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A Penny for Your Christmas Memories

By Cindy Murphy

Tags: Christmas, Memories,

CindyMurphyBlog.jpgFlip through the television channels during this time of year, and you’re likely to come across the movie, A Christmas Story, at least once. You might sit and watch the entire movie, or maybe you’ve seen it so many times, you stop for just a few minutes to catch your favorite scene as a grown-up Ralphie Parker recalls the most memorable Christmas of his childhood. What is your most memorable childhood Christmas? I can say with all honestly that I don’t have one.

I do remember that Christmas as a kid was magical. When we were very little, Santa brought everything. When I say everything, I mean everything. We’d hang our stockings above the fireplace, and leave a plate of cookies and a glass of milk on the coffee table before going to bed on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, the cookies and milk would be gone, a thank-you note left in their place, and the stockings had been filled. In the center of it all, a fully lit and decorated tree with presents stacked all around, would be standing where there wasn't a tree when we went to bed! Santa had certainly been busy while we were sleeping!

Even before we woke up, we knew Santa had come, of course. I’d heard him up on the roof during the night! This was not just a figment of my childhood imagination; my brother heard him too. He’d run into my room, and whisper excitedly, “He’s here! He’s here!” We’d have to contain our curiosity, and not go watch him come down the chimney; Santa didn’t come if he sensed he was being watched. We listened to his sleigh bells, and hear his heavy footsteps above us as he made his way across the roof.

I’m not sure when my parents stopped doing everything on Christmas Eve, or when Dad stopped getting up in the attic to ring a string of bells and stomp around loud enough to be sure we’d wake up and hear Santa on the roof. I can’t imagine the work they put into just this one night! But while it lasted, it was magic.

I can also remember being very little when making the long drive to get our pictures taken with Santa at J.L. Hudson’s on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. This was in the late sixties before my youngest brother was born, and back when Hudson’s downtown flagship store was the tallest department store in the world, and the second largest store only to Macy’s in New York. At Christmas, a 9-story Tree of Lights decorated the outside of the building. In the windows, mechanical ice skaters moved around frozen ponds with ice as smooth as glass, and mechanical elves worked making toys in Santa’s workshop. There were closer places my parents could have taken us to see Santa, but everyone even remotely close to the Detroit area knew the “real” Santa only came to Hudson’s downtown. I never remember seeing Santa though; I’ve only seen the pictures of my brother and me on his lap as proof that he was there amidst my memories of the lights, and mechanical elves.

The one time I do remember seeing Santa was not at a department store. Neither did he ride in a sleigh filled with presents and pulled by reindeer. He drove a snowmobile, and the sleigh was filled with neighborhood kids. He pulled up to the house one snowy night, whisking us all off to a lodge in the woods. Outside, the parking lot was full of snowmobiles; inside the lodge was full of children. We had punch and cookies while Santa passed out presents. I don’t remember what he gave me – maybe a doll, it was, or a coloring book – it doesn’t matter. The thing that stands out in my memory is lying in that sleigh, warm and snug with neighborhood friends under layers of blankets, and watching the snow swirl above us as we sped through the night. I also remember that Santa looked suspiciously like our neighbor ... obviously because the real Santa was at Hudson’s.

There is not one thing I remember wanting was much as Ralphie wanted an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. In fact, not one Christmas present I received stands out in my mind at all. The gift I do remember well was one Dad gave to Mom. It’s what I’ve come to know since having my own kids, as The Mom Purse; the kind of purse so big it can hold an entire family’s belongings on any given outing, because it’s sure that’s where they will end up. It’s the kind of purse that makes women who carry them permanently lopsided, with one shoulder lower than the other. Mom searched through its many compartments as if there might be a fortune buried somewhere amidst the wads of paper puffing out the purse to show off its full Mom Purse capacity. Finally, she found it! With a look of joy on her face, she held it up for every one to see. It was a penny. “You remembered!” she said to my Dad, who was beaming at remembering whatever it was he was supposed to remember.

 “What’s so special about a penny?” I asked, wondering why she would get so excited over something, even back then, that was of so little value. “You know that finding a penny is good luck,” she explained, “and finding a penny inside a new purse or wallet means it’ll never be empty. It means the giver is wishing you good fortune.” There might have been more significance to this small gesture than I understood then or even now; something more that it represented only between Mom and Dad. I’m not sure why I remember this short little scene so distinctly either. But it’s as clear – right down to the excited expression on my Mom’s face – as if it happened yesterday. Perhaps it’s because that’s when I first understood that it’s not how big or small the gift, it’s the thought that goes into it that matters.   

There are other small memories I have from the Christmases of my childhoog ... listening to my dad sing Handel’s “Messiah” with the interfaith choir, and fidgeting on the hard wooden pews of the church, until at last, the concert concluded with the Hallelujah Chorus. Then all my fidgeting stopped; I was entranced, completely moved by the beauty of the music. Hearing the Hallelujah Chorus still gives me chills to this day. There was sledding at Yates Cider Mill, with all of us kids piled on top of my dad on our long wooden toboggan. “You’re going to break your necks!” was Mom’s version of “You’ll shoot your eye out!” heard by Ralphie over and over in A Christmas Story. Yet somehow we all made it to bottom of the hill each and every time. Our reward for not breaking our necks was hot cider and warm doughnuts from the mill.

