Whether it had been a particularly difficult year only my parents knew. We’d still managed to make it to school everyday like we normally did. On Saturdays like clockwork we’d all pack into the chocolate, our fudge brown colored, four door, rusty sedan, and drive down to the Valley Mart in town for mamá to do the weekly grocery shopping for the household. Eggs and milk were mainstays on our shopping list and so long as we had beans and rice to go along with them, we were in pretty good shape. For school there were always clean clothes waiting for us in the morning.
Sure there were patches on most of our pants, usually a different shade of blue from our original blue jeans, but hey, we were in the Rio Grande Valley. It was the kids without the raggedy jeans who stood out in our school.
They were the ones we all looked up to and wanted to be around. They could afford to buy nice clothes and keep them clean.
Our clothes, on the other hand, were literally all purpose. Not to mention destined for an existence of repurposing. Once they’d outlived their ability to be handed down, and if they weren’t packed into our car for our summer trips to Mexico, where they were gifted to any relative who could almost fit into them, mamá would cut them up and sew them into blankets, bed covers, pillow shams, or whatever else she could come up with, anything not to throw them away. Eso hubiera sido un desperdicio, and that we avoided at all costs.
Just days before Christmas Eve, though, that year our mother pulled us into the room and looked at us in that way we knew meant she had something to say. There was warmth in her smile, her eyes kind of glistened with just a hint of sadness, her touch was extra tender, and the rhythm in her voice was more gentle than usual. In confusion my two brothers and I just sat there and waited for her to tell us what she had to say. Este año no van haber regalos. Su papa no ha trabajado mucho… no habido mucho trabajo y no hay dinero para regalos. Nomás vamos hacer una comidita aquí y ya.
Inevitably we were disappointed, but the three of us knew that was just the way life was for us. Sometimes we got what we wanted. Most times we just imagined we did and made the best of what we had. There wouldn’t have been a reason to throw a tantrum. That wouldn’t have helped us achieve anything, and in truth this was long before our deep affinity for material things – things like our friends would eventually have in the city years later. Our only concern then was having time to play and run around outside with each other, making up our own games as we went along. Red Rover, Ring around the Rosie, London Bridge, and jumping rope were our big pastimes. That and incessantly digging in the sand were bliss for me.
Early Christmas Day, though, we groggily made it out of bed, following my mother into the living room. She’d woken the three us up as only she could by caressing her hand across our hair and down our backs, ever so softly whispering in our ears, mijo… ya leventate, mijo… mijito. Slowly we obliged, yawning, wiping the lagañas out of our eyes, too tired to wonder what was going on, just walking straight out of the bedroom, through the kitchen, and into the living room behind her. There, smiling from ear to ear next to the white three story bookshelf he’d built with his own hands was my father, not saying a word, just pointing at what was sitting on each layer of the shelf. We couldn’t believe our eyes. Immediately we raced across the room, screaming and hollering, jumping from one end of the room to the other with our brand new toy cars in our hands. The size, make, model, and even the color of our cars, today, are memories long gone, many, many years ago, but the one thing that has always remained in the deepest and most treasured of my childhood memories is the feeling in our hearts that morning.
Complete and utter joy was in my heart. Melancholy took hold of me for a second, right before the shrieks of excitement heard round the house, and all I could do the rest of the day was smile and play the hell out of my new car. Since then, no other Christmas has ever come close to bringing the true spirit of the holiday season into my corazón. We’ve always received gifts from my parents after that, much better ones at that, and still do today, but none of them have ever meant as much. We knew they weren’t going through an easy time. We knew we didn’t have any money. We didn’t have a Christmas tree, or even so much as a single Christmas light anywhere inside or outside of our house, but somehow, someway, whatever little money they had, our parents had managed to make certain we didn’t wake up to just another day on Navidad. Even better, my two older sisters didn’t get anything at all and they were just as happy and excited for us as we were. En toda sinceridad, for me, it was a Christmas miracle in so many ways.
Miracle en el valle de Tejas.