I have decided that since I’m missing my father this holiday week, I would tell a bit of a family Christmas story. This probably took place in December of 1963, when my brother Eric was 3-1/2 years old and I was just 5. (I think the photo at right was from this very year.)
In those days we lived in a small village called Okemos. Although that town now has a mall, a Walmart, a Best Buy and all the fast foods, car dealers and other businesses that crop up around such things, in those days it was a quiet place. It was mostly professors and their families.
For those who know this area, there were fields where Meijer and the mall are now. The Grettenberger barn had animals in it. Now it is home to Pilgrim House Furniture.
This town had one large grocery store (Schmidts, the only place in town to buy vinyl LP records). It had one small grocery/butcher. There was a Miller’s ice cream parlor, Â Grettenberger’s drug store, a couple of gas stations, Delinds’ Hardware and a few restaurants. Not much at all. However, my parents had grown up in a town of 400 people, and this village was more than 10 times larger. They did not venture out of town often (except Dad, for work).
Once a year we would go into East Lansing, to buy shoes and school clothing. And once a year we would go to the five and dime, just barely inside the E. Lansing city limit, to buy one another what we called “stocking gifts” for Christmas.
At this time, our spending limit was $0.50 per gift. We would split up, one kid and one parent, and buy for the two we had left behind. When those gifts were purchased, we would trade parents and buy the gift for the other parent.
In our family, we would open the gifts under the tree (from parents and family) on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas morning, we had a stocking full of goodies and a box labeled from Santa, plus the three stocking gifts from family members.
A brief aside, to explain what comes next…
Now, you must understand that my father was a man of passion and humor. He liked to joke a lot, and he particularly would joke about purple. Whenever we waited for a train to cross, he would have us look to see if this time, it might have a purple caboose. That was Dad.
So one time when he was joking around, he said that kids who were bad all year, would not get coal in their stocking… they would get a purple whip. I don’t know how he came up with that, probably it blurted out one time and then he stuck with the story. Mind you, Dad never spanked us, but he had this odd story about Christmas for some reason.
Back to the story…
Well, in 1963, Mom and Eric were together working on a Â fifty-cent gift for Dad. And the store worker came over, to ask if she could help find anything. And Eric piped up, in his little toddler voice:
Do you have a purple whip?
Well, my Mom wanted to hide. She didn’t believe in whips, not even water squirt guns. At that point, she was still concerned what others thought of her. So here her child was asking for a weapon. Ack!
To feel better, she had to explain about Dad’s story about a Purple Whip instead of coal. And then they tried valiantly to find something in that store to substitute for a purple whip, since they were fresh out of whip stock that day!
Today we have many dollar stores. These stores are full of items which are the color purple.
However, in 1963 this was truly an unusual color. They worked very hard to find ANYTHING for half a buck, that was purple. (I remember my first clothing that was purple, was in 1970; knickers and a vest… but I digress.)
Finally, Mom and the store employee found a washcloth. It was white, but it had wide lavender stripes and a few thin dark purple stripes. They had to convince my tiny brother that this would be an acceptable substitute for his desired stocking gift.
Mom, of course, had to clue Dad in on the gift. He responded appropriately (he would be good at that part), that somehow Santa thought he had been bad and the like. Too funny.
That washcloth is 46 years old this week. My brother still has it. It’s nearly threadbare at this point, and the colors are faded, but it’s a precious memory.
Dad died in 1973, when he was merely 40, I was 14, and Eric was a week before his 13th birthday. Mom was a widow with two teenagers, at age 38 (ouch). Eric was young enough at that time to not remember Daddy very well, but he treasures this story.
My friends, relationship is all we really have when it comes down to it. Stuff is stuff. Stuff can be enjoyed but we can not really call that love.
We can be fond of Â it, for sure. I love picking out what to wear from my closet, I like some of my gizmos and my CDs, and my musical instruments.
But today I have the memory of my zany father. And the best present for me today, is the realization, once again, that I have people around me who love me. Who appreciate me just as I am. (I have not always been this lucky.)
It’s hard to say “I love you” out loud, but I’ve found I need to do it often. I say it when others might not. I know that tomorrow I may not have the chance to say it again… life changes quickly and none of us know when our last day might be.
Holidays during the dark days, allow us a space to celebrate those who matter in our lives. If you can find a way to tell someone how much you appreciate them, I recommend it highly. It is unlikely you will regret having done it.
I knew, even at age 14… that when Daddy died, he had been clear about my love for him. That is still comforting to me. In some cultures, saying “I love you” is not common… but in that case, there are actions which can instead speak that meaning.
And I appreciate every one of you. Thanks for being part of my life… even on very busy months when I don’t get here to post as often as is my goal. I started blogging in November of 2002, and the friendships I have found here have made my life richer.
Now, go hug someone, or make them a cup of tea, or call them on the phone. Whatever you can do, let them know that they are a gift to you, more than a gizmo could ever be.
Blessed dark days to you, whatever you call this time of year. I think I might call it “relationship season.”