It was Christmas morning and the first one without my father. My Mother, Brother and I now lived in an old country house that had never been painted on the outside nor finished off on the inside. The floors were uneven and sagged in places due to the foundation only being stacks of rocks underneath. In the three rooms used as living space the walls and ceiling were covered with flattened out cardboard boxes that had been tacked to the rough wall studs. The toilet was a small shack about fifty feet out the back door.
My Father was still in the world then. He had chosen to leave a wife and two young boys in favor of another woman who was pregnant with his child. The divorce was final and my Mother in her pride had told her former husband that she wanted nothing from him. And in doing so, she denied herself any sort of support from the man who had fathered her children.
The heat for the house we now called home was supplied by a long, squatty cast iron wood stove with stove-pipe that went up and out through the living room wall. Doors were always left open into the other rooms so heat could reach there.
Over in the corner was a beautiful holiday tree that had been cut from my Grandfather’s farm. Until I was almost out of my teens I thought a Christmas tree was always cedar because that is what we always had. Back then I did not realize how luxurious it was to have such a good smelling, almost perfectly shaped six-foot tree that had probably taken ten years or more to grow before we cut it. (There hasn’t been a cedar tree for the holidays since, but it’s something I should put on my bucket list.)
One convenience the home did have was electricity. The “juice” powered a single light bulb in each room that hung naked on a wire from the ceiling. The light was turned on and off by a string that hung down from a switch on the light socket. This morning the light was not needed because the lights on the tree gave the room a warm, multi-colored glow.
The six months previous has been sad ones for my brother and I. Our Dad never came around and we had to relocate to the free-rent old farmhouse my grandfather owned. The house was drafty, money was short and went mostly to feeding the three of us.
That Christmas morning my brother was five and I was seven years old. In spite of our recent sadness, we had complete faith in Santa Claus. And walking into the ‘living room’ we were not disappointed. There was a new, red Western Auto bicycle for each of us to replace our old tricycles. Neither of us cared that the only other things we got were “tidy-whitey” underwear and a bag of marbles. We had bikes!
Much happened as I grew up, bad things, and my Mother has responsibility in many of them. We have not spoken in years and are not likely to. I forgave her years ago. I will always be grateful for that Christmas morning when I was seven. I imagine she had to put the bikes on layaway or credit to be able to get them for us. In doing so she made the best childhood Christmas I remember and will always be thankful to her for it.
Forgiveness is a form of gratitude.
When we forgive others,
we show them the mercy
that we have often received
and been thankful for.
Sarah Ban Breathnach