swing!


First day in the new exersaucer.

New Motherhood: An Uphill Climb

I recently found the journal I somehow managed to keep during our daughter’s first year.  It confirms my vague, uneasy memories: learning to be a mother was a hard slog.


My first months of motherhood were no doubt made more arduous because I had absolutely no previous experience with infants. While I’ve always enjoyed toddlers and preschoolers, I’ve never been drawn to babies, who appear frighteningly small and unfinished. When I got my own baby, I didn’t think I’d missed much.

The first hurdle was nursing, which brought with it a host of anxieties and difficulties (and conflicting advice by every nurse or lactation consultant at the hospital). Suddenly I was a machine (and an overworked and badly functioning one, at that), for feeding. All I did was nurse, worry about nursing, or try to recover from nursing, only to have to begin again. During that first week, I remember that my mother seemed to be constantly standing outside the bedroom door, holding a screaming, red-faced D. “It’s been three hours, and she’s hungry again.” I thought I had just dozed off. Once I got the hang of effectively feeding my baby, there was still the reality of it, the giving of myself endlessly to this tiny screaming tyrant. The word parasite flickered occasionally through my mind. There is great isolation in being a nursing mother.

Just as I had always suspected, a baby is an awkward, uncooperative little creature, as small as a doll, but totally lacking its reassuring complacency. A baby is an anti-social rebel. She doesn’t want to wear those diapers, that onesie, or that darling outfit from Aunt Claire. She especially hates those socks, and she rubs her feet together tirelessly until she works them off so they’re lost in the food court at the mall. She doesn’t want that bath. She can’t abide being locked into that straitjacket of a car seat. She fights against everything but food. Sometimes she even fights against food. For such a diminutive being, her screams are astonishingly ear-splitting.

I don’t blame her. I realize she’s uncomfortable, that she has no knowledge of social graces or expectations. She has no words to tell us what bothers her. The world outside the comfy, watery womb is filled with adversity, noise, frustration, and unanswered needs. I know she doesn’t enjoy the never-ending cycle of nursing, burping, spitting up, pooping and diaper changing any more than I do. I feel for my baby. I was much like her, as my parents have frequently told me. I cried most of the time, except when I held my breath and passed out. Still, empathy and understanding don’t make the whole mothering process run any more smoothly.

It gradually gets easier, though.  Before long, the moments of wonder and joy begin to catch up with and even exceed those of annoyance and pain.  The uphill climb is worth it, in a big way.

Our daughter, ten days old. She doesn’t look like a rebel or a savage, but looks can be misleading.

Thirteen Years Ago: Home with our New Baby


Each January I look back on those first few months with our new baby, and I’m thankful they are in the past. No doubt this sounds heartless to some, especially to those who are not yet parents but hope to be.

It doesn’t mean I don’t love and appreciate her.  Our daughter is, and has always been, a profound blessing. All my life I had known that I wanted a child, and she was the realization of that long-held dream. She was an amazing, wiry little creature with a remarkable energy. Our first ultra-sound image had shown her upside-down and scissor-kicking, so we weren’t surprised. She did leg lifts in her plastic hospital bassinet and held her head up unsupported within hours of birth. Her enormous, other-worldly blue eyes were constantly surveying her surroundings. She wrinkled her forehead in a way that made her look all-knowing and smug, yet sweet. Her blonde hair was as fine as dandelion fuzz, and her tiny fingernails appeared newly manicured. She slept with her arms outstretched over her head, her fingers moving gracefully and expressively in her dreams. She was a miracle.

The first day home with her was wonderful. When we returned from the hospital, my parents were waiting in their car in front of our townhouse, having driven all night from Atlanta. My husband and I were the proudest of parents, showing off our beautiful baby to her grandparents, who agreed that she was perfect. She slept for several hours that day, which, we would learn, would be highly uncharacteristic.

I had dozed only fitfully in the hospital, and I finally got some real sleep that first night at home. I slept deeply enough so that when I awakened to an unpleasant whining sound, I had no idea what it was. Puzzled and annoyed, I asked H, “What is that noise?”

