17

I have many fond Christmas memories. And photo-based memories of the Christmases I couldn’t possibly remember on my own, such as 1966 when we got a puppy. This is when we still lived in Washington DC and when there were just two of us kids: me and Christopher.

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Among Grandma Mildred’s things, I found the photos Mom sent her every year to document the handmade holiday outfits that Mildred made for me when I was little. They often featured gigantic bows or crazy amounts of lace and accessories such as a matching hat. Here I am modeling one such outfit. This is probably the Christmas of 1968.

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Do you see that stocking hanging from the mantle? Mom sewed two of them from red flannel: one for me and one for Christopher. I still have mine and I know it belongs to me because she wrote JENNY inside.

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I have a particularly fond memory of Christmas one year when we were pretty young—I think it was 4th grade because we were living in the house at 11th & Denny that was set back from the street behind an apartment building and another house but had the benefit of an empty lot alongside it that was perfect for playing. Here we are in the empty lot, playing with bunnies that one of Mom’s boyfriends bought us for Easter. I have no idea where we kept those bunnies or how long we had them but boy were they cute while they lasted. (Note that Jesse is wearing pajamas outside. And rain boots. And I’m wearing my treasured Dos Equis tee shirt.)

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The house, which was built in 1905, had a big glass window in the front door, which opened into a lovely entry with an open staircase leading to the bedrooms upstairs. The first floor had rolling doors between the living and dining rooms and a kitchen with a large pantry at the back of the house. One year for my birthday, Mom turned a wall in the living room into a makeshift mural. She used pastels to draw a large beautiful tree and then drew a figure sitting at the base of the tree that she said was me. She used the dining room as her bedroom so that we could each have our own room upstairs. Christopher slept in the unfinished attic, I had a room at the back of the house and Thomas and Jesse had the front rooms. When Uncle Jerry moved in with us, Thomas and Jesse must’ve shared a room. The house had one bathroom, upstairs at the back of the house. The bathroom had a claw foot tub instead of a shower and enough room for furniture should we have chosen to furnish it.

That 4th grade Christmas, Mom told us she could afford to get us each a single present that cost no more than five dollars so I asked for an elastic rainbow belt (and who wouldn’t?) On Christmas Eve, my brothers and I set out sleeping bags fanned out around the tree so that we could fall asleep gazing at our gifts under the tiny lights from the tree and wake there together Christmas morning.

We spent many Christmases in Lacey, Washington at Grandma Christine’s house. There we would feast on her specialties—most breakfasts included grits, fried eggs, and sausage or bacon—and play with Lego from the large box she kept for us, watch television, or follow behind our aunts, the youngest of whom, Regina, was only six years older than me. If I was lucky, Regina would pay attention to me for a while before being drawn away to tend to her high school friends. I adored Regina so when she asked me, when I was 10 or 11, Can I pluck your eyebrows? I naturally said Yes.

My aunt Debra, who was an interior design student in Portland, was impossibly fancy and self-assured. One year she brought me a tee shirt on which she’d had my name printed vertically along the right side. I thought it was incredibly chic and couldn’t believe my luck. Here I am, with Mom, in the “rec room” at Grandma’s house that Christmas.

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I’ve enjoyed creating Christmas traditions with my own children and try not to trot out the story of our one-gift-each Christmas too frequently, except to say that we were incredibly happy that year so one doesn’t need piles of gifts to be happy. Our trunk of Christmas decorations holds the stocking that Mom made for me as well as the stockings that I made for Willa and Arlo based on Mom’s design. The trunk has other things too including decorations that are less significant. I think I can let some of those things go .

Offering: a selection of cute little ornaments that never seem to make it onto our tree

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