Coming home at night after family outings such as those, I remember seeing the huge blue star blazing atop our house. Dad had found it discarded among rubble at the dump one year. Made from aluminum piping, he’d strung it with blue lights, and erected it every Christmas on the roof. I saw it recently while we were cleaning out Mom’s house, still stored on its nail in the garage, forty years after Dad rescued it the dump. The blue bulbs have long since burned out, but the memories of seeing it lit on top of the house shine as brightly as the star once did.

My childhood Christmas memories come in bits and pieces – just short little scenes played out in my head. There’s not a single memory that stands above the rest as being grander than any other, and nothing as singularly spectacular as Raphie’s Christmas of the Red Ryder BB-gun. They are more like Mom’s penny. They’re little things that to me represent a small fortune. I am a lucky woman, indeed.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season filled with all the stuff of great memories.

cindy murphy
12/31/2010 9:45:21 AM

Thanks for stopping in, and for your comment, Shannon. Michelle, hope those rockin' days are over for you, and aren't revisited with the grands! Happy New Year to both of you.

michelle house
12/29/2010 10:39:54 PM

lol, Cindy, I have heard rocks in the washer, not a pleasant sound at all. lol

s.m.r. saia
12/29/2010 10:44:50 AM

What a beautiful story. A great thought to take into the new year. Happy New Year, Cindy. :0)

cindy murphy
12/28/2010 4:20:24 PM

Nana's Pockets - that's cute, Michelle! It makes me smile. More stuff ends up in my purse then my pockets, though occasionally they'll be stuffed with leaves or acorns after going on a walk with Shannon. Shelby though, was a pocket-stuffer when she was little - I never quite knew what I was going to find in there when I did laundry. It was almost scary reaching my hand into them. I once forgot to check the pockets of her jeans and ended up washing her entire "rock collection"....which was a couple of pocketfuls of pea gravel from the playground (I wonder how she made it through the day without toppling over from the weight of it). Ever wonder what pea gravel sounds like during the spin cycle of a washing machine? It's not a pleasant noise, because you just know something terribly wrong is going on in there.

michelle house
12/28/2010 12:03:48 AM

Cindy, we did have a nice Christmas.:) I now suffer from Nana's pockets. When I walk the grands to the bus stop, I get to carry pine cones, rocks, pretty leaves, back home, for them to retrieve after school. lol. Not nearly as heavy as a purse, but makes for some interesting finds, when I forget I have those items. ;-p

cindy murphy
12/26/2010 8:33:12 PM

Hi, Michelle. Lucky you! I have not outgrown the Mom Purse stage yet; I recently cleaned it out, and found a bunch of rocks in the bottom. No wonder why it was so heavy! They'd been in there since last summer, when Shannon found a bunch of stones near the beach she thought were pretty. Of course, they found a temporary home in the Mom Purse. I was thinking about the hazards of carrying my Mom Purse the other day when I was cross-country skiing. My left ski boot squeaks horribly. Come to think of it, my left work boot squeaks too. As does my left roller-ski...and probably my sneakers, and every other left shoe in my closet. I think it's because I carry the purse on my left shoulder. All that extra weight on that side probably permanently threw off my natural balance....or something like that. I'm not sure what exactly, but I'm sure the Mom Purse is to blame. We did have a wonderful Christmas; thanks for asking. Hope you did too!

michelle house
12/26/2010 11:54:46 AM

Cindy, what a wonderful memory, I too had a Mom purse. lol, I am no longer lopsided, thank goodness. lol. Hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas. Hugs Michelle

cindy murphy
12/25/2010 12:09:52 AM

Merry Christmas, Stepper and Dave! Shhhhh...I finally got everyone to bed, even Santa's helpers, and am just putting the final touches here and there before I...ahem...I mean "Santa" heads to bed herself. Hope you both have a wonderful holiday weekend surrounded by those you cherish. Cheers!

nebraska dave
12/24/2010 12:05:09 AM

@Cindy, Your Christmas memory lane jogged a few memories for sure. "A Christmas Story" is still the greatest Christmas movie ever in my humble opinion. The gift I remember most was the battery operated three transistor radio. I acquired it as a Christmas present when I was about 12 years old. The radio is long gone but the box it came in is now home for a few dozen steel war pennies. The next Christmas started my music career with my first six string Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar. That led up to the Fender Jaguar electric guitar with a window rattling high power amplifier. Many weekend sessions were out in the detached garage. It could be we were the very first garage band. It attracted both adult and teens. We would crank out tunes like “Little Surfer Girl”, “Fun, Fun, Fun” and slide into Ventures songs like “Pipe Line” and “Walk Don't Run”. Then we'd switch to tunes like “Your Cheatin' Heart” and other Hank Williams songs. A good follow up to that would be Buck Owens "Act Naturally". Well, a few years ago I finally acquired my life long dream when I bought my own Christmas present which is an acoustic Martin. Now if I can just find the time to get back to practicing. My tastes have changed just a little over the years and now I'm a flat pickin' bluegrass lover. However my flat pickin' skills are in bad need of exercise. It's another thing I can put on the list for 2011. Have a memorable Christmas and a wonderful new year.

chris davis
12/23/2010 8:39:06 PM

Hi Cindy, I have a few special Christmas memories, and like yours they center more on family than the presents. No matter what things I wanted, and received or didn't receive, what I remember now is family coming to visit Christmas Day. Maybe that was the best present of all. Thanks for sharing!