Christmas is almost here and every year there are a couple of old memories that tug at my heart from when I was a child. It seems so long ago, but then it doesn't. Isn't life funny that there can be a song, a fragrance, an old saying and like a fairy sprinkling memory dust, we are thinking about things that happened fifty years ago. Don't ask me about what I ate for lunch last week, I won't remember, but there are some things that we take with us, hidden in a little pocket in our brains and our hearts. Take it out, cherish it and smile.
Christmas 1964, the Beatles Invasion was still going strong in the US which included Amarillo, Texas where our family lived at the time. My brother, Gary, was thirteen and very much into the Fab Four. In February, with the help of a snowstorm, he had convinced my dad to let us stay home from church and watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. We watched Bandstand all summer, every Saturday, and I was probably one of the only first graders in my class that knew words to "I wanna hold your hand." I had even convinced my mother to allow my hair to be cut in a pixie which I referred to as my "Beatle haircut." Gary always knew the newest songs and I was very influenced by most things he enjoyed.
Mom and Gary took me to Sears to see Santa Claus. He had arrived by helicopter earlier in the day and there were broken candy canes all over the parking lot. (I hate to think what would have happened to our car or to us if we had been parked there when his transport hovered over the crowd.) As I was not a perfect child, the moment of truth came when it was my turn to sit on Santa's knee. My mother had made a few "phone calls" to him in my presence during a couple of naughty episodes so I wasn't about to lie and really commit a mortal sin. There was a tightness in my chest as I moved closer and closer to the front of the line. Suddenly, there I was moving like a sleepwalker up to the man in red. I was very solemn and serious when I climbed on his knee. He asked me the dreaded question, "Have you been a good little girl?" In a panic, I looked at my mother! "He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows when you've been bad or good..." HE KNOWS! HE KNOWS! My mother, seeing the dread in my eyes nodded encouraging at me and I told Santa, "Well, most of the time." I don't know what he said, but I didn't get a lecture or a frown. I believe we parted on good terms. I left with a solid candy cane that did not come from the parking lot and hope.
We had a silver Christmas tree that came in a box. The first year, my mother decorated with blue glass ornaments. The following year, my brother and I convinced her to let us decorate it with our other ornaments so it had a little more personality. Because it was aluminum and a fire hazard, there were no Christmas lights on it. We didn't have the cool rotating color wheel, so it reflected the lights from the lamps in the living room. [It was a two year commitment in our home due to the mutiny led by my brother and me. I believe it found a way to my dad's office for company celebrations.]
On Christmas Eve, we spent the night at the farm. My mother's parents lived on a farm outside Tahoka, Texas. There was always a large Christmas tree that was real, not artificial and definitely not silver. It was decorated with an assortment of ornaments that were child friendly, tinsel, a star on the top, and it had those big bulb lights that someone deemed to be a fire hazard in the seventies. Before bed, we ate popcorn and drank hot cocoa made by our Pa. I was surprised that he could "pop the corn" (as he called it) in one of my grandmother's cooking pots but I was really impressed that he made the cocoa just like my mother did! When you are six, you don't always make the connections of where your mother learned how to do things. :) Bedtime meant snuggled in the roll-away bed in the back bedroom while my brother slept in the big bed in the same room.
It always amazes me how little sleep a person, especially a child gets on Christmas Eve. Santa was coming, wrapped presents were waiting, and I had a hard time sleeping. At least I think I did! At some point during the night, I remember my brother asking me if I was asleep. I remember following him through my grandparents' room to my parents room to ask if it was time to get up. I can still see my my mother's face never leave the pillow as she told us to go back to bed. Back across the house, through my grandparents' room, and back in bed. We did this several times that night. I remember my grandmother asking us on one of our trips if we were alright. We were pretty quiet because my mother made that horrible startled face and sound when each time we woke her to ask if it was time. Lying in that cozy roll-away, I suggested we sing some Beatles songs. I don't think Gary argued because I remember singing "Listen, do you want to know a secret" together until my grandfather, in his undershirt and boxers made an appearance and told us to be quiet and go to sleep. No arguments. No pleading. Just two heavy sighs and a whole lot of quiet.
Morning finally came before daylight and Gary and I were sprung from our back bedroom chamber of quiet. The tree was lit, the room warmed by a Deerborn butane heater, and Santa had been there. When had this happened? I didn't see anything during any of our pilgrimages through the living room. But there it all was, laid out for us to find. A soft bodied doll with blonde hair who cried when you tipped her over with a blanket and layette and treasures for my brother. I remember showing her proudly to my grandparents. They checked all our gifts out. My grandmother and my mother made breakfast and preparations began for aunts, uncles, and cousins to arrive for our traditional Henry Family Christmas celebration.
Most people think of Christmas songs like Silent Night, Silver Bells, or I'll Be Home for Christmas to recall special memories. Fifty years later and the Beatles remind me of my brother and Christmas.
"Listen, (Do Wah Do) Do you want to know a secret? (Do Wah Do) Do you promise not to tell? (Wo Oh Oh) I'm in love with you."