You are ten in 1962 and it’s coming on Christmas. At W.T. Grant’s you buy a one-inch tall plastic nativity scene for a quarter. It looks like the nativity your mother has only much smaller. You don’t think about the religious connotation. You want to shrink and slip inside the manger scene.
At Drug Fair, you touch patterned holiday paper. Your mother can’t afford the fancy paper, but she lets you pick out package tie-ons. Among tiny cotton batting snowmen and pipe cleaner Santa Clauses, you choose nylon angels. Only special presents deserve those angels springing from red bows. You learn how to curl the ends of ribbon with the scissors blade. You get carried away and make spirals two-feet long.
Outside, you go into the woods with one of the angels you took for yourself. You climb up on the fallen tree that is sometimes a hobby horse. Winding the wire around your index finger, you make the angel fly. You whisper secrets. She is your best friend right then. It’s coming on Christmas and you have your very own angel.
Your mother puts out the coffee table decoration: a slab of Styrofoam with bronze and gold reindeer pulling a plastic sleigh. You love those reindeer beyond reason and worry their fragile legs will break from being stabbed in Styrofoam year after year. You let your angel ride on the back of the little silver one.
On payday Fridays your family drives to town. Sitting alone in the backseat you are swallowed by darkness. Then the shopping center bursts on your delighted eye. Peebles has the prettiest windows, everything gold and silver.
You feel the tug of Woolworth’s. As always, you visit the fluttery parakeets first. A toy bird sings in a brass cage. You’d like to have that. And art supplies. And notebooks!
Holiday pins are all the go. Ladies wear them on their coats. Big brooches shaped like Christmas trees with rhinestone ornaments. Your mother has a wreath pin. At Murphy’s, she lets you get a Santa Claus pin—his nose lights up when you pull its string. All the way home, you pull the string. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Your mother says you’ll burn up the battery and you wish you could keep the cheerful red nose shining all the time.
At the kitchen table you color a page in your “Night Before Christmas” coloring book and wonder how a person settles his brain for a long winter’s nap. You have a new Huckleberry Hound Golden Book, too. When you were little, seven or so, “Huckleberry Hound” was your favorite show.
Friday night, a brand-new program is on, “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.” You sit on the floor in front of the TV and watch. Your mother is in the kitchen. Your stepfather is still at his second job. At first you are afraid of those ghosts taking Scrooge around. Old Scrooge visits his kid self. He is left in boarding school over Christmas and misses his sister. Old Scrooge and kid Scrooge sing “I’m All Alone in the World.” Your sister is gone, too. The living room feels very lonely and you wish Scrooge would hurry up and visit some other time in his life.
Cards arrive in batches every day. Your mother pegs them to a red-and-white line stretched across the mantle with tiny red clothespins. Numbers are popular. “Merry Christmas from the Five of Us!” “Holiday Greetings from the Four Snowmen!” The card your mother sends to friends doesn’t have a number. You receive a card from grandparents you have never seen. You sign a little snowman card from one of your stuffed animals to another.
In 1954, a Christmas card was sent from Paris, France, to Pennsylvania. It was read and displayed and then stored in a box of letters that you were given many years later.
You inherited many treasures from your mother-in-law, who died just before you married her son. The German putz houses are nearly a hundred years old. When you decorate for Christmas, the putz houses are unpacked first. The celluloid parrots are hung in places of honor. Ornaments from your husband’s family are mingled with decorations from your family.
As you arrange these old things left in your care, you think about your husband stationed on an army microwave tower in France the Christmas you were two years old. And how years and miles shrank until you were both in the same scene.
The angel granted your wish. It’s coming on Christmas.