A Season to Celebrate Waiting

The key sits loosely in its lock: unturned, unnecessary. In a neighborhood where children drift from one house to the next as freely as wind-tossed leaves and women freely borrow milk or sugar from unattended kitchens, no one locks a closet.

In this neighborhood, closets hold no treasure: no jewels, no gold, no banded stacks of bills. They overflow with life’s necessities: shoes still tidy in original boxes, purses and shirts, a wardrobe of ties. Where two closets nestle side by side, hers is an obvious jumble of quilting scraps, extra pillows, photographs, and report cards. His, more intentional, has been arranged more precisely into a purposeful array of hunting vests, stamp paraphernalia, drafting tools, and gun cases. It’s a perfect marriage of closets.

Dimly lit and cave-like, the closets are mysterious, compelling and sancrosanct. Few children dare enter them without permission, but in the weeks before Christmas, a child might forego caution after being tempted by the faintest whisper of possibility: There might be presents…

It’s a special kind of hide-and-seek, this business of children searching out what parents have tucked under the bed, into the basement, or on those out-of-the-way shelves behind the washer. Inevitably, any child will be tempted toward the best hiding-place of all: a parent’s bedroom closet.

When I decided to invade the closets, I found their locks less of an impediment than a bottom hinge. It had needed oiling for months, and protested with a rising, audible whine whenever the door eased open. Hesitation only increased its volume; pulled firmly, resolutely, it remained silent.

More dangerous was the oak floor board lying halfway between the room’s threshold and the closet. However firmly or lightly someone stepped, it creaked beneath their weight: the sound sharper by far than the scrape of branches on winter-frosted windows. Counting from the threshold, it turned out to be the twenty-eighth board that complained. Careless or inattentive, I sometimes failed to watch, count, and count again before crossing the floor. One step on the vocal board would be enough to raise a different voice from the living room below: “Get out of that closet!”

I lived for several years with that twenty-eighth board, plotting and planning my way across the bedroom floor like Meriwether Lewis confronting a cataract. Even today, faint beneath the raucous holiday traffic and insistent, obnoxious advertising, I sometimes hear that murmuring hinge and the floor board’s muffled creak. Their memories evoke more than amusing sorties and nostalgic sounds. There is the sting of regret; the slight, bitter taste of deception; and the chagrin of learning what life can hold for a child who refuses to wait for Christmas.

The year impatience overcame me, the tree already was upright and strung with lights, ready for cranberry garlands and tinfoil bells. The first of the Christmas cookies had been baked and decorated, and the menu planned for Christmas dinner. Still, the house felt empty, bereft of the excitement and anticipation stirred by the sight of gifts.

No bits of wrapping paper decorated the trash; no extra Scotch tape or out-of-place scissors suggested seasonal activity. Most suspiciously, no tell-tale car doors slammed after I’d been sent to bed. I wasn’t precisely worried, but recent exposure to Santa rumors had left me cautious, and just a little nervous about my best friend’s contention that kids who don’t believe in Santa don’t get gifts. Eventually, I thought, I’d need to check things out.

A week later, our family was invited to a neighbor’s open house, and my mother allowed me the choice of coming along or staying home. Sensing opportunity, I choose to stay home, muttering vague justifications about needing to work on school projects. From an upstairs window, I watched my parents cross the yard, then disappear into our neighbor’s home.

With my parents safely occupied, I sprinted out of my bedroom and into their room, heedless of the squeaking board. As I opened the door to my dad’s closet, the thin, lambent sunlight of late afternoon barely lit its contents.  I pulled the chain hanging from a single, overhead bulb, and the sudden explosion of light confirmed my worst fears. Nothing was out of place. Half-heartedly, I pushed back some shirts, and peered at the familiar shoe boxes. No packages huddled in the gloom, no paper or ribbon hinted at Christmas glory. Perplexed, I shut the door.

Despite my conviction that any gifts would have been secreted in my father’s closet, I glanced into my mother’s closet, then stepped inside the already-opened door. Even after turning on the light, I nearly missed the glint of candy cane striped foil. Lifting up what appeared to be a hastily tossed heap of mending, I gasped at the pile of waiting boxes, neatly wrapped and ready for bows. Each carried a tag, and of the few that I could see, most carried my name.

At the time, I’d not heard the phrase ‘crime of opportunity,’ but on that day I had opportunity, and I fell easily into crime.

