The Christmas that I received the least is the one I remember the most.
My parents were in their mid 30’s. I was 7, my brother was 12. We lived on a small farm which we farmed “on the half” with the farm owner. We had milk cows, a few hogs, chickens and eggs, and we grew corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, and sugar beets. My Mom worked alongside my Dad milking the cows and driving the tractor. In addition she did all the mom chores…. gardening, housework, childcare, canning. My Dad also worked third shift in a local sugar beet processing plant and I remember Mom getting up early and going outside to start the chores. Feeding, milking, cleaning out stalls. She knew Dad would be tired when he got home and wanted to have things pretty well finished when he arrived home from work.
Like all farmers, Dad wanted a place of his own; a place where he made the decisions. Mom and Dad had traveled around for months looking at farms for sale. Dreaming of the day when one of the farms would be their own. They found it. We were to take possession of our new farm and new home on January 1. Mom began to pack items in preparation for the move. She began to talk to my brother and me about changing schools and moving to a nicer house.
She also explained how Christmas would be a little different this year. We were not going to have a Christmas tree, because all the ornaments were packed. There was too much to do so just this one year we would scrimp a bit. There would just be a few gifts under the tree. Every penny saved over many years was going to pay for the farm. she went on to explain how a new house, our own bedrooms, and a better life were to be part of this new adventure as well.
I don’t remember being disappointed about the gifts. I do remember being disappointed about the Christmas tree. I could not even imagine a Christmas without a tree and without all my favorite ornaments But life went on, I knew not to complain, and I saw how busy and stressful this move was for my parents.
My Mom must have sensed my disappointment. Maybe I didn’t hide it very well. I do know that when it came time to open our gifts on that Christmas Eve, there in the corner of the kitchen, on a small wooden table, was the best surprise of all…. it wasn’t a Christmas tree but it was close. Mom had cut branches from the evergreen bushes that surrounded our house and placed them in a large vase. There were no lights, but a few of our favorite tree ornaments hung from the branches. A towel was wrapped around the base of the vase and on that small table were our gifts.
When I remember that Christmas, I remember it with love and excitement. Somehow my parents had instilled in 7-year-old me a sense of sacrifice, love, and commitment to something that would give back to us for many, many years. A place of our own.
Perhaps this wasn’t the Christmas I received the least. But it is still the Christmas I remember the most.