Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advent: A Time of Waiting

          On the first Sunday of Advent the reader was giving an explanation of its meaning…a time of preparation, of waiting, of anticipation.  For some reason my memory picked up on the words “waiting” and “anticipation” and took me back to the years when my brother and I shared the excitement of waiting…not in the liturgical sense, but in the ways that children have gladly embraced the adventure of Christmas with such glee.

           By the time my younger brother was old enough to be both a companion and a bit of an ornery sibling (six years’ difference), my parents had finally been able to buy a home…the first time they could call one theirs, a half acre of fertile bottom land close to the Arkansas River in between Tulsa and Sand Springs.  It had a wonderful yard and trees, but one of the attractions for us as children was the basement.  In bad weather it was a playroom; its concrete floor allowed roller skating (in tight circles).  It was Daddy’s workshop and Mother’s laundry area and storage for canning.

            Immediately after Thanksgiving, however, we were banned unceremoniously from the basement…Daddy went to work on secret projects and no one was allowed downstairs thereafter (although we would volunteer enthusiastically day after day to tote laundry down, retrieve canned goods for supper, etc.)  Daddy would retire to the basement after supper and we would listen for sounds that might give us a clue as to what he might be up to.  

           One of our looked-forward-to times was when the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog arrived.  None of the endless supplements that fill the Sunday newspapers or the mindless jingles on TV today can hold a candle to the joy of the festive cover and exciting pages of those catalogs.  Since each of us wanted to peruse it first a truce had to be declared and we would ensconce ourselves flat in the middle of the floor, each armed with a different colored pencil, to make our marks on each and every delightful toy that we felt we could not possibly live without!

            Once through the catalog was not enough of course; something this important required several trips in case we had missed something.  We would then deliver our carefully notated “wish lists” to our parents in the utter faith that all those wonderful things would materialize under our tree.
            As soon as that was done we would start asking when we could put the tree up.  Nebulous answers were never good enough (I think Mother got wiser as time went on and hid the catalog when it arrived just to keep the clamoring down).  Finally a target date would be agreed upon…usually a weekend…and the excitement began.  From then on we offered to stop at every Christmas tree lot, or to go through every tree at grocery stores…our services were dutifully noted….and ignored.

          All would come together of course, we would pick out a tree, gather the decorations and spend hours deciding where each thing should go…I think our parents just closed their ears and let us do it…all but the lights of course…that was Daddy’s job.  (Oh, the wonder of the year we finally got bubble lights!)  At long last the tree would be finished, we would sigh in total admiration for a moment, then begin asking when the presents would appear. 

           We could hardly wait until after school to “attack” the setting, armed with our trusty pencils, shake, smell, and weigh each package (trying to figure out if it matched something on our lists), then number them in the order we planned to open them Christmas morning.
It must have been such fun for our parents to watch the seriousness with which we went through this drill…knowing full well that we would do it all over again the next day when another one or two appeared!
          Some of our packages had their numbers marked out so many times as they lost favor to a newer more exciting one that it became difficult to keep track of!  Finally we would begin the clamor of “could we open just ONE on Christmas Eve?”  That became a tradition along with hanging our stockings.
               The worst part about that morning was that we HAD to eat breakfast first; we viewed that as totally unnecessary.  When we finally managed to get a few required bites down, we were allowed our unbridled attack on Christmas.   We would see everything complete…first of all what Daddy had been making for us in the basement, and then a few last minute presents that would throw all our carefully orchestrated numbering out the proverbial window.  

           I don’t think we ever got very many of the things we had so faithfully marked in the catalog…I don’t think we were ever disappointed about it.  It was years before I realized how carefully our parents had to budget in order to have Christmas for us; that’s one reason the basement became the Santa’s workshop at Bruner Station. 

          One year they built me a doll house complete with electric lights (Christmas tree lights);

my brother got a wooden adaptation of the metal service station that was so popular for boys.   Another year my brother got his train set mounted on a frame that could slide under his bed without taking the train apart.  When I became a teenager Daddy built me a desk, wide enough to work on, study on, and pile endless treasures on.   What thought and planning went along with their budgeting.  

          We might have been quite taken by a new “this” or “that” in the catalog, or in the store windows downtown, but a carefully chosen jigsaw puzzle with the admonishment that they hoped we MIGHT be old enough to work it would send us to the kitchen table to prove we could.

         The magic of Christmas so often seems to get lost in the latest electronic frenzy or the hope of designer labels, of overloading the credit cards to make sure everything on the want list is provided.  I wish somehow that my parents had thought to write a “how-to” book on giving children a memorable Christmas, from time lines to the right gifts…and how to do it without losing sleep!

         I realize now how hard they worked to do what they did; I realize now that they had just as much fun “playing” us along by doling out simple gifts to whet our anticipation.  We never did figure out where they hid the presents…oh, we tried, we looked, we connived!  To this day I have no idea where they kept them!

         I realize now how they must have gone over our lists and discussed what they COULD do to make those childish wishes come true (as much as possible).   I realize now how much I didn’t realize how lucky we were!

         It was the anticipation…it was the waiting…it was the exuberance of our youth…it was a lot of cleverness on their part…it was a time of joy always (well…except for maybe the year my brother got an Erector set, left a lot of the little screws on the floor and Daddy walked through his room in the dark barefooted!).

        Most of all though, it was a time of love!  What more could we ask!


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