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Up until that year, Christmas had been pretty lean for my family. In fact, many years it had been just another day.
That year when the country song “I Saw Momma Kissing Santa Claus” had become a hit, my family had been too poor to be able to afford Christmas presents or to hope for Santa at all.
Because of our poverty and problems in the family, several of us children had been placed in Kentucky Children’s Home for our own safety. It was a strange and scary thing for me, a child of six and the youngest child in the orphanage at that time. The unfamiliar routine, discipline and regulations were bewildering to me. But soon I adjusted, as children do, and I began to enjoy the security and the dependability of the place.
As Christmas approached, there was a new kind of current in the air. Children who had been there for past Christmases began to share their excitement. “Ask for anything you want!” they told the younger ones of us. “You will only get one thing, but make the list long anyway. You never know!”
I had watched many of the girls in the orphanage skating out on the sidewalks, and I had longed to have a pair of roller skate so I could join them. Unaccustomed to asking for gifts, let alone receiving them, I limited my list to one thing—roller skates.
A few weeks before Christmas we children, dressed in our Sunday best, were loaded onto a bus and taken to a beautiful place in Louisville for a Christmas party. (Many years later, I learned that it was the Brown Hotel.) I just remember thinking how glamorous the place was. Crystal chandeliers, beautiful carpet, enormous Christmas trees and dazzling decorations gave this little 6-year-old the impression of a Christmas wonderland. I had never been in such a luxurious place in all my short life!
We were treated to a meal of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. Excitement grew as bells began to jingle, and suddenly, Santa appeared, handing out little stiff, red, mesh stockings stuffed with candy and little trinkets and coloring books and crayons. There was one for each child! I remember being so excited that it did not have to be shared with others! I supposed that this surely was the one gift that we were to get for Christmas. And it was so much more than just one gift! It was stuffed with gifts! My little mind wondered, “How could Christmas get any better?” I clung to my little scratchy, stiff, red stocking all the way back to the orphanage, and hung it carefully in my locker after having eaten most of the candy.
As Christmas Day approached, there was a noticeable change in the appearance of the Christmas tree that stood in the corner of the living room in the girls’ quarters. Packages began to appear under the tree in all sizes and shapes, wrapped and ribboned with colorful paper and bows. Though it was fun to watch this expansion of the Christmas tree, it did not occur to me, a child unaccustomed to receiving gifts, that any of these pretty packages were for me.
On Christmas morning, everyone gathered in the living room after breakfast, and all of a sudden the beautiful gifts began to be distributed. My anticipation began to grow as child after child received a gift to open. Maybe one of these lovely packages was for me after all!
Paper and ribbon flew in all directions as squeals of delight filled the room. Then suddenly a package appeared in my lap. It was so beautiful that I hesitated a moment to open it, but not for long. As I tore into the box, I realized that my best wish for Christmas had come true. There in my lap was a shiny new pair of clamp-on roller skates!
As I have reflected on that Christmas over the years, I have thought of how easy it is to get caught up in all that Christmas has come to entail. Then I remember how a simple pair of roller skates and a cheap little red stocking were once all I needed to have the best and most joyful Christmas of my young life.
(Darlene Davis is a member of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield.) †