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Note: This was originally posted in 2008. It is one of my favorite Christmas stories because it brings back the magic of Christmas that most of us had long, long ago.

I grew up in a large family.  There were seven kids plus my mom and dad.  My dad was the only one who worked, as was the norm in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  My dad drove a fork lift at one of the local canneries.  The only way there would ever be any money for Christmas gifts was for my mother to save money in a Christmas Club account at the local Bank of America where she made a weekly deposit.

One year my brother David, who was about eight years old that year, fell in love with a toy he saw on a TV commercial.  It was a cannon that shot hard plastic balls.  It was called the Mighty Mo.  The commercials showed the Mighty Mo crawling over and through rough terrain all on a miniature scale, of course, but it looked really neat.  The clincher was the footage of the cannon balls launching out of the Mighty Mo!

David had to have one but we were taught to not ask for anything, not even for our birthdays or Christmas so he couldn’t ask for one.  We lived a block away from Safeway and my mom used to send us on daily trips for the odd supply she needed before the next week’s big grocery trip.  Safeway carried a few toys then.  They placed them on the shelves high above the produce department as those shelves were normally empty.  On one of the trips to get something for my mom, David was thrilled to discover that Safeway had about two dozen Mighty Mos on their shelves!  After that day, David volunteered to go to Safeway every single time my mom needed something.

Every day David returned from his Safeway run to report exactly how many Mighty Mos were left on the shelf and every day, as the number dwindled, he gave my mom his report in a sadder and sadder tone.  First there had been two dozen then only eighteen.  Soon there were less than a dozen and when there were only four left, David was really sad. About three days before Christmas, David reported, with tears in his eyes, that there were no Mighty Mos left at Safeway.  When Christmas arrived, David was the only one of us that was not excited about it.  We all wanted him to be happy like we were but nothing got him excited.

On Christmas morning, we got up and my big brothers helped us girls get dressed and ready to go upstairs to open presents.  That’s what we did each year because it gave my parents a little extra time to get up.  When we got upstairs, David was the last one to go into the living room where the tree was with our Santa gifts unwrapped.  When he came in he found us all with huge smiles on our faces and our eyes intent on his face.  He didn’t know what was up until he looked under the tree and found his Mighty Mo with a big red ribbon on it!

We all enjoyed that Mighty Mo for several years.  David especially liked to shoot the cannon balls out of the Mighty Mo from the top of the stairs in the back yard.  It was a fun toy.  I only wish my brother David was still around to tell the story himself.

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She had not gone with them one that Sunday. She was sick in bed. They were off to get pizza and play at that mouse pizza place. A couple of hours later, she knew they would be home soon so she got up and got dressed so she wouldn’t be in bed still sick. She knew she should make an effort to look well and get out of bed and join the family. As she washed her face, she caught sight of herself in the mirror and she paused and smiled at her reflection. She thought how lucky she was to be in this marriage and have her three beautiful children and a husband that loved her and that she loved in return. Then the moment was over and she finished getting ready just as they walked in the door.

Her husband went into the kitchen to put the leftovers in the fridge, pausing in the den to turn the TV on for the kids. Then, when he came into the room, he went into his closet and got out his duffle bag and started packing clothes. Confused and thinking maybe he had a business trip she had forgotten about she asked him where he was going.

“Away.”

“Where? Did I forget a trip?”

“No. I’m just leaving.”

She felt a chill down her spine and a thought flashed through her mind: nothing would ever be the same in her life ever again.

“What do you mean? Where are you leaving to?”

“I don’t know. I just have to get out of here.”

“Why?” The rest of the words were stuck inside her head.

“Just because. I’m tired of being here. I’m tired of being married to you.” He kept packing, putting his shaving things in the bag.

“Did I do something wrong? What did I do?” She didn’t want to cry so she said as few words as possible.

“No. I’m just tired of it. I need time and space.” He headed for the door as quickly as he could. She followed as she asked if he was going to say something to the kids. He said he was not. So she did.

“Kids, come here quickly. Come say good bye to your dad. He’s leaving now.” They came running and asked where Daddy was going.

“Away. He isn’t going to live here anymore. He wants to live alone.”

“I’m don’t want to be away from you guys. I just have to leave. I can’t stay here.”

“Give Daddy a hug and a kiss.”

They did. They were confused, more so than she was but they still said good bye and kissed their father.

