Christmas 1964 will forever be etched on my heart. I grew up in the Ellicott Mall projects, where families shared the good times and the bad times by pulling together and pooling resources, however meager, to support those in need. It is a lesson that continues to follow me every day of my life.
Our young family of seven – my parents, three girls and two boys; transplants from North Carolina – was experiencing life’s lessons while sharing the trials and tribulations of other families within our tight-knit community.
We established our own Christmas traditions, which included taking our baths early on Christmas Eve and dressing in our new pajamas, robes and slippers, a tradition we carry on for our younger grandchildren today.
To flatter the hair of my sisters and me, my mother would roll up our bangs using a brown paper bag twisted specifically for that purpose. What child doesn’t want to look good for Santa Claus?
Christmas songs were played on the stereo and eggnog was enjoyed by all. Then it was off to bed. Easier said than done, but we were ready, whispering about all of the goodies and toys we hoped for. Sleep came eventually.
The next morning we rose at 5 a.m. I remember running into the living room where the Christmas tree stood and watching as my parents showered my siblings with their own special toys. I stood back waiting to be acknowledged.
Then my mother looked at me and tenderly said, “San, since you are the oldest  and soon to be in the double digits, we felt that you would understand that we wanted to take care of the younger children, and since your birthday is in January, there would be more funds to buy you a few things then.”
Then she handed me a box of dominos and said she hoped I liked them. I was sick! But I stood tall and smiled and said that I understood, as long as there were several games that the entire family could play. I thanked my parents and said that I was going back to bed. My mom said, “Go get a glass of water before you lie down.” I stressed that I was tired, not thirsty, but she was persistent.
So I schlepped into the kitchen and there stood a beautiful 3-speed, gold English racer bicycle with hand brakes and a generator to power the headlight. The fact that it would be several months before I would feel the wind on my face on this machine built for speed was just fine with me.
There were no words for my parents – just the strongest hugs and kisses; my smile said it all.
We would laugh at this scenario for many years because my parents saw my heartbreak, but they knew joy was waiting in the kitchen. My dad enjoyed pulling pranks on all of his children.
In fact, the joy we shared each day of our life was wonderful. My parents taught my siblings and me how to make the best out of life and to always share your sense of humor.
That same Christmas, my brothers received an electric football game. We all enjoyed it immensely and played it often. This game belongs in the Toy Hall of Fame for the sheer joy it brought to my family – and for taking my mind off my new 3-speed bike.
Fifty years later, I still dress up on Christmas Eve, with my pajamas, slippers and robe. As I said, what child at heart doesn’t want to look good for Santa Claus?
Wishing everyone peace, joy and a sense of humor.