There were two events going on in our family during December of 1961. One was getting ready for the Christmas holidays and the other was getting ready to move to a new house after New Years. These two events would come together for me in a way that was quite unexpected.
I was just about eleven years old, and like all kids, was looking forward to getting out of school for two weeks. Of course, having the holidays as the reason was the bonus. The anticipation of moving into a new three bedroom house and getting my very own bedroom was even a better reason to be excited. My younger brother, Eddie, and I had been sharing a bedroom for a quite a few years. Sharing a bedroom with a little brother wasn't a big deal when you're young, but Mom said that I was getting too old to share a room with my kid brother and, besides, I wanted a more grown up appearance to my room. I was ready to leave behind the cluttered toy infested look and trade it in for a vanity draped with chintz so I could put my new collection of hair brushes and toilet waters on it. That's not the kind of thing a girl wants to share with her kid brother.
It wasn't too big of deal when my mother suggested cleaning out our closets of any toys and clothes we had out grown. Since it was almost the time for us to be packing, Mom felt it was a great time to do some household cleaning. My mother was good at recycling even long before it was fashionable or politically correct. Old towels, bed sheets and blankets were to go to the mission; clothes that were still good but out grown were to go to The Salvation Army. Games and toys were always offered to the church for their annual rummage sale.
As I surveyed my five year collection of dolls, games, color books and the like, I discovered there wasn't much I wanted to save for the move. However, tucked under the hanging garments in my closet was a wooden toy crib and high chair that I had received from Santa the first year we moved to California. In the crib I also kept my Besty Westy doll I got that very same year. Even though I had not played with the likes of dolls in over a year, the attachment I felt for those three items was so ingrained, it didn't even cross my mind to consider them as possible donations. I prided myself in keeping my toys and things in good repair. I particularly look extra care with my wooden crib and high chair. Before and after each use, I meticulously polished the wood until it glowed which kept it in near new condition. I had pretty much stacked up the clothes that didn't fit me any more and was rearranging the show dolls I had decided to keep for my new bedroom when my mother poked her head into the room.
"I'm taking a trip to The Salvation Army and the church this afternoon, so be sure to put anything you want to clean out of your closets in these boxes.," she said, putting two cardboard boxes on my bed.
In on of the boxes I put the stack of clothes I had already organized. The other box had the work "toys" printed on it. I put two games, an arm load of stuffed animals, a large stack of puzzles, a box of broken crayons and a big bag of marbles. I even put my large collection of paper dolls in a big envelope and added them to the pile.
My mother scanned the inside of my closet and then picked up the boxes to take them out to the station wagon. "I'll be back in about thirty minutes, Carol. Please watch your brother until I get home," she called to me.
Okay, Mom," I yelled. Eddie was in the living room watching his favorite afternoon cartoons. I was feeling pretty good about getting my room cleaned out and was already day dreaming about my new more grown up room.
After dinner and dish washing duties were finished, I retreated into my bedroom to watch our spare TV. An old scary Boris Karloff movie was on and no one in the living room wanted to watch it except me. I plopped myself down on my bed and started to get comfortable when my mother came into the room.
"I noticed you didn't pull out your baby crib and high chair, Carol" Mom said, "Were you planning to take them to the new house when we move?" My mother had a way of getting right to the heart of things. She peeked inside my closet and continued. "It's just that I haven't seen you and your friends play with these things in a very long time. I just thought you were done with them."
I guess I hadn't thought about it in those terms. "Gee, Mom, do you need to know right now?" I said, more thinking out loud. Besides, I was getting into my movie and didn't want to miss any of the good parts thinking about some old toys.
"Of course not, I just thought if you were really finished with them, I know two little girls just the right age who would enjoy them." She sat on the edge of my bed and continued, "You know, Don and Bonny Sharp's little girls, Babs and Linda. You think about it, Carol, and let me know."
My mom was always so practical. I knew that this was just a suggestion and there was no pressure to decide. She always let me come up with my own decisions when ever possible However, during the rest of the movie, all I thought about was the toy crib and high chair. I kept thinking that my mom was right, as my friends and I had not played with them in a very long time. It was more of a comfort to me having them tucked away in my closet. During the commercial breaks, I started again to visualize my new bedroom. I was pretty sure I was getting a vanity and a matching boudoir chair for Christmas. Mom already said I could have an extra bed in my room for sleep-overs and the small book case in the hallway was going into my room for my growing collection of Nancy Drew books. I just could not figure out where the doll crib and high chair would go except back into a closet. I guess my mother's suggestion seemed rational because with this deeper reflection, keeping those toys tucked away in another closet now seemed like a silly and impractical idea. After the movie was over and I was getting ready for bed, I told my mother that Babs and Linda could have my baby crib and high chair. However, I was going to keep my Betsy Wetsy for my doll collection. Once my mind was made up, I didn't think of the toy furniture again, nor did I notice when they magically disappeared from my closet days later.