Carefully, cautiously, neither moving the mending nor unstacking the boxes, I lifted the clear tape from the neat, vee’d fold of paper on one end of a box. The wrapping paper, heavy, smooth, and slick to the touch, remained intact. The tape peeled up perfectly, the sharp, crisp folds of paper popped open easily, and I discovered the contents by reading the end of the box.

Oddly, I no longer remember the box’s contents. I recall only my sudden sense of guilt, a dread of being discovered, and the disappointment I experienced when unwrapping the package on Christmas morning. Guilt, disappointment, and dread would have been punishment enough, but worse by far was my first, unhappy taste of dishonesty’s primary consequence: having to pretend all was right when, in fact, everything was wrong.

My unwillingness to wait, born of a child’s desire for immediate gratification and an inability to trust that gifts would be given, had left me unable to celebrate. I spent that terrible day wishing only for Christmas to end, and I never engaged in untimely unwrapping again.

Today, during this strange season of demands and disappointment, the beginning of the season called Advent extends a gracious invitation to delay gratification, and learn a deeper patience.

A season of silence and shadows, Advent whispers an uncomfortable truth: waiting is the condition of our lives. From birth to death, from our coming in to our going out of this amazing, implausible world, we live our lives in a state of perpetual waiting.

We wait for arguments to be resolved and peace to be restored; for bitterness to ebb and pain to flow away. Season after season, we await the budding of spring and the gathering of the harvest: the coming of the storm and the clearing of the sky. Sleepless after midnight, we wait for time to pass until the coming of the dawn. Exhausted by the day, we wait for the blessing of darkness, and the restorative powers of sleep. Always, we wait for laughter; for love; and for the simple, unexpected gifts of life.

Of course, in the process of waiting, there are choices to be made and consequences to be suffered. Like over-eager children before a pile of gifts, we can be tempted to rush our lives, demanding immediate satisfaction even though our willingness to slip away a ribbon, lift a bit of tape, and unfold a sheet of love-creased paper may destroy our joy.

But when patience is learned, waiting becomes a mysterious and compelling experience that arrives hand in hand with whispers of possibility. T.S. Eliot clearly understood that waiting can become the greatest gift of all: a gift that nurtures and deepens our humanity.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

 

Comments always are welcome.

103 thoughts on “A Season to Celebrate Waiting

  1. What an eager, impatient, and inquisitive child you were, Linda! And what wonderful memories you have shared today! I don’t recall ever venturing into my parents’ closet to look for Christmas gifts early. I guess my sis and I were probably afraid to do so, thinking that somehow, our deed would be discovered and the gifts would be returned as punishment for poking our noses where they didn’t belong. However, once those gifts were under the tree, all bets were off. We’d shake them, weigh the contents, and do our level best to read through the wrapping paper to see if we could ascertain the contents. Somewhere along the line, I guess I found a bit of patience, and to this day, I’m pretty content to wait for the magic of Christmas morning. Great story!

    1. Ah, yes. I remember shaking and weighing. Unfortunately, my dad was a master of disguise, and you couldn’t always tell from the outward appearance of the package what was lurking inside. He didn’t often use the box-within-a-box trick, but he had his ways.

      I’ve always thought that siblings would have complicated matters even more. Not getting caught by parents was one thing. I suspect not getting squealed on by a brother or sister would have been more difficult. I grinned at your use of the word ‘inquisitive.’ My mother’s word for the same behavior was ‘snoopy’ — and she didn’t mean a cartoon dog!

  2. Such a vivid, evocative piece. Seems as though you learned your lesson. I have my own story of peeking early, but with a different conclusion. I will be writing about it soon for my blog.

    1. I suspect we all have our “I can’t bear to wait for Christmas” stories; I’m looking forward to yours, whether it’s Christmas related or not. It’s always seemed odd to me that I have such vivid, discrete memories of that time. I still can see a gift under the tree that had my name not on a gift tag, but spelled out on the package in pennies. Clever parents!

  3. I can feel the anticipation and anxiety as you creep across the floor and peel back the tape, Linda. And the shock we’ve all felt when we reach our goal but are surprised by what we learn. Whether I peeked or not, I was always let down by figuring out what was inside the wrapping, even if it was exactly what I hoped for. I wanted that excited run down the stairs on Christmas morning.

    We live our lives waiting for we know not what, so we must live in the waiting and not wait to live. The mystery can be wonderful, and we’ll unwrap it all soon enough.

