The Ghost of Christmas Presents
When we were kids, we had very little in the line of material goods. Our Dad was more than a bit of a miser. He was older when I was born (about 40 years old) and he was a child of the Great Depression , which left its mark on a whole generation of people. He provided the basics for his children: a roof and food, and that was about it. I remember something my sister Carole called a "science experiment". She put some salt water in a dish on the dresser in our bedroom and it froze overnight. Our bedroom was unheated, you see, and it got very cold in the during the upstate New York winters. Carole was trying to call the parents' attention to this fact, in the gentlest way possible, which they both blithely ignored. I'm sure they had both endured much worse, themselves, and so could seem very hard-hearted to people whose lot in life was easier.
Carole was born in 1956; I was born in 1957. From the earliest time I can remember, my dear sister Carole protected me and took great care of me, the best she could. From the time we were tots, she was my little mother. What grace of kindness and love in this world that I have experienced and can appreciate, I owe to her early care of me.
Well here we were, in the summer of 1967. The "summer of love". I was only 10 years old and still aware that the world was changing rapidly from the 1950's. I was one very uncomfortable, frightened, and discontented child, I'm sorry to say. I had my reasons, but still, I'm afraid I did not make the best of the situation I found myself in. Our parents were so very old fashioned and belonged to a very severe fundamentalist religious sect. Dad ruled the roost with and iron fist. We children were terrified of him.
Let me say this: in Dad's generation, corporal punishment of children was common, frequent, and often severe. An adult stranger could slap or kick a child that he or she felt was getting too sassy, too rambunctious, or just too loud. Children were chattel. Parents could do whatever they wanted to their child, and it was no one's business to interfere. Even given that circumstance, Dad was still pretty extreme.
I got picked on in school because of my extremely tattered and old-fashioned clothes; I got picked on in school because I was simply NOT a child of my generation, but of one or two generations previous.
I got picked on at home, maybe because I was the youngest and it was easy to make me cry. Our household was rough; unkindness and brutality are catching, sort of, and people do, before they are old enough to learn better, tend to pass down onto someone weaker what hurts they receive from someone they can't hit back.
In 1967, our allowance was a nickel a week. Dad passed out those precious nickels as though we should fall on our bended knees and thank him profusely; I'm sure, to him, there were many times in his youth when the gift of a nickel would represent a small fortune to him. I know he felt we were ungrateful, and perhaps we were. A nickel just didn't buy much in 1967. Many of our classmates were getting a dollar a week allowance, and they didn't have to work for it, and we did!
Mom had given us, a few years back when I was maybe six or seven years old, a little savings bank in the shape of a globe. Dad gave us, at the same time, a lecture on the importance of saving money. You put the coin the slot at the top, at the North Pole. You could uncork the bottom pedestal to get the money out again.
Well my allowance was spent very quickly on candy or some little treat every two or three weeks. (It took that long to save up for a candy bar.)
However, in about March of 1967, I was determined to just save the nickels. Put them in the World Bank (!) and try to forget them until, say, my birthday in October. My goal in life at that point was to save up a whole dollar for myself.
Still June, 1967
About the middle of June, I noticed that my World Bank wasn't getting any heavier. There were just a few coins rattling around in it, and that was all. I uncorked the bottom and much to my dismay, discovered only four pennies.
I knew what had happened. My brother Danny had taken the nickels and replaced them with a few pennies from the penny jar, from which the parents gave us milk money for school. The temptation was too great for him one day, and he knew I wouldn't tell on him.
I was so angry!! I was so upset over that miserable 60 cents or so!! I felt like, what is the use?? Why bother to even try to save when someone steals from you!! I cried and stormed and raged inconsolably. It may seem laughable today. It sure wasn't funny to me then.
I took sort of a permanent burn from that experience. I didn't trust anybody after that, and grew very suspicious, very unfriendly towards my fellow beings. It seemed like everyone except for Carole could not be trusted not to hurt me.
The above picture is from: EMPTYMIDDLESEAT.BLOGSPOT.COM, Currier and Ives Christmas Scenes
Two days before Christmas, my dear sister Carole told me a little story, about the Ghost of Christmas Presents.
The Ghost of Christmas Presents comes to poor people all over the world, and leaves their children a special blessing under their pillows in the night of Christmas Eve. The blessing may take the form of a gift; or maybe a kiss by the angel of luck, or maybe a gift of a bright and happy future to compensate for what the poor kids are missing today. Santa comes down the chimney on Christmas eve; but the Ghost of Christmas Presents floats unseen and unheard through the bedroom window.
My beloved sister told me to look under my pillow on Christmas morning to see if the Ghost of Christmas Presents had left something for me.
Well, I felt I was a little bit too old for this story. I never really believed in Santa Claus, and the Ghost of Christmas Presents was an even greater stretch, to my mind. Still, it was a charming story, and I didn't want to hurt my sister's feelings, so I went along with it.
I woke early Christmas morning and felt something hard and lumpy underneath my pillow.
I pulled it out. It was a whole lot of nickels, seemed like hundreds but was actually thirty or so, tied up in a cloth. My beloved sister Carole had saved them since June, hidden safe from Danny's depredations in a place known only to her.
How I thanked her, how I cried, how I insisted on at least splitting them with her, and how she refused! She insisted in her turn that it was a blessing from the Ghost of Christmas Presents, and not from her. And how very much that gift from the Ghost of Christmas Presents softened and redeemed me from disliking and distrusting people! I was touched to the heart and am still touched to this day. It was an act of unparalleled generosity and very like her.
In loving memory of Carole Potter, July 22, 1956-June 15, 2015