Monday, December 23, 2013

Milwaukee Family Christmas By: Karen Pilarski

Over the past decade I have felt more Scrooge/Grinch than Cindy Loo Who or Tiny Tim. I used to love Christmas even though underneath the fake tree was empty most years.

As a poor family we didn't have much. My mom did manage to buy gifts for us but my father's holiday spirit was misguided. He would let us kids have our holiday gifts weeks before Christmas.

The toys weren't even in Christmas theme wrapping paper yet. Mom would cry "There, Christmas is ruined!"

When Christmas Eve would come, I would wish Santa would visit our house. A child of a mere eight years of age would tip toe across the cold hard floor. Head would drop down in sadness when nothing would be underneath the tree.

All the holidays were not that bad. My favorite Christmas memory was when we lived in West Allis,Wisconsin.

At that time my parents were renting a big house by City Hall. For whatever reason my father stayed in check with his 'generosity.' I'm not sure if it was because my parents had just remarried each other. Whatever the case was, dad was on his best behavior.

The rage at the time was Cabbage Patch Kids. Those hard heads with yarn hair. The dolls buttocks were signed by the adoption guy. My two sisters and I wanted one in the worst way.

My brothers enjoyed He-Man and Inspector Gadget cartoons and wanted action figures. The younger siblings wanted a playhouse to escape to.

Christmas Eve mom put out platters of cookies and other treats. It is funny that even as an adult I still crave those food items mom used to make. There is not a fudge on earth that holds a candle to mom's fudge. She just found the recipe on a can of evaporated milk. My grandma's orange chip dip. Not as in the fruit. It had a orange hue to it. My personal favorite was the powdered sugar sandies.

My sisters put out cookies and milk with a note. "Dear Santa, Are you real? We love you, can we have a puppy?"  

That evening we watched Christmas movies and suddenly mom turned off the television. "If you want Santa to come you need to go to bed." Thunderous feet ran up the stairs. I shared a room with my sisters. My brothers shared a room to. Think the "Brady Bunch" but not so much Brady.

My older brother peaked downstairs at one point and ran in the girl's room "I saw him, I saw Santa!" We laughed at him and told him he was overtired.

In the morning my younger sister was flicking my nose with her finger. "Get up so we can open presents." Groggily I walked in the hallway and was greeted by all my other siblings.

We tiptoed down the stairs. Maybe we were afraid somehow Santa was still enjoying cookies and may snatch the gifts away.

The Christmas tree had the popcorn strings along it that we made the following week. Tinsel was twisted with the blinking tree lights. Glass ornaments sparked and brushed up against the real pine needles.

Underneath the tree were gifts and stockings with each child's name on it. The plate of cookie had crumbs and half eaten cookies. The glass of milk was no reduced to dried milk residue at the bottom of the glass. The note said "Dear kids, yes I am real. I love you too. No puppy, nice try."

My parents came into the living room and allowed us to open gifts.

 It is funny as an adult watching other people opening gifts. Most people have a system in place. Each person takes a turn opening a gift. In my family, it was a bit unorthodox.

We rummaged through the gifts and started tearing open wrapping paper. Giggles, shrieking and paper flying everywhere.

My sisters jumped up and down holding a package with wrapping paper still stuck to it. They were clutching their Cabbage Patch Kids. Inside I was fuming. Where the hell was my doll?!! Crestfallen I kicked a empty box. The younger siblings were enjoying running in and out of the playhouse. My brothers were making Inspector Gadget fight battles with their He-Man figures.

"There is a box under the tree skirt Karen." My mom smirked. I looked and there was a box with shiny red and green stripped wrapping paper. The handwritten tag read "To Karen, From Santa," I opened up the box to find my Cabbage Patch Kid.

My older sister's doll was white with blonde yarn hair. She filled out her adoption papers. The name on the paper was Amber Elizabeth. She changed it immediately to "Chrissy Tripper."

Years later we made fun of her for mixing up the name of Chrissy Snow on "Three's Company."

I was given a black doll. She was beautiful. Her brown yarn hair was in pony tails with white ribbons. Her blue corduroy jumper was in front of a white top with a lacy collar. Her white shoes and white socks had no sign of use. Her dimples with the blushed cheek made her smile the more warm. Her brown eyes like mine were big and sparkled. I named her Cherry from "Punky Brewster" television show. 

Mom also gave us homemade doll clothes she made and some doll furniture.

That Christmas stood out to me not because of the gifts, but the warm feeling from the togetherness.

 In my adult years I miss having all my siblings together. Even when there were no gifts to open, there was something special about having people to commiserate with. I loved saving up babysitting money and buying gifts for people in my family.

As it happens with many families there are hurt feelings, spats and geographical distances that keep people apart. There were a few years in college when I spent my holiday alone in my dorm room.

Sometimes a sibling would have people over but not all of us would be in the same room. 

After I was married, my husband worked many Christmas days. On Christmas it was just me and my husband until he had to work.

His family has the traditional Christmas Eve party which helps. The familiar giggles and loudness put a band aid on the sore spot. However, I still long for the days of all my siblings sitting around the living room acting goofy.

My stepchildren spend Christmas eve with us but go home that night to their mom. My husband insists they take turns opening one gift at a time. Maybe one day I can get him to go rouge and allow the flurry of boxes and paper to fly around like a tornado.

We just moved into a rented house and all of our money was spent paying rent, getting a Uhaul truck and countless other expenses.

Gifts don't look like an option for the kids this year. Even though they get many gifts from their mom, relatives and my relatives. I feel horrible because I know what it feels to wake up with nothing under the tree. Maybe this is a good lesson for them. There are many people who are in worse shape than I was in my youth.

My stepchildren are not little kids, 13 and 15 years old. I had an idea last night. Perhaps each of us take some money and spent it on someone else for a change. Christmas is not about gifts but about togetherness. Maybe this is the year I shed my Scrooge like attitude and fully get into the spirit of the holidays.