Then he was gone.

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Note: This is probably the most difficult post I have ever written. It’s hard for me to go back and reread it so please excuse any typos or grammar errors.

It was November of 1982. I was the happiest I had been in a long time. My son was the source of that happiness. He was nine months old and was the light of my life.

Then the phone rang. It was Friday night, about 10. I didn’t think much of it being late as family often called at the end of the day. I picked it up and won’t ever forget the words. “It’s me, Carlos. I can’t talk but you need to sit down.”  I laughed at the sitting down part then he said it again, “Sit down Little Sister.” I did. I still had no clue but when he asked if I was sitting, I answered that I was, still clueless to what was coming. “David just killed himself. I have to go over there right now. The police and coroner are waiting for me. I have to go. I love you.”

That’s when the bottom fell out of my life.

I fell into depression for the first time in my life. I took care of the baby, kept in touch with family on the phone and I spoke to my brother’s widow on the phone every day. She would call me each day at the time my brother used to call her on his morning break from work. That was the time they got to talk about the kids and their lives without the kids being present. To get through that time,she would call me and we would spend the twenty minutes talking. It was good for me, too. We got each other through those first months.

One afternoon, as my son and I waited for his dad to get home from work, the phone rang. The phone was in my husband’s office, just on the other side of the living room where my son and I were. I ran to get the phone, leaving Tony crawling on the rug in the middle of the room. Not thirty seconds after I picked up the phone, I heard a loud bang. I dropped the phone and ran around the corner. Tony was on the floor. Hid dad had just walked in the door and was standing in the doorway, his face ashen, his mouth open. We checked the baby. He was fine. He didn’t even cry. My husband said that just as he opened the door, he saw the baby pull himself up on the coffee table, lose his balance and fall. As he fell, his forehead hit the corner of the coffee table. He said he was expecting to see blood all over. There was nothing. Not even a scratch or a red mark on him.

We couldn’t explain it. My husband summed it up. He’s not one to believe in this sort of thing so it surprised me to hear him say, “Someone was watching out for him.”

It made me smile. I knew it was David. Several times in the previous weeks, I had heard the baby cry during the middle of the night and before I even pulled myself out of bed, the music box would start playing music and he would stop crying. There was no one to turn on the music box yet it played. Twice I had gone into the baby’s bedroom to find the rocking chair next to the crib rocking by itself.

A month or so had gone by since the baby had fallen and hit his head on the coffee table. My next door neighbor volunteered to drive Tony and me to the store. We got in her car and she asked me if my guest wanted to go to the mall with us. I said we didn’t have a guest. She asked if he had already left and I said we had not had any guests in months and no male guests in about a year. She shook her head and said, “But I saw him. He was in the window in the baby’s room. I saw him last night. I couldn’t sleep so I got up and wandered around the house. When I looked over there, I saw a man walking back and forth carrying the baby against his shoulder. He walked back and forth, back and forth.” I asked her to describe the man she saw and she described my brother, David. My husband was the only man in the house and he was a full foot taller than my brother and very thin. My brother was near 200 pounds.

Indeed someone was watching over him. And it brought a smile to my heart.

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High heeled shoes.  They can be such a pain to wear, both literally and figuratively. They can be sexy. They can be clunky. They can be cutesy.

I’m very short (I have to stretch a bit to reach the 5 foot mark) so as soon as my parents allowed me to, I started wearing high heeled shoes and when they came into style, platform shoes which were far easier to wear than heels and more appropriate for certain occasions.  They made me look taller and in the days of hot pants, they made my legs look a lot longer than they are and those seemingly good legs brought some (not unwanted) attention.  In fact, I remember one boy in our senior year that once, when I got back to my desk from the table at the front of the room, asked me to go back to the table and then back to the desk just so he could look at my legs again! That was the first time anyone said anything like that to me.  It was flattering.  It was embarrassing (he said it loud enough so everyone heard). It was confusing (I wasn’t in to the physical appearance factor but this comment actually made me feel kinda good).

Fast forward seven years and my high heel wearing days were over.  When I was 25 I was in a head-on collision.  I was pregnant at the time and luckily, my knee took the blow and not my belly.  I’ve had six operations to repair the damage to my knee but it has never been fixed and to this day I can no longer wear any kind of heel or wedge or plaform. It is “flat city” for me.  Sometimes I really miss the high heeled shoes.

