God Squeezes But Doesn’t Choke
We watched her sit at the edge of our cement porch, next to the long slender window in our living room, out in the open air of our yard, next to the silver rusted propane tank, sewing our gifts in little spare moments, a little today, more tomorrow, until finally one day they were done and we could play with them outside or anywhere else we wanted.
Almost everything we had she made.
Each curtain in the house, some of them lined with lace, all of my sisters’ nice dresses and blouses, our pillows stuffed with rags, covers quilted together from old clothing people would give us that didn’t fit, crocheted throws on the sofa, embroidered napkins for keeping tortillas warm and entertaining, old blue jeans cut at the knees, made into shorts, even our table cloth was stitched by her. My mother didn’t believe in wasting anything. When my father’s pants were torn or ours had holes in them, she’d patch them up as closely to their original blue jean tone as possible. Even our toys she’d make.
One year we wanted our favorite Loony Toons characters as stuffed animals. At the store they were just the right size, so plush and soft, in such a beautiful box, with so many colors. We only wanted one. They had so many! Instead we saw yellow cloth being stitched to black fabric, stuffed with fluffy white material, slowly forming into round stomachs, long beaks, longer grey ears, then arms and legs, until finally one day we were presented with my mother’s version of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and the fat duck that came out on one of the shows with them. We played so hard with those dolls that in a matter of weeks they were already falling apart. Most of the time, though, we just wanted what we saw in the store or on television real hard. Like My Buddy. His commercial was so catchy. Every time we heard it we’d stop: My Buddy, My Buddy, My Buddy and me…The kid on the screen looked so happy running around with his life-sized, plastic-faced doll dressed in overalls and plaid shirt. My Buddy was all I wanted at seven!
We never got the damn doll or the rip off version. I consoled myself playing with my sister’s hair brushes behind our house. There, next to the banana plants and weeds, knelt on the ground, I’d pretend they were Thunder Cats or G.I. Joe characters and spend hours in my own little world. When I was really bored I’d grab one of our kittens and brush them over and over until they’d manage to get away from me.
For birthdays mom would make us a cake from scratch, sandwiching marmalade in between two layers of bread, we’d light up the candles and dad would sing happy birthday to us. Christmas we’d get maybe one handmade toy or a new pair of jeans or shoes. Never what we saw at the stores! That year, though we weren’t expecting anything, nothing at all. We had been forewarned several weeks earlier that even though we had been good all year, for the most part, Santa Claus wouldn’t be making a stop at our house this Christmas. Not that any of us actually believed in him at that age, or ever had. His existence was more of a myth.
So when my mother woke me and my brothers up on Christmas Day to go see what Santa had brought us we all thought we were still dreaming. Clumsily staring at her through squinted eyes, hairs crisscrossed in every direction, lagañas hardened at the edges of our eyelids, we climbed out of bed and walked across the kitchen into the living room. There, individually sitting at the top of each of the three shelves of the white wooden stand my father had built, were three shiny new toy cars. Red, yellow, and blue, they weren’t wrapped and came with zero bells and whistles, but the joy we felt inside at their sight is still immeasurable. They were just like the ones at the store that we’d begged so much for, and now they were racing in our living room, zooming from one side of the house to the other. None of us could believe what had just happened. We didn’t even care who got which car, or what color car, we just wanted to play and celebrate an actual Christmas, probably the only true one I’ve ever experienced.
Santa Claus was never a part of the equation in our home. There weren’t any trips to the mall. We didn’t make a wish list or leave cookies and milk out, if we had had them we would have needed them to eat ourselves. At school they did tell us about him and made us act in plays about him, the whole magic of Christmas and all, but life afforded us the luxury of not believing.
Thinking back, I don’t think that was such a bad thing.