December 21st, 2015:

CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

As Christmas season and gift giving makes its merry way into the lives of those who celebrate it, I think about years past and what stood out about those times. To me, the holidays are sentimental. It reminds me of my parents, my siblings, my relatives and all the friends I’ve known over the years. As each year passes, there are more friends and relatives who are departing Mother Earth and this special time becomes more bittersweet.

I believe my childhood as an Army brat, traveling around the world, probably inspired me to keep in touch with as many old friends and relatives as I possibly could. I saw that my parents did it (my mother signed the cards and wrote the accompanying notes) and I enjoyed reading all the Christmas mail they got in return. I’ve been doing the same for several decades and continue to enjoy everyone’s news, even though I’ve graduated to modern technology and use Email.  This past year was a busy one of editing and I wrote about all the books I’d edited since they were quite a mix of subject matter.

There are a few holiday occasions I remember with a special fondness. My earliest Christmas memory is a postwar celebration in Murnau, Germany, in the 1940s. My mother was newly married. Instead of the train I remember asking for, I received a set of painted wooden doll furniture embellished with colorful Bavarian décor, which once consisted of a bed, table, two chairs and a chest. I still have the foot-high chest of drawers; it’s in excellent shape considering the years. It doesn’t contain doll clothes, just a variety of items like extra toothbrushes, spare night lights and a few remembrances.

Ella, my German mother-in-law, and me

Ella, my German mother-in-law, and me in Bavaria

Germany figures in several Christmas celebrations, like my last one in college. As an Army dependent, I had a free trip to my parents’ home in Mannheim, but it was space available from Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey. A large group of students and military personnel spent five days waiting for an empty airplane seat. An older Master Sergeant became my protector and one night took me to see the Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn movie “Charade.” Once I made it to Germany, I felt like a debutante with all the social activities and attention from eligible Army lieutenants. Winging homeward to the US on New Year’s Eve from Rhine-Main Air Base, a few of us college coeds were invited by flirtatious Air Force pilots into the cockpit to see the Midnight Sun over Northern Canada.

There was another German Christmas in 1967, a couple of years after I was married. My husband’s Army parents, as well as my own, were  stationed in Germany. My folks were in Frankfurt and his were in Kaiserslautern. The photo here shows me with Ella, my delightful mother-in-law during a visit to picturesque Garmisch in Bavaria.

I recall my daughter Heidi’s second Christmas and the Fisher-Price dollhouse Santa brought. She was old enough to appreciate it, and I can still see it because it’s on film. I was about six months pregnant with her brother at the time. And below, I have a photo taken of my kids–Heidi and Hansi–with Santa Claus around 1975.

Heidi and Hansi with Santa

Heidi and Hansi with Santa

I can’t forget the memory of the last family Christmas I spent with my parents, sister and brother. My little family—husband and two youngsters–drove from LA to San Antonio, Texas, in a spacious Plymouth; the backseat was large enough for a crib mattress, an idea I’d gotten from a TV show. I bought a harness for both kids (three years old and eight months old) and strapped them to the seat belts, so they could sleep and also crawl around. It might not be considered safe now, but nothing bad happened.

That Christmas my mother’s kidney disease was just beginning to get worse, my brother was still in college and my sister was going to junior college in Utah. Two years later my mother had left the world for good.

A few years later my sister joined us for a California taste of winter. My mother-in-law rented a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, which gave us a whole new perspective on the holidays. We bought a tree on the way there, a bargain since it was Christmas Eve, but then had to lug everything up countless steps to this aerie on a hill with a view of a small lake below. We did our decorating the old-fashioned way by stringing popcorn. Before we left a few days later, my kids tried out sledding for the very first time.

Dealing with my new divorce in the 1980s felt daunting, but my sister’s small family and my still single brother were supportive by joining me and my kids in Los Angeles for Christmas. Four small children and four adults filled my house with laughter, and my sister brought along the ingredients to make a lovely little gingerbread house.

Family Christmas 1981

Family Christmas 1981- Me, brother Darby, sister Tupper & kids-David, Hansi, Heidi & Heather.

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