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One of the things I enjoy about blogging is that I can read a blog and it will trigger a memory that I can write about and share with my own readers. Such a thing happened last night as I read Joanne’s post at My Life Lived Full.

When I lived in Los Angeles, we (my kids and I) spent a lot of time in the car, on one of the many freeways we had to take to navigate from one part of the county to another. One of these times, my daughters and I were coming back from visiting friends. They were about 19 and 13 years old. It was dark out and we were traveling west on the 134, which is the Ventura Freeway. That night, as happens most nights, the traffic was buzzing along at about 70 miles per hour. No one was going slower or faster. That’s not an ideal situation because it pretty much forces drivers to drive just as fast as everyone else and it makes it very difficult to move over from one lane to another. I was driving along with the flow of traffic but because we had to drive the same freeway for about twenty or more miles, I had gotten into the far left lane of a four lane freeway. I was sort of stuck there.

Suddenly, Tina (the older of the two girls) starts screaming. “Something is crawling on me! Something is crawling on me!” And she starts swatting at the something and wiggling around to get away from the Something. Of course, she was riding shotgun so as she screamed and swatted, she was distracting me from the driving. I tried to keep my eyes and mind on the road and I did, but I had to really concentrate. The screaming continued. “It’s a spider! Mom, get it off of me! Mom! I hate spiders, get it off of me!” More shrieking and swatting. As I drove, I tried to find a spot to move over four lanes so I could pull off the freeway before she swatted the steering wheel out of my hands, blew out my ear drums, or had a heart attack, whichever came first. As I glanced over toward the right to check traffic, I spotted the spider as it was briefly lit by the headlights of the cars behind me.

It was a tiny spider. Tiny. As in eensy weensy spider! I cracked up. That made Tina more upset because she thought (okay, she knew) I was laughing at her. And the screaming at me continued. “Don’t laugh at me! It’s not funny. I hate spiders! Get it off of me!” Susie, in the back seat, had been pretty quiet the whole time, just watching the entertainment Tina was providing. Then I blew it. I told Tina it was a tiny spider and started singing, “the eensy weensy spider climbed up the Tina girl. Down came Tina’s arm and slapped the eensy weensy spider down.” As I sang, Susie and I cracked up. By then I had managed to move over a couple of lanes, almost in time to get off on an actual exit but I missed the exit. More screaming and swatting, then finally, as I reached the next exit and began to get off of the freeway, Tina laughed too. There were tears in her eyes but I think she finally realized the humor in the situation and she laughed. Either that or she was laughing in relief that I was going to get the spider off of her.

We made it off of the freeway, where she got out of the car and shook off anything and everything that could possibly have been on her then she swatted at the seat and the windows before getting in the car. All the while, Susie and I cracked up. When she got back in the car, she asked me not to get back on the freeway. She wanted me to take surface streets so if there were anymore spiders, we could pull over quickly. I complied and we proceeded home. After about five minutes, there came a little voice from the back seat as Susie sang the words to the eensy weensy spider song. And we all cracked up. Even Tina.

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Lisa

Yesterday, while checking Facebook posts, I saw a post I had missed earlier. It was a post made in a group for people who graduated from my high school in the 70’s decade. It’s a nice way to keep in touch with some of the people I used to know and it also serves as a way to remember a lot about growing up and about the city I grew up and lived in until I went off to college.

It was a sad post. It told about the death of a friend; a friend I had not seen in many, many years but have thought of often and have even asked others about her. Lisa was my sister’s friend and a year older than me. When I went to high school, they had been there for a year and knew how to navigate the high school terrain. I didn’t have a lot of friends there. Sure, I knew half the people in ninth grade but it seemed that once we got to that stage, everyone went off in different directions, chasing their own interests and trying to fit in as part of the school’s social scene. That, added to the fact that I didn’t share a lot of classes with the people from my old school, left me without many close friends to “hang out” with. Lucky for me that my sister was there and she and her friends welcomed me into their social circle. Lisa was always kind to me, just like I belonged in the group. She never treated me like someone’s little sister that she had to put up with. We ate lunch together and walked to our lockers together. We sat together at lunch time, watching all the others in their own little groups. We met each other after school and walked home. We went to school dances together. We laughed. We teased each other. We protected each other from anyone who tried to hurt one of us and mostly, we had fun together.

