Re-posting an old favorite:
One of my fondest Christmas memories is also one of the saddest. It happened in 1978, the year I got married.
My mother lived in Long Beach, California and my husband and I lived in Santa Monica. His parents lived in Mexicali, Baja California, which is about a four or so hour drive from where my mom lived. I had never missed a Christmas at home. It was very important to me that I not miss being home, not just for my sake but for my mother’s. I knew she wanted me to be home. So we consulted with everyone and figured out a plan where my husband and I would drive to Mexicali a few days before Christmas. We would have an early Christmas lunch after opening presents with his family, then we would leave there and come across the border by one in the afternoon or so. We would then drive to Long Beach and be there for a late Christmas dinner and opening presents with my family.
We were staying on the U.S. side of the border, in Calexico, at my husband’s grandmother’s house while we were down there. On Christmas Eve when it was time for bed, I couldn’t sleep. I talked for hours and hours. My husband heard about every one of my Christmases that night. I think I was nervous about being with my new family (I had just met them two months previously and had not spent much time with them) and also nervous about the timing of the drive to my mom’s house. I didn’t want anything to go wrong that would keep us from spending a part of the holiday with my family. They were all waiting for us, including a number of nieces and nephews who weren’t going to open presents until we got there. So I went on and on about Christmas and about birthday cakes (my birthday is on Christmas). I think I recalled every single gift I had gotten in my 22 years! Finally, I let him fall asleep at what was probably about three in the morning. I stayed awake after he fell asleep.
The next day, everything on his family’s end of the planning went well. By nine we were finished opening presents and our lunch was being prepared. We ate by noon and even though I offered to stay and help with the clean up, we were ushered out of there so we wouldn’t be late getting to my mother’s house.
To get on the road, we had to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. The road we took to get from my in-law’s to the border, was the fastest route. It had businesses on one side and a very high fence on the other side, which served as the division between the third world country and the richest country in the world (at least in those days). As the road approaches the border, the last mile or two, the fence is just a cyclone fence and you can see right through it, (at least in 1978 you could; I’m not sure what it’s like now). We slowed as the road ahead of us narrowed from four lanes to the two border patrol booths that were open. It was not a long wait but to me, it was way too long. Because there was little traffic that day, there were no cars between us and the cyclone fence, giving us full view of the “dividing line.” As I sat there, I looked over and watched as families congregated at the fence, exchanging gifts through the openings in the cyclone fence. Once I realized what it was that they were doing, the excitement I felt about being on my way home left me along with my breath. For what seemed like forever, I couldn’t breathe. I was riveted to the scene before me. There were mothers and their children passing crudely wrapped gifts from one side of the fence to the other. On both sides of the fence, people were smiling and chatting as they exchanged Christmas gifts. It seemed to be normal to them, and I’m sure it was.
I was struck by the fact that these families could not embrace or pass any gift bigger than three or so inches to the other side. The families’ economic differences were clear. The ones on the Mexico side of the fence were very poorly clad, especially for what was a crisp December day with the promise of rain in the sky. The ones on the U.S. side were better dressed and wore shoes and coats appropriate for the weather. The families although together, were very far apart in many ways. Before I knew it, I was crying. My chattiness was gone and we drove home to my mother’s house in almost complete silence. When we arrived, being there with my family, in the same piece of earth, was more special than it had ever been. I could hug them and kiss them and hold them near to me.
That was the Christmas in which I left my childhood innocence behind in many ways.
For a lighter Christmas Story, click on the link: