Notes From Nestipac

By Phyllis Rauch

Of Christmases Past

 

notes-dec09Even if every Christmas can’t be perfect, I suspect we all treasure a few very special ones. Here are three of my favorites.

I was four years old, and my mom worked in one of the wartime factories. We were looking forward to Grandma’s, where the holiday was traditionally celebrated: family, wonderful food, and home-made presents. Then, I came down with the measles. We hadn’t even decorated our little project house, and things looked bleak.

On Christmas Eve we heard sleigh bells outside, then a loud knock on our door. And there stood Santa, with a sack over his shoulder. How did Santa know that I was a little girl in love with books? He unpacked scores of picture books, books that could be made into rooms, nursery rhyme books opening like fans.

About ten years later Christmas was again drawing near. My mother and I traveled downtown to look at the window displays. Mom had me try on a few winter coats, though I well knew that there wasn’t enough money in the family budget for a new winter coat. One coat dazzled me. It was the softest gray with a flared skirt, silver buttons and a hood lined with green.

I was tall for my age and most of my clothing was handed down from adult relatives, not geared to an adolescent just awakening to fashion. My brown winter coat was the worst. A chesterfield, it was double breasted, with pointy lapels. The buttons were so sharp they severed the threads and fell off weekly.

A couple of hours before Christmas Eve church services, my mother said, “You’d better get your coat from the closet so I can check the buttons and make sure none are ready to fall off tonight. What I found when I opened the closet door: that soft grey coat of my dreams, with the perky green hood. I wrapped my arms around the ultimate coat for a 14 year old, blotting a few tears as well.

Ten years later, I was invited to my German boyfriend’s for the holiday. Sharing a ride, we arrived in high spirits at the Berlin/East Germany border, only to discover I had forgotten my official documents. Christmas or no, these grim-faced guards weren’t letting me through.

Many hours later, I sat on a west-bound train, knowing I would miss the Christmas Eve festivities. The checkpoint safely past, dreary East Germany still rolled past the windows. Alone in my compartment, I was feeling blue until I remembered my unopened gifts from co-workers. Opening them up I found a book of German Christmas carols and a miniature crèche made of cornhusk figures. Somehow I also discovered a candle in my shoulder bag.

I opened the little collapsible shelf near the window, set up my crèche and lit the candle. Then I began singing carols. A light flashed in the dark hall; the door to my compartment flew open. Oh dear, what now? Everything in this sad, Iron Curtain country seemed to be forbidden. For certain I was breaking two or three rules. Afraid to look up, I continued to sing. After what seemed an eternal pause, the conductor said, in German, “Well, you have certainly made a nice little Christmas for yourself young lady. Frohe Weihnachten.” I had the feeling my friendly East German might be telling my story later at home or to his colleagues.

Thanks for reading and a lovely holiday to all.

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