Once ninth grade was over and I had found other groups to fit into and had busied myself with lots of after school activities and a job, I remained friends with that little group of my sister’s friends, the group that had been my lifeline that first year of high school, but I didn’t hang around with them very much anymore. I did see Lisa after school when we walked home and once my sister started driving we would give her rides to and from places. We were still friends. When she graduated a year before me, she got married right away and I was at her wedding. My sister went to college. I became busier than ever as I had a job, was very involved with school clubs and was the editor of the school newspaper. We lost touch with Lisa.

Through the years, we’ve heard bits and pieces about Lisa’s life but I hadn’t heard much about her in at least fifteen or twenty years, although I have asked people about her. No one seemed to know much as everyone had gone off to live their own lives over the years and it is just now, as most of us are reaching the late 50’s and early 60’s that we are all coming back together, seeking each other out.

And so, when I read Lisa’s name on the updated “Fallen Friends” list yesterday, my heart skipped a beat and tears found their way out of my eyes. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her being gone. It may sound strange to some people that I would react this way to news of her death. Afterall, she wasn’t a part of my daily life. It’s not like I saw her or even talked to her recenty. But she is a part of my life. She was important to the person that I was and the person that I am now. And I suppose it’s a reminder that my turn on that Fallen Friends list might be coming up sooner than later. I think too, that it is sad to me because it signifies a closed door. I won’t be able to get in touch with Lisa or talk to her ever again. No matter how many times I ask people or how many searches I run on the internet, I won’t be seeing her again. The door has closed.

I know it should be a reminder to run out and knock on doors that will open and look up other people, other old friends, before more doors are permanently closed. And I will do that. But for now, for today, and probably for a few days to come, I’ll think of Lisa and her bright smile that welcomed me into the group that first year of high school. I’ll think of Lisa and her groom as they danced at their wedding. And every time I hear that old song, Daddy’s Home, I’ll remember how special it was to Lisa. And I’ll miss those days when times were simpler and our futures were bright.

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Like A Big Pizza Pie

I love that song.

Today is National Pizza Day in the United States. So of course, I’m thinking about pizza. I don’t normally eat pizza but today, I have a craving for pizza. Which brings me to recall “pizza memories”.

I don’t remember having had pizza before I was in high school. Then I would occasionally be allowed to go out for pizza with friends after basketball or football games. I also remember my dad taking my sisters and my mom out to Round Table for pizza one night. That was unusal because we never, ever ate out. But he had been drinking and they were meeting someone down there. I don’t even remember who. So off they went, two of my sisters, my mom, and my dad. Hours later, when my older sister and I were starting to get worried because it was after midnight and we hadn’t heard from them, a police car drove up to the house and out popped my dad, my mom, and my sisters. It seems that my dad had been drinking enough to have forgotten the keys in the ignition of the car and so when they came out of the pizza place, the car was gone! After giving a police report and waiting around, the police finally drove them all home.

Then I remember riding my bike through campus late at night with a bunch of people from my dorm when I was in college. We would take late night study breaks and bike to downtown Palo Alto for Round Table. One time, we were sitting at a big table having pizza and pitchers of soda (we were all under 21 then) when the juke box started to play Paul Anka singing You’re Having My Baby. Well this guy, Matthew who lived next door to me in the dorm, got up on top of the table and with a fork up to his mouth, started singing along while looking at ME! Everyone laughed and thought it was funny but I was mortified!

Favorite pizza? Hhm. That’s tough. I don’t eat it often because it’s not filling. I get hungry again within a half hour. However, if I’m allowed to get what I really want on it, I’m okay. What do I really want on it? Loaded with veggies or loaded with meat. One or the other. Usually, when we get pizza, the others in the group want only one topping. That’s not enough for me. So for me, it’s a loaded pizza. Oh and I cannot believe that some people will eat cold pizza right out of the fridge without heating it! Yuck! It makes me want to gag! Do you know anyone like that?

What are your pizza memories? What is your favorite pizza?

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Is there a book that you read as a child that has stayed with you over the years; one that you have recommended to othrs and/or given as a gift to a child?

I can think of a few but one that I had forgotten about until I saw it on my bookshelf last night is a very special one. It’s called The Hundred Dresses and it was written by Eleanor Estes in 1944. I read it in fourth grade when I was about eight or nine. It touched me then and it still does. I’ve had a number of copies of it through the years as I tend to buy it to keep then give it away to a child or to a teacher. The one I have has managed to stay on my shelf for about eight or nine years.

