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November 29, 2009

Marie Bostwick: Christmas Memory

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Marie Bostwick --- co-author of SNOW ANGELS, featured in this week's Basket of Holiday Cheer contest --- thinks back to one particularly tough Christmas, and fondly recalls the present she received which made that difficult time seem magical.

When I was a little girl, the youngest of four daughters, our Christmases were large and lavish. We liked to put our tree up during the first week of December. As soon as the decorating was done and the colored lights illuminated, we placed dozens of presents under the evergreen branches. As the days ticked off to December 25th, the pile of presents spread in an ever-widening ring, burying the living room rug under a sea of red, green, and gold packages.

One Christmas morning, my sisters and I ran downstairs to discover that, in addition to the bulging stockings, Santa had left us a complete play kitchen with a miniature refrigerator oven and a sink that had actual running water! In the mid-sixties, this was nothing short of miraculous. My sisters and I were the envy of the neighborhood.

But, a few months later, my parents separated, and my mother told me they were getting a divorce. When I was older, I learned that our family business had gone under at about the same time.

Our world changed overnight. My mother, who had been going to college part-time, increased her course load, wanting to finish her degree as quickly as possible so she could get a job that would support us. But we needed money now, so Mom also took a night job in a bookstore. Babysitters were expensive, so I’d spend my afternoons at the bookstore sitting cross-legged on the floor in the children’s section, quietly reading book after book while my mother waited on customers.

My favorite volume was a beautiful hardbound copy of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, printed on thick, creamy paper with exquisite colored illustrations. The reading level was beyond me, but that didn’t matter. I loved that book. The vivid illustrations provided good clues as to the plot. Even so, I wished my mom could sit down and read it to me. But I knew she didn’t have time for that or money enough to buy the book so we could read it at home. Young as I was, I understood that money was tight.

When Christmas came, there was no mountain of gifts spilling out from under the tree branches. We did have presents, but they were few and modest, and opening them without my dad felt strange. My mother gave me two gifts that year, a round cardboard box containing one hundred crayons and, yes, that beautiful edition of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ. After opening it, I danced around the tree for joy, holding the book over my head like a trophy.

Mom started to cry. I stopped dancing and stared at her. My sisters stared, too. We’d never seen anyone cry on Christmas. Christmas was supposed to be the highlight of the year. It always had been before.

Sniffling and wiping away tears, Mom apologized. “I just feel bad. I tried my best but I couldn’t afford much Christmas this year. I’m sorry. I know you must be disappointed. You don’t have to pretend.”

But I wasn’t pretending. Ten running-water play kitchens couldn’t have delighted me more than that book. I tried to explain that to my mother.

I don’t remember exactly what I said but I do remember that she stopped crying. And I do remember bringing Mom my book and asking her to read to me.

And I remember that Christmas, sitting on my mother’s lap, turning the pages as she read and, together, we left the world of broken dreams and empty promises, and traveled down the yellow brick road to the wonderful land of Oz.

-- Marie Bostwick

Stop by later today as Mary Burton tells us how a few books on a cold December 25th changed her life and launched her into the world of writing.