Recently someone asked the question what is your favorite Christmas memory? I couldn’t answer immediately. Can I answer according to genres of memories? Of course I have favorites from my daughters’ childhoods, and I have favorites that are connected with my dearest friends. One memory, however, is highlighted for me, and I think it is time to share.
When I was sixteen years old I started writing freelance for our county newspaper. No illusions of grandeur involved. It was just a small town, weekly paper. I wrote feature articles and occasionally did my own photography for my articles. I can’t express how much fun this little job was for me. To be able to interview and have conversations with interesting people, write their stories and record their expressions through film incorporated so many things I enjoyed.
I was an only child until I was almost eighteen. The Christmas I am recounting was before I had a baby brother. When I look back now, I realize how young my mother actually was. Young, pretty, charming and only thirty-four years old. Today I am ten years older than she was that Christmas—this detail fascinates me.
Christmas was always a strange event at our house. I do not say this to be critical, but just simply because I didn’t grow up with set traditions. One year Christmas was one way and the next it would be completely different. For some reason that year Christmas was at my grandmother’s house.
We ate dinner; honestly, I don’t even remember what was on the menu. I was preoccupied. After dinner was over my mother gathered everyone and pushed a huge box toward me. Huge. Beautifully wrapped and hard to move. No one else had a gift to open and I felt quite awkward. Everyone was watching me. I unwrapped the box; the brown exterior gave me no clue as to its contents. Eagerly I opened the box. Certainly what was inside was not what I expected. Inside were shredded newspaper and other packages. I am not sure how many, but I pulled out the first one and opened it.
I am sure I looked at my mother as if she had grown three heads. The first inside package was filled with potatoes. Yes, you read that correctly. Potatoes. No explanations. Everyone started to smile. I pulled out the next box. I opened it with much less enthusiasm. Inside this box was a five pound bag of flour. No explanations. Everyone chuckled. I did not. Quickly I decided everyone in the room had been clued in on this Christmas prank.
I pulled out a third box. When I got the paper off I was surprised. Surely not, I dared not to hope considering that so far I had potatoes and flour. I opened the box. Startled I reached in and pulled out exactly what was pictured on the box. I was stunned speechless. I was holding a 35 mm camera. Oh, it was a beautifully professional black monstrosity of a thing. I remember my hands shaking as I removed the lens cap. I lifted the camera to my eye and peered through the viewfinder. I felt the magic; I tingled.
Before I could fully absorb this magic my mother spoke, “There’s more. You’re not finished yet.”
I looked around and everyone nodded. I put my camera down and reached into the box again. This time I unwrapped canned goods. Green beans, I think. Maybe corn. By now, I had caught onto the game. I can’t remember what was in the next box. I reached for the last one. I am not sure, but I think I held my breath. What could top a 35 mm camera? Again, the box caused me to pause. Surely not. Surely this was not what was inside!
I tore the flaps back and pulled out…a typewriter.
Not just any typewriter, but one with an LCD screen that enabled me to correct my text before it ever touched the page. Flabbergasted might be a good word to describe my feeling.
A camera and a typewriter.
Almost thirty years have passed since that Christmas. Thirty years. I am sure my memory is colored and muted in some ways. Very much like when we were young and visited our grandparents’ house and it seemed enormous, then years later we returned and suddenly the same house seemed very small. I am sure I have some of the details out of place or perhaps even incorrect.
I don’t, however, have the impact these gifts made on me incorrect.
My mother invested in my future. She recognized my promise and gave me something to empower that potential.
She invested in my love of beauty. Over the yeas I used that camera to take many photographs. This developed my eye to see the unfamiliar. I learned to see something incredible in both the ugly and the lovely.
She invested in my love of words. I still have poetry and short stories printed from that early word processor. It went to college with me and helped me produce quite a few research papers.
She invested in my imagination. There was incredible magic for me in those captured images and descriptive words created with that camera and typewriter.
That Christmas my mother invested in me. With those gifts she acknowledged my giftings and encouraged them.
Many elements from that Christmas are gone. Sadly even the camera and the typewriter have been retired.
But the magic they held remains.
Thank you, Mom. Thank you so much.