    1. It’s the surprise that I enjoy now, and that I learned to enjoy through the years. As you suggest, knowing that we’re getting what we asked for can have a downside. I suppose that’s one reason I came to dislike the “What do you want for Christmas” conversations. I’d prefer not to ask for a [fill in the blank] and get it — it’s much better to receive a prettily wrapped ‘whatever’ that can be tucked under the tree and contemplated.

  4. Great story, Linda! I too peeked under the bed one year and saw I was getting a Spirograph – what I had asked for. I don’t remember feeling guilty but I did realize I had stolen my own happy surprise and never peeked again.

    1. A spirograph! I never got one of those, but I did get a Magic Slate. I was amazed to see that both toys still are being produced and sold, although it made me a feel a little odd to see ones from the 1990s described as ‘vintage.’

      It is the surprises that delight, isn’t it? We spend so much time plotting and planning that we need Christmas and other celebrations to remind us of their joy. One of the primary reasons I enjoy being in nature is because of the surprises it holds; there’s never any predicting what we’ll find.

  5. On a past iteration of your advent to Advent I commented about 28 being both a triangular and a perfect number. This time I noticed how you twice used threshold in its literal, physical sense; my impression is that many or maybe most uses of the word are now metaphorical, as for example standing at the threshold of a new era, or a dim memory rising to the threshold of consciousness.

    You’ve done a fair amount of updating. And of course this year has brought a different sort of waiting, one that won’t even begin to find any fulfillment till well after Christmas.

    1. While ‘threshold’ isn’t a specifically nautical word, I suspect my work has kept it in my vocabulary. People often refer to the boards across the bottom of a boat’s companionway as a threshold, so the word from childhood — and home construction — endures.

      I smiled when I saw the conversation about reprocessing photos on Steve G’s blog. Photographers reprocess when new tools become available; writers edit with new words and new understanding of how words should fit together. I like to think of it as a verbal reshoot.

      1. Your “verbal reshoot” is an apt melding of two worlds that many of us inhabit. If I reread something I wrote years ago I almost always want to change some things. The same happened for something I wrote yesterday.

  6. Of a more dangerous nature is the insatiable curiosity of seeking to uncover the mystery of a family member’s past as if we have a right to know the truth about our loved one’s secrets. Sometimes the past is better left in the past.

    1. Perhaps. On the other hand, sometimes even the surprise that comes with learning a family member’s past can be a delight — at least, once the shock wears off. I didn’t know until a few years ago that my favorite aunt had an ‘interesting’ past. She worked for a county treasurer, did a little light embezzling, and landed in prison. My family, the neighbors, and the whole little town kept the secret from me; my mother and another aunt didn’t spill the beans until I was well past sixty. It seems no one wanted to disrupt my relationship with my aunt. I told the story in two parts, that begin here.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed the season of Advent, but its lessons seem even more appropriate this year. It’s one thing to wait for Christmas when you know when it will arrive. “Just waiting” without any sure knowledge of an end point is something else.

    1. It does put that somewhat trite expression (“Don’t let anyone steal your joy”) into a larger context, doesn’t it? We deprive ourselves of so much, in so many ways. Learning to see the gifts that surround us is one step away from that.

  7. Beautiful post Linda thank you.
    I really enjoyed your vivid account of your pre Christmas gift explorations.
    Quite refreshing to see your link with the advent time of waiting.
    Our churches and places of worship have been closed again for public services during this 2nd lockdown due to end this coming Wednesday.
    I have only been to three masses here in England since initial restrictions in mid March. I attended on my birthday 12th July which coincided with the second mass since start of first lockdown, my mum’s anniversary mass at the end of August and a mass in September for a deceased parishioner who I knew.
    The first Sunday in Advent always seems special when a child is chosen to light the first candle on the advent wreath. It seems strange to have the Wednesday ‘opening up’ after this special Sunday.
    Take care & keep well

    1. While I’m not averse to decorating just after Thanksgiving, or listening to Christmas music in early December, I do enjoy Advent, with all of its traditions. Following the liturgical calendar, with the Christmas season beginning on December 25 and lasting until Epiphany, allows for a more relaxed celebration. Like you, we’ve had worship severely restricted, and the disapppointment is especially sharp during this season. Zoomed sermons and drive-through communion just don’t cut it — any more than Thanksgiving dinner apart from our families satisfies. Despite it all, I hope your season is a beautiful one.

      1. Yours too Linda. While driving to visit the family grave today I saw a very tasteful house and garden decorated with tree, reindeers, robins and lights. It lifted my spirits.