“It’s our baby,” he replied, rather too firmly.

That was the last time I failed to recognize our daughter’s cry.

After that I began sleeping the half-sleep of the new mother, alert both to the baby’s sounds and, even more alarming, to the lack thereof. One night, hearing only silence, I peered into the bassinet in the dimness of the room. Suddenly I realized those big eyes were staring back at me, and I almost jumped. Our daughter was still an alien presence.

The difficulties of early motherhood set in with a vengeance. I loved my baby instantly, but getting used to dealing with her persistent and shifting needs was an exhausting challenge.

Our daughter, at 5 days old, under the Christmas tree. As quiet, for a brief moment, as the dolls.

Exercises in Extreme Gift-Wrapping

Each year at Christmas, my husband presses on in his family’s tradition of extreme gift wrapping. He grew up in a family of resolutely creative wrappers, in which every gift receives special holiday treatment, from the lowliest pair of socks to the largest, most cumbersome, difficult-to-wrap object. Major appliances have been gift-wrapped by his family. They welcome, even seek out, challenges in wrapping. They invest considerable time and energy toward disguising the gift. Tiny items are encased in enormous boxes, and objects with a characteristic, recognizable shape are concealed in containers of an utterly different form. The wrapping paper is exuberant in color and pattern.

My side of the family has a fundamentally different approach to wrapping gifts. My mother has a designer’s eye, and her emphasis has always been on décor. A connoisseur of ribbon, she chooses gift wrap to accent the color scheme of the room. Gifts under our family tree were beautifully packaged and adorned, but not as plentiful as in H’s home. If an item might be of use during the holiday season, it was likely to be presented early, unwrapped, as needed. There was no concern for disguising gifts or playing wrapping games. A book was wrapped as a book, not a refrigerator. And little things, those that were needed and appreciated but not overly special, simply appeared, unwrapped.


The differences in our two family’s wrapping philosophies recall our approaches to the recognition of birthdays and other special events. H’s family remains determined to celebrate all occasions, and inventive wrapping is a big part of the celebration. My parents continue to give thoughtful and lovely gifts. But they regard the birthdays of adults, as I’ve said before, as events best mentioned quietly, if at all. I grew up hearing the admonition: “Don’t get beside yourself.” In the eyes of my parents, showing too much enthusiasm is bit unseemly; it’s something to be avoided, or at least denied. H’s family, on the other hand, is happy to get beside themselves. During birthdays and on Christmas, they revel in it.

Now that I’m familiar with both approaches, I can appreciate the merits, and the drawbacks, of each.

This year my husband’s extreme wrapping scored especially high marks. He enclosed three gifts for our daughter in tubes used for forming concrete, 48 inches long and up to 16 inches in diameter. An inexpensive wrapping solution with a big wow factor. None of the objects were vaguely cylindrical in shape, of course. The first tube appeared by the tree early in the morning, three days before Christmas. On the following two days, another, successively larger, tube appeared.

Our daughter was merrily intrigued, and she responded in kind. She searched in the basement until she found a suitably unusual container for one last gift for her dad: a tall plastic laundry hamper. She took it to her room and, using two kinds of paper, an abundance of tape, and an uncharacteristically substantial degree of patience, performed a wrapping coup. The shape may perhaps best be described as an oval trapezoidal prism.

On Christmas morning, the tubes and the hamper were the final gifts unwrapped. Both H and D were exultant as they pulled off paper and worked their way to the gifts inside the strange packages. The excitement was catching. Not even my parents, who are here with us this Christmas as usual, were immune. I think I can speak for both sides of the family now when I say that once in a while, getting beside yourself is recommended.


The first two mystery tubes appear.


The three tubes, with one tiny tube on top.  My shoe-storage package is in front.


The oval trapezoidal prism.

