Biff America: The joys of a middle-class Christmas
VAIL CO, Colorado
When my mother would pack up our family’s Christmas decorations on New Year’s Day, she would include a note for my father to be read the next year. Her note would be placed in the box of lights and ornaments that would reside in the attic to be unpacked the following December. She did that for most of the 50 years they were married.
Written on the envelope, yearly, were the same three words, “To my hero.”
The subject of those letters was much debated by my five siblings and me. My sisters speculated that those letters were love notes; my brothers hoped they were suggestions of potential gifts that might be considered for us the following year.
Not too long after both my parents passed away, while packing up their home, we found one of the letters written the Christmas before I was born.
The located letter was disappointingly ordinary. It was two sheets of stationery placed in a simple card with a picture of a cabin in the snowy woods with smoke coming out of the chimney.
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Written in my mother’s beautiful handwriting was a recap of what had transpired over the previous 12 months. My Mum gave a brief review of the holiday saying it was fun but tiring. She wrote of births, deaths and a new washing machine that didn’t leak. She spoke of the children’s health and schooling; the only mention of me was that she “was hoping ‘Jeffrey’ would be on the way or arrive by next Christmas.”
This was a surprise to me for a couple of reasons – one that I was planned and that she already had a named picked out and secondly that she was that confident she would be with child within a few months. I know first-hand of many couples who have tried to conceive for years, though my parents had high hopes that they would in a few months.
I was born that next December 28th.
The note continued for a few more sentences about family and friends with a mention of a recent movie they attended; my mother hoped they could have more “dates” during the next year, now that the kids are old enough to take care of themselves. (No mention was made of the wrench in the works my arrival would cause.)
The only part of the letter that could be considered at all romantic was the close when my mother wrote, “With all my love, a love that gets stronger every year.”
My sisters who found that letter also found a shoebox of snapshots. Most of those photos were also taken before I was born.
Those pictures and letter painted a picture of my folks of which I was unaware. I remember my parents as being, tired, stressed and edgy; the couple in those pictures looked young, fresh and happy.
My parents’ marriage was not perfect; there were some difficult years. There were years lost to alcohol, dysfunction and psychological issues. But when you place a difficult decade next to a more than a half-century relationship, it puts “difficulty” in perspective.
But even during the difficult years, my family would rally around the holidays. My father, armed with a flask of Four Roses, would risk life and limb, standing on a rickety ladder, decorating the house and outdoors trees. My mother would direct the trimming of the tree and ceremoniously place out the nativity scene my oldest sister made in Girl Scouts. It was my mother’s mission to keep the holiday spiritual – an uphill battle with a half-dozen greedy kids.
The middle class has it best. I pity both the very poor and the very wealthy during the holidays; the poor have so little, and the rich have such abundance it is often taken for granted.
We were working-class enough to not have all we wanted and wealthy enough to have all that was needed. We were also blessed enough to be delighted with what we had.
I wish more than just one of my mother’s holiday missives had survived. I have to believe the rest were much like the one we found: a travelogue of an ordinary life of two fragile folks doing the best they could. But it is those two ordinary people to whom I owe everything.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at BiffAmerica.net