I have always loved Christmas. It was and still is a magical time for me. Those who choose to celebrate the holiday embrace kindness and sweetness and are not reluctant to use the word “love” in greetings and departures.
Family traditions abound; some welcome and some mundane.
I was a very impressionable child. I was also fortunate to have parents who were determined to provide me and my sister with everything needed to prosper and succeed in life: a loving environment, nourishment, shelter, clothing, values and integrity. My parents were not perfect in the eyes of the world, but they were the epitome of perfection to me and my sister, Lisa. And, on this rainy, foggy, dreary day just about a week before Christmas, I stumbled upon two of my life’s most meaningful lessons — lessons I have never forgotten or minimalized.
My father’s mother, who lived in southern Maine, sent Christmas presents year after year to her grandchildren. The gifts were mailed or delivered to one of my dad’s sisters, who would call asking us to drive over and pick them up. The day I am about to describe was before Lisa was born, so the only gift to bring home was for me and I knew exactly what it was — slippers.
Every year, my grandmother sent me slippers. Some were pink with white faux fur. Some were light blue with embroidered rabbits or flowers. One year, I received a bright yellow pair with daisies etched on the front. None of them had tread. I was never impressed and, to be honest, never thankful. I did not like those shiny, gaudy slippers I received year after year.
We set out for my aunt’s house in the pouring rain, discussing the green grass and the areas of leftover ice. The sides of the road were muddy, and heavy fog diminished visibility. I sat in the backseat of our black Chevy Impala, my arms folded across my chest. Where were the softly falling snow and the white harvested fields? We could even see the old potato “tops” that had been left behind.
We arrived at my aunt’s house, where she waited with open arms. After cookies and hot chocolate, my aunt retrieved my gift from beneath the tree and handed it to me with a smile.
“There you go, Belinda. I wonder what Grammie got you this year?”
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders, wanting nothing more than to exit the too-warm, crowded kitchen. We walked out to the car, our “Merry Christmases” and “I love yous” trailing behind us. I held the box in my arms, leaning my head back. I shook the box gently, hearing a rustle inside; no doubt the rustle of two slippers. My grandmother always wrote what was in the box down on the right side of the package. I knew before even checking that my box would have “slippers” written there on the too-shiny wrapping paper for everyone to see – including me.
My mother turned around. “What’s wrong, Belinda? You seem out of sorts today.”
For some reason, my mom’s innocent question acted as a catalyst, resulting in me throwing my Christmas gift across the back seat and right up against the rear window. I heard a sound much like glass breaking, but I hoped I was mistaken. I was also in a bit of trouble, as my dad put his signal light on and pulled to the side of the road. The three of us sat there, the only sound the Impala’s engine, purring dutifully and emitting soft gray exhaust that lost itself in the persistent fog.
My mother turned around again, sadness and disappointment in her sapphire-like blue eyes. She spoke with obvious restraint: “Pick the box up. Set it on the seat. Do not say anything. I assure you that when we get back home, we will discuss this in detail and there will be consequences for this outburst. Do you understand?” I nodded my head and reached over and put the box on the seat. I heard something rattle once again but I said nothing. We drove home in silence.
Part two of this Northern Yarn will appear in next week’s edition. I hope everyone is enjoying this lovely time of the year. Be safe, my friends.
Belinda Ouellette lives in Caribou with her Goldendoodle, Barney. You may email her at email@example.com.