Shoe Storage, The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Toward the beginning of this Christmas season, my daughter printed out a Family Christmas List, with spaces for gift requests from each of us.  She posted it in a central location in the kitchen.  At first I couldn’t think of a single item for the list.   I have enough stuff.  And on those occasions when I do need something,  I generally prefer to pick it out myself.  Soon I thought of one thing:  a nice winter scarf suitable for dog-walking.  I’ve had the same one since 1987.  While it’s still perfectly good, another would be welcome, and D has a good eye for scarves.  Somewhat later, in a flash of light bulb inspiration, my dream gift popped into my head:  shoe storage!  This, indeed, may be a gift that keeps on giving.


Our house, as I’ve noted before, is closet-challenged.  It’s a four-square farmhouse built in 1920.  Closets and bathrooms were added during the early 1970s.  Orange shag carpeting was also installed in copious amounts at this time, one reason the house remained on the market for so long before we bought it ten years ago.  We have a wide center hall but no optimal storage on the first floor unless one counts the closets in a bathroom and in an office that doubles as a bedroom when overnight guests are plentiful.  Neither space is ideally located, to say the least.

For a family of three, we have an inordinate number of shoes, especially those for outdoor activities.  We have shoes for running, for gardening, for hiking, for use in snow, in rain, in rivers and oceans.  We have high boots, low boots and medium boots, most of which are typically caked with mud and leaf debris.  We have many pairs of old, scruffy shoes saved for the messiest of uses:  walking through mucky fields, exploring the creek, climbing trees, working in the garage or the basement, etc.  Some are very nearly too small or worn out but still may be of use in a pinch, if, say, all our other shoes were swept away in a tornado.  These are too shabby to be given away to any charitable organization, but too good, it seems, for outright disposal.  As H’s father would say, we have back-ups for our back-up shoes.  And then there are the comfy shoes, the legions of slippers, rarely worn.  They stay with us, it seems, out of habit and for the sake of occupying space.

Our  shoes tend to congregate in the kitchen around the back door and in the hall by the basement door.  Like so much household detritus, they evidently have the ability to multiply spontaneously.  Opening either door is impossible without first rearranging great piles of shoes.  I dislike this process as much as I dislike moving the little things off the kitchen table.

I’ve been complaining about our lack of shoe storage for nearly as long as we’ve lived here, to little avail.  I usually deal with it by stomping around angrily and muttering derogotory remarks about my beloved family members while hauling their shoes upstairs or downstairs.  This does not make me happy.

I finally realized that the problem might be solved by incorporating it into a gift request.  My husband and daughter take gift requests very seriously.  They excel at tracking down gifts (and they enjoy gift wrapping challenges, but that’s another story.)  Several years ago I began asking that the impatiens be planted as a Mother’s Day present.  Therefore, on Christmas morning, I opened a substantial package containing varieties of shoe storage:  hanging racks, standing racks, storage boxes with hinged lids, others that defy easy description.  On December 26, shoe storage solutions were installed and in use.  I was delighted.  Change had arrived.

H and D have adjusted swimmingly; their shoes are tucked away as intended.   The problem now seems to be that I can’t get used to the new system.  I keep leaving my shoes by the doors to the kitchen and basement.  I have received two tickets from the Home Improvement and Neatness Patrol for illegal shoe deposit.  I’m going to have to get with the program.  I can’t be responsible for the failure of shoe storage; I want that gift to keep on giving.


  My shoes, conspicuously all alone.  I resolve to do better!

The Candles of Christmas Eve

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The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

 –Luke 1: 5

Our church’s candlelight Christmas Eve service is one of the highlights of the year. Each person receives a small white candle upon entering. Toward the end of the service, the sanctuary goes dark. The acolytes assist the congregation with the lighting of the individual, hand-held candles. Gradually, while we sing Silent Night, the light grows. By the final verse, the sanctuary is brightly glowing, as each member of the congregation holds high a lighted candle.

