CHRISTMAS WON’T BE CHRISTMAS

Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.

The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly, “We haven’t got Father, and shall not have him for a long time.” She didn’t say “perhaps never,” but each silently added it, thinking of Father far away, where the fighting was. – From Little Women.

It was the first book I ever owned, a copy of “Little Women” given to me by my mother when I was about ten or eleven. I read it over and over again, often enough to be able to recite entire paragraphs from memory. Owning a copy of “Little Women” caused something to explode within my heart. It was never enough, after that, just to read a book although I read library books voraciously. I wanted to OWN those favorite books as well. Perhaps a year or two later, my brother Jim gave me FIVE Nancy Drew books for Christmas. FIVE! What riches! What wealth!

Not surprisingly, you will have to agree, my house today is wall to wall bookcases filled with books throughout most of the house (ok, none in the kitchen or bathrooms) although you can often find a little stack of magazines or catalogues on the back of the toilet. And in 2010, Bob built a library that takes up half of the garage. I was unpacking books to go onto the shelves as fast as he finished a section. Finally, after two years, the rest of our books were unpacked and placed on shelves. (We moved into this house in November of 2008).  The garage library is primarily for fiction although I have a respectable collection of books – biographies and auto biographies about our first ladies and one entire section is devoted to American presidents. (I have more about John Fitzgerald and Jackie Kennedy than any other president. I think this is because he was the first American president – and she the first “First Lady” who really captured my attention). Next high on my list are books about President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan.  We have made many trips to the Reagan Library and Museum in Simi Valley. But I also collect biographies and auto biographies about movie stars and this probably started when I began working at the SAG Health Plan in 1977.

I’ve also collected books – stories, biographies and—yes, even cookbooks—about African Americans (or Black Americans if you want to be more politically correct. I have found so many really wonderful stories written by African Americans. I believe this is an untapped resource of Americana fiction.

And yes, it started with an inexpensive copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. (I love Little Women so much that I have every film edition of this wonderful civil war era story. But, I have never figured out what pickled limes were; you may recall that Amy got in trouble at school for having a bag of pickled limes in her desk. The teacher confiscated the bag of pickled limes and threw them all out the school house window. I do a lot of canning  (and yes, I collect  cookbooks about canning, preserving, making jams, jellies and chutneys – but have never come across a recipe for making pickled limes!)

“Little Women” is one of those ageless stories that I enjoy watching during the holiday season – along with “Miracle on 34th Street” and “Elf”, “The Santa Clause” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

I have loved Christmas my entire life; when I was about ten years old I began taking my two younger brothers downtown – in Cincinnati – to do our Christmas shopping at the 5 & 10 cent stores. We did all our shopping in one day, along with visiting the department store Santas to get a peppermint stick – and then happily returned home on the trolley (or buses if they had replaced street cars by then) to surreptitiously slip upstairs to my bedroom and wrap our gifts – with wrapping paper my mother had saved from the year before. We ironed out gift wrap paper and ribbons to look “like new” again.  My two brothers and I have the most precious memories of those trips downtown. If we were able, we’d make another trip downtown to see the life-size nativity on display in Garfield Park.

And I think opening the presents, as wonderful as it was, might have been anti climatic to the trip downtown with my little brothers to buy Christmas presents for everyone in the family, with pennies and nickels we had saved or earned. We didn’t have an allowance and earning a bit of cash was always a challenge. My girlfriend Carol went downtown with us one year and in later years confessed that she was always jealous of us Schmidts, buying all our Christmas presents for about a dollar—total!  Well, there was also the five cent bus fare each way to take into consideration. And sometimes we even shared a grill cheese sandwich at the soda fountain counter in Woolworths.

How did we do it? I have no idea. Our little change purses were something like the loaves and fishes in the bible – there was always JUST enough to get something for everyone in the family – five of us children, our parents and our grandparents.

My love for Christmas rubbed off on Bob, my partner for the past 25 years. He became as enthusiastic as I, putting up trees (yes, plural – one year we had 8 trees up in the house in Arleta) and decorating everything in sight inside and outside of the house, while I baked cookies. One year we made a fantastic gingerbread house.  He was always as excited and pleased as I, when guests would arrive at our house and begin to ooh and ahh over the two trees standing on either side of our fireplace, the lighthouse tree in the dining room and the little kitchen-theme trees in the kitchen.   This will be my first Christmas without Bob to share it with.  Christmas won’t be Christmas without him.

Sandy’s note: I wrote this in November of 2011, two months after Bob passed away from cancer of the esophagus. This year will mark the third Christmas without him.

Sandra Lee Smith

September 7, 2014

 

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