Patty’s Christmas Memory

Patty Nolan in 1927, age 17

My mother, Patty, showed me how memories from the past can enrich the present. Whether from her diaries, letters, or journals, be they sorrowful or sublime, she believed that memories were as precious as gold. During all the years since she’s been gone, I’ve treasured her memoirs. Their value enriches me, especially when I reread her Christmas Memory each December.

I was captivated by my mother’s stories of her childhood, and what it was like celebrating Christmas with 7 big sisters. Born in 1910, Patty was a talented writer who filled up diaries and journals, wrote poetry for Script– her high school writers’ club–and took to the stage. After she married my dad in 1931 and had her first daughter, she wrote about her childhood, typing out her Christmas Memory using onion-skin paper. She sent the story to her sister, Germaine, and I wish I could have been there as Aunt Jimmy read it for the first time. In the years to follow, they would move on from Christmas to tell amusing stories of sibling rivalries which I loved to hear, mainly because of their laughter in the telling which proved contagious.  

We were all at home—it didn’t seem crowded–just natural that we slept three in a bed, and I being the youngest smothered in the middle. From the day the first mysterious package was hidden away on Mama’s closet shelf we knew that Christmas was coming. 

On Christmas Eve the little church would be full to bursting. A spell was in the air when Santa Clause arrived to hand us each a little pictured box of candy. I wonder if Genevieve (her oldest sister) remembers one such performance when she played, “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.” I remembered because I was one of the “so many children,” and had one line to say as I strung cranberries on the tree.

After we went home to bed, sleep overtook us, but only for a little while. Then, suddenly, we three awoke to a quiet, grey morning as we quivered under the covers and pinched each other. Teddy and Jimmy pushed me out of bed to run shivering into the hallway where I shouted, “Merry Christmas!” There was something of the Chanticleer in that –I felt that I, with my own voice, had startled Christmas into being. 

Oh Papa, I can hear you groan, “Great Scott! It’s only four o’clock, and Mama say, “Get up Will and light the tree.” We had to dress while this took place–long underwear, buttons all over, and those high-laced shoes. One of the things that we all loved, were tarlatan bags filled with an apples, oranges, nuts and candy, that mysteriously showed up in our bedroom on Christmas morning.

And then, that precious moment came when we were blindfolded by one of the older girls, and we made our way downstairs and lined up in front of the tree. When Papa said, “Now,” the blindfolds were removed. My awe, my joy, and my hopes were fulfilled as I gazed upon this twinkling tower of candles and tinsel, angels and icicles! For one brief moment, the gifts lay forgotten while my eyes, my very soul, drank in the beauty of this sight.

I’m glad I have a little girl, and my Christmas prayer is only this: that I may never forget the loving source of these precious memories, and perhaps in some measure give to my home and family the same spirit of love and happiness that shines through all the memories I have of home and Christmas.

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