    1. Well, there is that phrase: a storybook childhood. Mine certainly wasn’t perfect, but the good was very good, indeed, and I have a lot of fine memories. I’ll probably never publish a book, but I do enjoy writing a bit of my life here. When my mind begins to fade (if it does), at least I can read my blog and remember what I’ve forgotten.

  8. A lovely story, Linda, that triggered a memory of my brother and I unwrapping and re-wrapping our gifts under the tree while our parents were out. We did not wait patiently when the opportunity presented itself.

    1. To paraphrase the old saying, “Carpe Christmas!” I think it would have been fun to have a sibling with whom to enjoy the run-up to the holiday. On the other hand, there was no one to rat me out. That may or may not have been an advantage.

  9. Oooh, “the stillness the dancing.”

    I was never one to go looking for presents. I’ve always loved surprised and didn’t want the anticipation to end until it had to. I wonder now if my older brother did go looking, as there were definitely years when gifts were hidden at the neighbors’ houses instead of our own!

    1. I suspect all parents had — have — that kind of backup plan. There were gifts from Santa that appeared at our house on Christmas morning that had to have been stashed elsewhere: things like a scooter and a child-sized table and chairs. They wouldn’t have fit under the bed, that’s for sure. I’ve grown to be like you; the surprises in life don’t have to be grand It’s the surprise that counts, not the size of the gift.

  10. Great story, Linda and so well told. The giving of cadeaux to children used to be on the 5th of December, St Nicholas’. day. I am talking about Holland during my youth. Christmas was more for church going and real Christmas trees with real candles and fondue sweets dangling, and songs around the crib with Joseph and donkey’s warm breath over hay.

    I now shudder when I see shops with all those artificial spruces as unbending and garish as they can be. They now can fold up like umbrellas and stored till the following year.

    But, we did share the poking around at the possibility of some present, spare as they often were. Hand knitted socks, often grey coloured was a given but as the years went by, we might get something more substantial. I remember a mechano set and a book to paste in stamps.

    Sweet memories.

    1. I didn’t know that candle-lit trees were part of your tradition, Gerard. My Swedish grandparents also had candles on their tree, although I remember seeing them only once before they made the move to electric tree lights. Candlelight did endure in the traditions of Santa Lucia,though. A headdress of lighted candles wouldn’t get past the safety inspectors today, but there’s nothing lovelier. Well, except perhaps for midnight candlelight services. It really does grieve me that those won’t be possible this year. (I have heard rumors of plans for rogue Christmas-caroling, though!)

      One of the most memorable Christmases I had was in Salisbury, England. On Christmas morning, the innkeepers had placed an orange and a peppermint stick outside each room. It was delightful.

    1. Thanks, John. The older I get, the more I believe Flannery O’Connor was right when she said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

  11. We had the same creaky board! Mine was in the hall way, in front of the closet with the treasures. Such a fun story, Linda! Patience is a virtue, but hard one, I think, for most of us.

    1. Isn’t it amazing how some of those memories stay with us — especially sensory memories? Proust certainly got a good bit out of his Madeleine, and when I think of holiday memories, they’re almost all associated with scent, sound, or taste — even the sound of a creaking board.

  12. *won* I think I was trying to decide whether I should say, ‘…one that is hard’ or what I actually ended up with! Sheesh, that enter key is too easy sometimes!

    1. I think you came to a mental crossroads and didn’t know which way to go: patience as a hard-won virtue, or one that’s hard to learn! It’s just two ways of saying the same thing — and absolutely true.

  13. I absolutely loved everything about your story, Linda! The references to and photo of a closet really took me back. We had a large hall closet that my parents used for their clothing because there was no closet to speak of in their downstairs bedroom. A bench ran along two sides of the walls inside the closet, maybe for shoes? Once in a while my mom would let me go in there to play, and I remember the smell of my dad’s dry-cleaned suits and scents of my mom’s wool coat and perfumed best dress.

    1. I just commented to someone else that so many of our memories seem associated with our senses. Your memory of the dry-cleaned suits, a wool coat, and perfume certainly confirms that. Like you, I remember all the details of those closets — even the slanted ceiling in one. The thought of you playing in your closet makes me smile. It took so little to create a special occasion in those childhood days!

