There is a story that is very much a part of the lore of Christmas in my house. It involves my mother and she doesn’t even remember it happening.
She was in Macy’s buying a pair of gloves for someone, presumably by father, and there was a line at the register. It was the height of the season and tensions were high. The cashier was apparently getting frazzled and by the time my mother got to him he expressed his displeasure.
“I’m sorry,” he said after snapping about something. “I’m just tired.”
“Well,” my mother countered. “We’re all tired dear.”
Well, we’re all tired. That’s what we say when the Christmas rush becomes too much. At the time it just seemed like a very Mimi thing to say. As she gets older, she is becoming her mother, who was fond of saying, “Well, bless his little heart.” She would be referring to a 350 lb man. Bless his little heart.
My grandmother’s name was Kathryn, but everyone called her Nino. It was just one of those grandchild mistakes that stuck. I remember when we first moved up to the Northeast, just outside of Philadelphia, and seeing a pizza place called Nino’s. We just couldn’t believe it. And there was more than one. Nino must have been a popular name for a pizza shop owner in the mid seventies.
We spent a lot of Christmases in Oklahoma visiting my parent’s folks and the rest of our extended family. Nino has this Santa that lit up and she would hang it on the front door. It’s cheeks were so falsely rosy that she called it her High Blood Pressure Santa.
But back to shopping.
When I was kid we obviously didn’t have the Internet and there were only three channels on TV. So when it came to developing your Christmas list, there were really only two choices. The JCPenny catalog and the Sears catalog. The JCP book was called The Big Book and the company recently made the decision to bring it back after ditching in 2009 to concentrate on the web. But what they found was that more people than they knew had been using it to make buying decisions.
When we were kids, we would spend hours going through the books, making lists of what we wanted, using stars to mark the toys we liked. I’m not exactly sure what the criteria was for what got chosen, but we all seemed to usually get enough of what we asked for to make us happy.
We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but I never would have called us poor. We just weren’t going to get everything we asked for and I think we were savvy enough to know what was in our parent’s budgets.
For many years, it would have been a lot worse if it wasn’t good for old Nino. There were some times, that if it wasn’t for the check my grandmother would send my parents, we would more likely have ended up with whatever you could find in the checkout lanes at the the Woolworth. There were size kids in my family and some years, it was tight.
While both Sears and JCPenny did a pretty large mail order business, I don’t think that’s how we did much shopping. There was a local mall that opened just a year or two after we moved to Pennsylvania and they had both.
I don’t remember doing much shopping for may parents as kids. Imagine how much money I had if they were broke. But I guess I was able to scrounge up enough cash to buy my mom a card, or one of those cheap perfume necklaces. And she was so sweet, she’d wear the perfume at least once. Honestly I can’t remember many dad presents. He was always a hard man to shop for. Still is. I’m pretty sure he got screwed.
Except for the gifts he bought himself. My father is famous in our family for buying something on sale, either in person, or mail order, then wait six to nine months to give it to himself, from us. That’s okay. He got what he wanted and was happy. It was usually socks and shirts and sweaters.
I don’t remember a lot of group shopping. I think my mother did a lot of it herself, but she’d often bring one or two kids along. Clearly my father did his own.
Years later, when I got married and ended up with three step-children, I learned that my wife didn’t enjoy shopping. This is quite the understatement. She hates shopping.
Being the Christmas fanatic, I always sort of enjoyed it. I’d take the kids back to school shopping. I took them school shopping. And for most of their lives as children, I bought their Christmas presents. I did a lot of the work alone. Easier that way if you ask me. Once the internet started, I bought most everything online.
Jane is back to doing most of the shopping, although I had to put a stop to the practice of letting the kids just pick shit out online and handing over the credit card. I don’t mind buying presents, but I want them to be presents, not handouts.
As the years have gone by and we have seen our share of Christmas Pasts, I’ve thought about my mother’s statement in the department store. It has a deeper meaning than you might first expect.
Christmas can be a really stressful time for people. No one knows exactly what anyone else is going through. What happened to you that day. The stress you feel about whether or not you have enough money to buy everyone what they wanted. Someone might be working a second or even a third job just to try and make sure.
So it’s worth remembering that everyone needs a little love at this time a year, because just like Mimi said, “We’re all tired, dear.”