“The Joy of Reading”
This story is part of a cycle in which women play a major role
The Christmas I Was Rich
Poor and content is rich, and rich enough.
There was a tree that Christmas. Not as big and full as some trees, but it hung with all the treasured ornaments and glowed with lights. There were presents, too. Gaily wrapped in red or green tissue paper, with colorful seals and bits of ribbon. But not as many as presents as usual. I had already noticed that my pile of gifts was very small.
We weren't poor. But times were hard, jobs scarce, money tight. My mother and I shared a house with my grandmother and my aunt and uncle. That Depression year, they all stretched meals, carried sandwiches to work and walked everywhere to save bus fares.
Years before the World War II slogan became famous, we, like many families, were living it: “Use it up, wear it out; make it do, or do without.” There were few choices.
So I understood why my pile of presents was so small. I understood, but I still felt a guilty twinge of disappointment.
I knew there couldn't be any breathtaking surprises in those few gaily wrapped boxes. I knew one would be a book. Mom always managed a new book for me. But no new dress, or sweater or warm quilted robe. None of the hoped-for indulgences of Christmas.
But there was one box with my name on it. From my grand-mother. I saved that box for last. Maybe it would be a new sweater, or even a dress—a blue dress. Grandmother and I both loved pretty dresses, and every shade of blue.
Dutifully ooh-ing and aah-ing over the fragrant bar of honeysuckle soap, the red mittens, the expected book (a new Nancy Drew!), I quickly reached that last package. I began to feel a spurt of Christmas excitement. It was a fairly big box. Ashamed of myself for being so greedy, for even hoping for a dress or sweater (but hoping anyway), I opened the box.
Nothing but socks!
Anklets, knee-highs, even a pair of those awful long white cotton stockings that always sagged and wrinkled around my knees.
Hoping no one had noticed my disappointment, I picked up one of the four pairs and smiled my thanks to my grandmother. She was smiling, too. Not her polite, distracted, “Yes, dear,” smile, but her sparkling, happy, “This is important woman-to-woman stuff, so pay attention!” smile.
Had I missed something? I looked back down at the box. Still socks—nothing but socks. But now I could see there was another pair under the pair I had picked up. Two layers of socks. And another.
Three layers of socks!
Really smiling now, I began taking them out of the box. Pink socks, white socks, green socks, socks in every imaginable shade of blue. Everyone was watching now, laughing with me as I tossed socks in the air and counted. Twelve pairs of socks!
I got up and squeezed Grandmother so tight it hurt us both. “Merry Christmas, Joan-girl,” she said. “Every day now you'll have choices to make—an abundance of choices. You're rich, my dear. “
And so I was. That Christmas and all year. Every morning, as I chose which pair of socks to wear from my elegant hosiery wardrobe, I felt rich. And I still do.
Later, my mother told me that Grandmother had been hiding those socks away for almost a year—saving nickels and dimes, buying a pair at a time; once, seeing a lovely blue pair with hand embroidery on the cuff, she had actually asked the understanding salesclerk to take a deposit and hold it for her for three weeks.
A year of love had been wrapped in that box.
That was a Christmas I'll never forget.
My grandmother's gift, her extravagance of socks, showed me how wonderful and important little things can be.
And how enormously wealthy love makes us all.
Joan Cinelli, 2008
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The Christmas I Was Rich
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