One of the things that I learned while X (formerly known as StbX) was off at "happy camp" was how to get creative about making my money stretch and dealing with life. I learned how to cope by trial and many errors. Our first Christmas "alone" was so hard... my family was used to being spoile... and the absolute joy I got out of spoiling them was my own selfish gift to myself. I was not that great a sport about not being able todo so anymore. I felt pretty sorry for myself in fact.
This was my first Christmas as a single mom of four children. I thought I had it covered. I had a good sized bonus check waiting for me from X's union. It was our habit to take his "vacation" check at this to buy Christmas without guilt or concern. I eagerly awaited the mail on the 2nd of December when the checks arrived like clockwork. I KNEW it was coming, so I had gone ahead and put Christmas on lay-away and getting a start on hoilday banking out of my paycheck. My mood was almost high... for one month my children would have back the unworried life that had been stolen from them. Life was not going to suck for change.
The envelope arrived and I tossed it into my purse, borrowed gas money from my dad and hit the road to the town on the left. When I was in the drive-thru line, I pulled it from my purse and opened it. I re-read the letter inside several times before I could wrap my brain around the message. The state had taken the money to apply toward X's upkeep, fines and legal fees. Merry fecking Chirstmas!
I cried all the way home and showed the letter to my dad. He was sympathetic and told me not to worry about the gas money... he would see what he could to help, but it would not be much. He was, after all, still paying off my mother's cancer bills, which was why he was living in an RV in my driveway, rent and utilities free... whit the adition of the use of my finished garage with its toaty woodstove for additional living space. Over the years they had done plenty for me. That was my way of paying him back. Medical bills had near eaten him down to a nub before he agreed. Neither of us was in good shape financially. My husband I had taken on the cost of supporting the Medusa and her children for several years. A family ofnine is expensive, but we lived in foolish comfort. All children were treated as equals. If I spoiled one, I spoiled each and all.
I no longer had them of course. They fled off to more lucrative pastures. I am one of those people who pace until I find asolution to whatever worries me. The power bill was due and it was a doozie. But my sisters in California would send checks for teh holidays, so I was sure at least we would not be living in the cark and cold. It was a start. I signed up for the "Giving Tree", which was a bit of humiliation to be frank. I was not used to charity.
Then I decided to amend my food stamps... another little upsetting event for the same reason... becuase budget cuts had taken have ofmy hours at work. I rationalized that I had been paying for others all my life... having been a person who had worked since age 11 to that present. I had at least contributed more than a bit. But it still did not feel good or right. As I stood in line, I saw a flyer for a Christmas box that included "toys" for kids. So I ate another piece of humble pieand signed up for that. Whit arrived I was both bleased and disappointed. A wonderful holiday meal with all the trimmings was there. The toys turned out to be toiletries and a coule of Dollar store items. I had to remind myself to be thankful and began pacing again. I had no clue how I was going to be able to provide anything my kids would really want.
Curious things began to happen. The last day of school with all the parties and children kakking about their expectations sent me into a good funk with a pasted on smile and cheerful exclamations. Just before I left, K... my good friend and the librarian who trained me... handed me a bag of things... telling me that I could not look init or touch it until Christmas Eve. I thanked her and headed fast toward the door before I lost my ability to walk away without bursting into tears. It contained a wonderful gift for each of us an some fun treats for Christmas Eve and Day.
As I passed the office I was stopped by the principal who handed me a fat card. I thanked him quickly and retreated with myhead down, counting tmy steps to keep my mind anywhere else. Later in the evening, I opened the card so that the Bear could hang it on the card tree. Inside the envelope wre four others. The first was a card from my boss and his personal check for $150 and the instruction that I was to spend $25 of that on myself. The next envelope contained ta pile of checks from my co-workers... another card filled with kind words and well wishes. The third card held the message that my family had been adopted by the school bus drivers with gift cards to WalMart, Safeway and Payless Shoes. The final card was only a card with instructions that I was invited to a party at the expensive resort hotel caross the river and an assurance that all expenses were covered for the evening... and all I had to do was help assist another IA with special needs kids for the duration. A bargain!