  14. I love this story, Linda. I never took a peek, but I had a sister who couldn’t help herself. She happened to tell my brother about how easy it was to find out and she shared with him what every one of us was getting that year, and of course he blabbed. I felt bad just hearing what my gifts were – I did not want the information that was given, and felt horrible about it. Not long after that our brother ratted her out when they were both in trouble for something. I remember our mom was very hurt to learn this. All of those years she thought the gifts were a surprise, and now she wondered how long she had been fooled. Sadly, Christmas was never the same after that. Mom’s joy about surprising us would be gone forever. After that, she asked us what we wanted for gifts, and pretty much that’s what we got.

    I figure there are reasons to be patient, and those reasons are revealed when the time is right.

    1. As an only child, I tend to assume only the best about having siblings, but that obviously isn’t always the case. The same brother or sister who shares also can snitch — I might have been in big trouble much sooner, and more often, with a sibling.

      I smiled at your description of your sister as one “who couldn’t help herself.” We are such different personalities, and I’ve known people who seem to have a compulsion to avoid surprises at all costs. The reasons no doubt differ, but it’s interesting that some love the anticipation of waiting, while for others it raises anxieties.

      In my case, I thought I wanted information about my gifts, but I discovered I really didn’t. Like you, I suspect, I’ve learned something else: the best gifts rarely appear on a list left for Santa.

  15. What a wonderful way to start the Advent Season! Our children live all over Canada and the world. It will be a quiet Christmas because of Covid. Patience is key. I made an advent wreath with four candles one for each Sunday before Christmas Eve. Best wishes! Peter

    1. Commercialism has taken over the Advent calendar — who needs an Advent calendar filled with chocolates or toys? — but the Advent wreath seems to have been ignored. Thank goodness! I don’t remember the wreaths being a part of my Methodist childhood, even at the church, but when I became a Lutheran, I adopted the practice, and love it. Despite its complications, it’s still Advent, and Christmas still will come; I hope you enjoy it, Peter.

  16. I know it must have been a big challenge. My folks had 9 kids. They had hiding places that were top secret. One year when I was about 6-8 yrs old, I went outside to play in the snow a couple of days after Christmas. I walked toward the north side of the house where snow drifts were often taller than me. I noticed part of a small box sticking out of the snow next to the walk. It was a toy tractor, brand new, and obviously intended for me. A little further along the sidewalk was the outdoor toilet sitting unused in the winter. It seems a good hiding place for presents was in that outhouse. My toy got dropped on the way into the house on Christmas eve.

    1. What a delightful story! It’s the gift version of the jello salad that always got left in the refrigerator in our house, although, with so many kids, it makes sense that an accidental loss wouldn’t be noticed. And what clever parents, to make use of a spot that no kid would want to visit in the winter! I think mine used the trunk of the car and a neighbor’s home as well as the closet, and now I suspect they enjoyed the hide-the-present game as much as I loved to open the presents.

  17. I was never a present sleuth as a child (though my wife and her siblings were) and, consequently, have fond memories of Christmases past, even when resources were slim and the gifts modest. But we are a society that eschews waiting, that demands instant gratification, and we are so much the poorer for it. Those Christmas mornings, when at last my wishes were granted, were some of the best moments I can recall. Magical…

    1. You’re right that the demand for instant gratification has affected both individual lives and our society as a whole. It’s affected far more than Christmas morning and its gifts. I suppose that’s one reason the holiday has lost its appeal for so many. When gift-giving becomes a transaction rather than an opportunity for magic to appear, we become poorer, no matter how great or expensive the gift.

      The most magical Christmas of my life was in 2004. Houston and areas down the coast received inches of snow on Christmas eve. Everyone suddenly was six years old. Snow angels appeared, and snowmen. Perfectly reasonable adults ran around catching snowflakes on their tongues. Talk about magic.

  18. Thanks very much Linda. Rowan Williams quoted a line from your T.S. Eliot verse in a lecture I listened to recently, and that lecture is special to me. Seeing the whole verse here is such a gift! Also your initial discussion before the verse helped me understand it … I suspect I might have struggled otherwise! Feeling very grateful to you.

    1. If you haven’t clicked the link to the entire poem, I think you’d enjoy it. Eliot’s Four Quartets each were divided into five sections. This quotation’s from the third section of “East Coker.” There’s a fine online text of the entire Quartet here. I’ve often thought that, were I dispatched to that mythical island with only one bit of literature to keep me company, the Four Quartets would do just fine. I’ve been reading and re-reading and pondering them for years. Some bits still are opaque, but several sections have become friends.