The 1944 Newberry Honor recipient is the story of a little girl named Wanda Petronski who is different fromm all the other kids in her school. Not only is her name different, but she lives in the poorest part of town and she has no mother. Every day she wears the same blue dress to school. While it is always clean, it’s also always wrinkled and doesn’t hang right. She’s very quiet and hates to speak in front of the class. Outside of class, she is always alone and even when she tries to joing a group of kids, they never notice her. The only time the others notice her is when they want to tease her. One girl in particular, Peggy, likes to ask her how many dresses she has and Wanda always answers that she has a hundred dresses all lined up in her closet, all colors, all different kinds. They ask her about her shoes and she says she has sixty pair of shoes in her closet, all colors and all kinds, all lined up.

One girl, Maddie, feels bad about teasing her and she doesn’t want to participate in it but she also doesn’t want the others to turn on her because she’s from a poor family, too. So even though she feels wrong about teasing Wanda, she doesn’t speak up. She just goes along with it.

When Wanda doesn’t come to school for several days, her father sends a note to the teacher saying she won’t be coming to school anymore. They are moving to the big city where there are other “funny names” and lots of other Polish people and where they won’t be teased anymore. The letter from Wanda’s father arrives on the same day that the winner of the drawing contest is announced. The girls’ winner (for designing and drawing a dress) has drawn not onlyy one dress but one hundred different dresses, all kinds and all colors. The winner is Wanda. That’s when the girls realize that Wanda wasn’t lying about her hundred dresses. She really did have that many, only they were drawings.

I like it because it shows how Wanda is ignored and teased, making her feel isolated. And it also shows how Maddie knows it’s wrong yet doesn’t speak up. She just goes along with the teasing and bullying. I think it speaks volumes to kids. Although The Hundred Dresses is 71 years old, it still has a very valuable lesson to share with our kids…and with adults, as well. Before writing this post, I read a little about Eleanor Estes. I learned that she wrote the book out of guilt and a desire to somehow apologize to the little girl that Wanda was modeled after. She modeled Peggy, the bully, after herself because once the “Wanda” in her school moved away, Eleanor Estes realized that she had treated her very badly and had been a bully. I think that’s a valuable lesson, too!

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An old poem that resurfaced today:

Southbound On the I-5
Middle lane of the southbound I-5
listening to the classic oldies
singing along
“… oye, como va mi ritmo,
vamos a bailar …”

rudely interrupted
by that noisy Harley
coming up on my left

just as it reaches me
I am jolted, snatched, and
catapulted
backwards
to a time I barely recognized
my teen years
a foreign place
a different time zone

I see that girl
she’s wearing hot pants
the lime green ones
they have a matching top
sleeveless
sailor collar
that awful huge bow
right in the middle

She’s laughing
I hear it clearly
She’s happy
I can almost feel it too
The girl is filled with youth
filled with joy
filled with the unknown
the future

The girl knows little
not what life is about
not what the future will bring
not about the sorrows and the losses
not about the joys and the triumphs

The girl knows only NOW
she knows only wonder
she knows giddiness
she knows That Boy
and the dizziness she feels
she knows That Boy
and the way his leather jacket smells
she knows That Boy
and the way he looks at her
she knows That Boy
and the safeness he brings

The girl wonders
wonders about the uncomfortable feeling
in that secret area
wonders what her name would sound like
next to his
the girl smiles
not knowing much

Then I’m back in my blue Camry
“… you put a spell on me Baby…”
back in the middle lane
going southbound
and I smile
knowing so much
I still smile

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I remember Christmas.

I remember the wonder of the season.

I remember my parents leaving us in the evening so they could go shopping for us.

I remember wanting to be extra good so Santa would come and bring presents.

I remember watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman every year and looking forward to it.

I remember decorating the big Christmas tree in the living room and looking at all the lights and the sparkly decorations on it and wanting to keep it forever, even after Christmas.

I remember counting the increasing number of presents under the tree each night and wondering which were for me.

I remember the big package that came in the mail from Grandma in Texas every year…with presents for all of us inside of it.

I remember the Christmas music and learning the words to the songs and singing off key.

I remember making tamales on Christmas Eve.

I remember my birthday cake on Christmas night after dinner.

I remember family.

I remember innocence.

I remember joy.

I remember Christmas.

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