Things had indeed become much brighter, I was blown away and my spirits lifted with gratitude, despite my mortification of being in such a position that people felt we would need these things. Much of what was given went to bills that had snowballed on me in an avalanche... 2/3 less income but not 2/3 fewer bills. I faithfully followed anything that had been earmarked for a purpose... with one exception... my $25 from my boss to spend on myself... I twisted that into being my choice of wanting to spend that money on Max's desperately needed glasses. He'd sat on them and they had been awaiting payment for the repairs.
As I was picking them up, it had begun to snow. Worried that I had no chains and did not have the knowledge of how to put them on if I did, I opted to leave and come home... putting off buying the Christmas tree. That snow lasted several days and closed down the gorge in either direction. My shopping had not been completed and would not be done in time. Sadly, I told the older children that presents would be put on hold. I worried about Squeaky who was sick and still had faith in Santa Claus. Santa would be late. That was that. A new dread of Christmas morning set back in.
So I paced. Then I made my way through the snow to our shop and found a saw... I told Boo to go and find a tree. We had a whole fecking forest at our door! Surely there was a tree not too far. He came back after an hour empty handed, wet, cold and upset. The snow was too deep, the air too cold. Hecould not get to the forest and unless it was okay to cut down a neighbor's tree, we were out of luck.
Leave it to the Bear. She would not go without some sort of Christmas tree. She paced, then made up her mind... towing Boo behind her. OUtside they went to our back yard, where years before Boo had planted a fir he'd brought home from shcool where they had raised them from seeds. They cut a big fat branch and drug it back into the house to thaw. No, the tree remains to this day, still stands healthy and happy.
Bear nailed that branch to the wall in the living room... a flat tree of sorts that my children spend several hours decorating with lights and homemade ornaments years past and new. It had been our tradition to give each child an ornament each year... so that by the time they moved out, they would be taking a started set to contnue in their new homes. That branch is to this day, my favorite Christmas tree in all the ones we have had over the years. None has been so filled with l,ove or hope. None more beautiful than that one tree full of my children's love for each other and me.
That night we strung popcorn and sang carols. Then came a knock on the door, some giggles and the sound of someone running away. Outside the door we found a wicker laundry basket filled with presents. I recognized those gigglesand knew that they had come from the beautiful D and her family. All were signed "With love from Santa!" Squeaky would get to believe one year longer. Yay!
Boo had gone out for Christmas Eve and the two younger boys were in bed... a tradition as well. The kids go to bed very early, leaving Santa and the elf to wrap presents and have a bit of Christmas cheer. This year, the Bear was my elf. We had little to wrap and finished quickly. We used that time to chat happily withhout boys. Outside carolers were singing. We opened the door and there stood our church members... bearing more gifts! The next morning when these were opened, I would find a check for next month's housepayment that had been a worry.
I know I grumble a lot about Dumb Potter's Hell and it is true that I crave to be away from here. But this holiday and every holdiday of my life, I will carry the memomry that the spirit of Christmas lives in Dumb Potter's Hell in a way that no large town can offer. At Christmas, you cannot beat this place or doubt the value of the great hearts of these people. I cannot explain my desperation to escape, only admit it is true. I will spend my holiday here, this one last year... beacuse Dub Potter's Hell came through for my family in a way that no other place on earth will ever do again. Sure it is so... just as sure it is that I am etenally grateful to these wonderful peple for what they did for my family that very first year we were alone.
Whatever you do this holiday, be thankful. Today, may you find the spirit of Christmas and enjoy it in full...all the way to next year. Share with us if you will... what puts you in the spirit of the season... or not. As for me, it's the people here this time of year and the way they stop to visit in the store or to share a bit of their great hearts and always... their stories... and for the amazing part they played in mine.