The holidays, as usual, were festive and full of fun. Christmas Eve was always at our house, as small as it was, and on Christmas day we accepted invitations to share Christmas dinner with friends from out of town. This year we were going to Whittier to see the Miller family who had six kids. Rosemary Miller always had a traditional turkey dinner and Mom was bringing a pumpkin pie and her Christmas date nut bread. In a box, however, was a big frozen pan of my mother's home recipe lasagna, a bag of dinner rolls, two date nut breads, a pie and a bottle of wine with a bow on it.
What's all of this?" I asked as we were putting presents and food into the car. "I thought we were having turkey for dinner" I said, probably sounding a little confused.
"We are," Mom said, closing the hatch to the station wagon, "at the Miller's. These other things are for Don and Bonny Sharp. We're going to make a stop to see them on our way out of town.
I knew half the fun of Christmas day was visiting friends, exchanging gifts and wishing each other good tidings and such. I had never seen where the Sharps lived. I just heard they lived up on the hill with the fancy houses were. I imagined a grand reception oh a fine house and figured that mom's lasagna was an offering to a much larger well stock holiday buffet. WOW, I thought, two celebrations in one day. Now that's REALLY Christmas. And besides, now that I was thinking of it, I figured that it would be a good time for the Sharp's to thank me for giving them my very nice wooden crib and chair. The gratitude would be an added bonus.
We all piled into the Rambler in our holiday best and headed up the hill to the fancy part of town. I knew our family was moving up to a nicer neighborhood in a couple of weeks, but it wasn't going to be this nice, I thought, as my dad drove through streets with modern split levels and vintage California stuccos. The entire hillside neighborhood was decked out for the holidays with twinkling Christmas lights on roof lines and big inviting evergreen wreaths on every doorway. One house had a complete three dimensional nativity scene on the lawn. I was very impressed by the show of affluence. Dad pulled into the driveway of a stately old two story pink stucco house with weathered red Spanish tiles oh the roof and a large porch in front of the circular driveway lined with papas grass and palm trees. As we got out of the car, my dad too the box of food and my mother selected two wrapped presents with the names "Linda" and "Babs" on them. I started to walk to the big house when my mother told me I was going the wrong way. I turned around and saw my family walking to what looked to me like a garage. As I moved towards the smaller building, I could see what I thought looked like a window to a detached garage was, in fact, the window to a little cottage. Dad knocked on the door and Mr. Sharp answered.
"Why, Merry Christmas, all of you!" said Mr. Sharp, "Come on in." We entered a sparsely furnished room. It had a small, thinly decorated Christmas tree in the corner. The decorations were obviously hand made. Mrs. Sharp was clearing off the remnants of their breakfast which looked like it had consisted of cold cereal. Mrs. Sharp hugged my mother and called her an angle as my father took the box of food into the kitchen. "Please stay for coffee" I heard her say to my parents as she unwrapped of the date nut breads. The grown ups chatted in the small dining area, as my brother found his way to the girl's bedroom. We could hear squeals from laughter and playing drifting down the hallway. Linda the six years old, came rushing from her room towards me and grabbed my hand.
"You wana see what Santa brought us?" she said, pulling me back down the hall to the tiny bedroom that belonged to both her and her sister. I followed her lead to another near empty room that had only a single bed and a small chest of drawers in it. The only new looking objects in the room were my old crib and high chair which were now sporting red bows dangling from the sides. The crib was filled with some stuffed toys that looked all too familiar and in the high chair was a new doll. The girls were jumping up and down will infectious glee.
"See what Santa got us? See what Santa got us?" they both squealed, it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement as they showed me their new crib and high chair filled with toys.
It was at that moment I knew I had been indirectly promoted to Santa and suddenly I felt so much older than eleven years old. I knew my next comments would be critical to the two little girls' belief in Christmas. "Oh, Linda, how beautiful," I said as my hand ran across the shinny wood for the very last time. "Santa must think you're pretty special to bring you all of this." Linda's little face beamed as she showed my a few more small gifts she and her sister received. I wondered why my mother didn't prepare me for the role I was to play in their Christmas.
"What is Santa bring you, Carol?" said Linda.
I though of my beautiful vanity with its circular mirror and fancy chintz covered chair and the mountain of other lovely gifts that came from my parents and friends. I felt so rich in comparison to the humble surroundings and yet the two little girls' joy over hand-me-down gifts could not be diminished by any standard. "Oh, Santa gave me every thing I needed," I said. And more than I realized I thought to myself while taking one more moment to observe the smiles on those cute little girls' faces.
I don't remember much about the rest of the day. I just know my whole perception of Christmas and what it all meant for me had changed. It was the first time I had a glimpse of what it was like to feel grown up and be entrusted with an important piece of Christmas magic. I had arrived self-centeredly with grand expectations of feasts, gratitude and sweeping thanks from a fancy neighborhood couple. Their humble life condition had awakened my appreciation to what I had so easily discarded without too much thought. And for an instant that moment melted into my memory as the time I became an anonymous Santa. I smiled to myself, feeling humbled, as I diverted my attention back to two little girls playing on that Christmas morning.