My first Christmas was in 1953. But I don’t remember it at all. I was just a few weeks out of the incubator at the hospital in Chattanooga (having been 4 to 7 weeks premature, and just over 4 lbs in weight). I trust it was a festive occasion at our house, but I can’t claim to recall any of it even though I was present.
The first Christmas I do recall was in 1957 when I was four years old. My brother and I awoke about 3:30 AM on Christmas morning and quietly called across the living room to mother and daddy’s bedroom (we lived in a 600 sq ft house so it was not a long way to call) to ask if it was OK to get up and see what Santa had brought us. Mother asked Dad, and he gave the permission we so desired. We cautiously entered the living room where our tree stood.
There was a scene I will never forget as long as I live. There stood four heavy cardboard boxes, delightfully colored and designed with teddy bears and balls on the sides. They were a nested set, stacked on top of one another, largest to smallest. And on the top box sat a small blond haired teddy bear presiding over it all. I was thrilled.
Teddy, as I called him, became a trusted friend, and retained the highest position in my pantheon of stuffed animals that accumulated through the years. The tag on the bottom of his foot said he was made in England by the Merrythought toy company (they still make handmade teddy bears to this day in Ironbridge, Shropshire). He had a metal box inside his stomach which caused him to make a growling sound if he leaned over, and he had red eyes (as I recall). Of course, years later my brother and I surgically removed this metal box as we played one day. Teddy’s eyes have long since fallen out, as has most of his beautiful blond hair.
My mother used to make clothes for Teddy. I remember he had a striped bathrobe that she made. And today, as he sits beside the computer as I write, he is wearing the green army jacket that she made for him. He wears it proudly.
There is nothing like the first Christmas in your memory.
It occurs to me today that this will be mother’s first Christmas in heaven. I wonder what that will be like. I don’t know what mother’s first Christmas was like down here on earth; those were simpler times, of course, back in the 1920s. But I’m sure it was memorable to her. But this one? This year? Whew! I’ll bet it will be fantastic!
To celebrate Christmas with the love of her life again (my Dad), to see her mother and father, to talk with her cousin who died on Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy, to visit with Aunt Ruth (that she used to spend summers with out in the country) and . . . to be in the presence of the King of Kings. My guess is that “first timers” get special treatment in heaven on that first Christmas. And why not?
And for my older brother and I it will also be our first Christmas without her. A lovely gold ornament with her picture inside it hangs on our respective trees this year. But along with the loss and grief I feel there is an even more pronounced sense of well-being that presides over it all.
The British teddybear that sits beside me this morning will always be a reminder of my first Christmas: the magic, the warmth, the love, the meaningfulness of family, gift-giving, and joy. Later today we will take a family picture to remember this year. My wife’s parents will be in it, along with me and my wife, my two daughters, my son-in-law, and my 20 month old grandson.
Memory. It is a gift that bring a smile, and a tear.