The process is a beautiful expression of God’s love. Into the darkness of the world, God sent a light. It appeared dim and insignificant at first. But soon it grew brighter and kindled countless other lights. When we allow the light of God’s gift to come alive within us, we glow. And we, in turn, have the power to spread the light. Our combined light is a mighty force. The darkness will not overcome it.

The source of the light is one baby, born to an unknown young woman and witnessed only by her trusting husband and perhaps the animals of a stable. In an unlikely juxtaposition, a multitude of angels announces the birth not to the ruling elite, but to shepherds in the fields outside of town. (This is nevertheless appropriate, because the baby’s great ancestor David was a shepherd boy when he was hand-picked to be king.) Before long, the birth of the child has attracted the attention of wise men from distant Eastern lands. Led by a singular star, they embark on a long journey to find the humble family. They bow down in awe before the baby and present him with rare and costly gifts.

God’s great gift turns the world upside down, upsets its expected order. There is no room in the comfort of any inn for God’s only son. Angels appear to lowly shepherds, and kings worship a baby. Allowing God’s light to shine within us may lead us to unexpected places. The tidiness of our lives is likely to be overturned. This is the difficulty in letting our inner light shine. Its power may summon us to go where we would rather not venture. It may be more convenient to quench that light, to hide it under a bushel. But knowing that the flame that dwells within us is from God, the light of salvation, ever-present, we can have the courage to go where it wills us. The darkness will not overcome it. We need not fear, for we are never alone. On this Christmas Eve, I pray for the light to be kindled and nourished throughout the world. And I pray for the strength to let the light be my guide. 

Do not be afraid; for see—I bring you good news of great joy for    all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

–Luke 2: 10b-11

Little Old Christmas Treasures

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As everyone in my family knows, one of my most frequent complaints concerns our vast and ever-growing accumulation of stuff: the multitudinous thingamajigs, treasured by some, considered garbage by others. These are the small, awkward, ambiguous objects I seem to be constantly moving from the kitchen table. They tend to scatter all over the floor, but I feel compelled to seek out every last one because the dog may eat them. Occasionally I think I could walk away from all the stuff without a second thought, free at last. Certainly I could walk away from all their stuff. Once in a while, I even think I could leave my stuff.

Then, I remember these two small, rather subdued-looking Christmas figures: a stern-faced Santa with his sleigh pulled by a single reindeer, and another, somewhat larger, more finely detailed reindeer. I found them at our church yard sale, at a table of miscellaneous junk offered by an extremely old man. I got distracted, moved on, and forgot about them. I was returning home, waiting at an everlasting traffic light, when I remembered them. I was being silly, I told myself. I didn’t need more stuff. But I couldn’t follow through. I wanted those two Christmas knickknacks. They were calling to me. I turned around, had to wait for the light again. I got back to the old man’s table, and miracle of miracles, they were still there. Apparently their plaintive cry was inaudible to others. I think I paid a quarter apiece, his asking price. I didn’t haggle. I’m so glad I doubled back for them.

My appreciation of these little trinkets has nothing to do with monetary value; I’m under no misconception about getting the deal of the century or heading off to Antiques Road Show. The Santa appeared in a December issue of Martha Stewart Living, in an article about celluloid holiday figures from the 1920s – 50s that were sold at 5 & Dime stores. My little Santa may date from the 1930s. No doubt he’s worth more than a quarter, but not substantially.

I just like these two little doodads. I find them inexplicably pleasing, even comforting. They are reminders of a simpler time, when we weren’t quite so awash in stuff, when the choices were fewer, when each little thing meant more. I can see the old man who sold them to me, a Depression-era child (looking something like Ralphie in A Christmas Story) using his allowance savings to buy these as a gift for his mother or sister.

I will protect my tiny Santa and reindeer from those who might regard them less highly. I will try to respect the little things that beckon to my family members but not to me. And I won’t leave my treasures on the kitchen table.

A blog about motherhood, marriage and life: the joys and frustrations, beauty and absurdity, blessings and pain. It's about looking back, looking ahead, and walking the dog.