      1. Wow! Thank you. I’ve just been looking at an extended portion of what you’d already quoted and it’s incredibly deep – perhaps more than I can comprehend! the thing is, I’m hooked anyway.

        1. Hooray! Any time I can encourage someone to explore Eliot, I’m happy. If you come to something that just doesn’t make sense, do what I do, and skip over it. I’m always being surprised by new sections that suddenly seem to resonate, even after some years.

  19. What a rush of unexpected nostalgia you’ve inspired. I very clearly remember oh-so-carefully peeling back the Scotch tape and easing back the ribbon to uncover the identity of the treasure within–but only once, never again. And I also remember taking care to wrap presents for our children in such a way that tampering would be both extremely difficult and immediately obvious, not out of spite, but to prevent their reliving my disappointing result of my inability to be patient. Such a wonderful post.

    1. It’s been such fun to read peoples’ responses to this story: the sneakers, the peekers, and the willing-to-waiters. I love that your lesson led you to a different way of wrapping gifts for your kids. Did you ever tell them your story? Did they ever admit to making it past your techniques to sneak a peek?

  20. Such a beautifully written, delightful, tale with which we can all identify. I couldn’t help thinking that it was a good thing that your parents couldn’t spot the light going on and off. This reminded me of my brother and I reading in bed when it was forbidden. We could never understand how Mum knew when we turned the light on. Years later she told us that the click of the switch registered in the radio to which she was listening. Your opening description of your neighbourhood was enviable

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the tale, Derrick, and I had to smile at your mention of reading in bed. I did that, too, but I had two ways of avoiding detection: a flashlight under the covers, or the even more secure flashlight in the bedroom closet. It was too cold to adjourn to the closet in winter, but in summer it was perfect.

      As for your light affecting your Mum’s radio, that’s just another reminder of what life was like in an analogue age that many today can hardly conceive.

  21. Thank you very much, dear Linda,
    I was a child like you were. In the weeks before Christmas, my sister and I started searching expeditions in our house. Quite often we have been successful. Maybe we were more case-hardened than you were because we didn’t feel bad about it. But it could well be my parent’s doing as they saw it as cleverness if we found out. They were clever too as they put fake presents at places where they expected us to search. It was a kind of pre-Christmas game.
    You described the atmosphere so well.
    Wishing you a happy week
    Klausbernd and all of the
    The Fab Four of Cley
    :-) :-) :-) :-)

    1. It was like a wonderful game of hide-and-seek, wasn’t it? As soon as you said your parents put out fake presents for you to find, I liked them very much. It sounds as though they created a very secure, loving home, with plenty of room for fun.

      It is pleasant to remember those times, and it’s especially nice to read responses like yours. Customs and cultures may differ, but the human love of celebration, of giving and receiving, seems universal. Here’s to a happy week for us all, and a very happy holiday season for you and the rest of the Fab Four!

    1. It’s fascinating to me how we so often differ from one another, even when it comes to something as ‘simple’ as waiting for gifts. Of course, we can evolve, too. I’m much more patient now than I was as a ten-year-old: or a forty-year old, for that matter.

    1. Eliot’s Four Quartets has nourished me for decades. I’ve never formally studied it, but I’ve found over the years that continual re-reading leads to one and then another section standing out and demanding attention. This season, it’s “The Dry Salvages,” the poem that’s never seemed as compelling as the rest. Perhaps I need to read it at the seaside.

  22. Beautiful! You are such a good writer. I was right there with you in the closet. I remember vividly the year I found out that Santa was actually my mother – I found a Barbie camper in her closet. She let me play with it when my father wasn’t home – it was our little secret. I wasn’t mad – my mother was a Crazy Christmas Lady & I knew it.

    That last section was especially lovely. And the Eliot quote was perfect.

    1. You know, it’s an odd thing. Most of my friends seem to have discovered that Santa ‘really’ is a parent or friend, or even ( quelle horreur!) imaginary. Me and grandpa still believe!

      I do love your mother’s fun way of being in cahoots with you in your father’s absence. The crazy Christmas ladies are wonderful, and growing up with one must have been a hoot. I’m too old to have been part of the Barbie craze, but I still remember the years of pleasure my Revlon doll gave me.

      Thanks for the kind words about the writing, too. Robert Frost once said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” I think he might have been willing to accept a variation: “No Christmas spirit in the writer, no Christmas spirit in the reader.”

    1. In so many ways, life is lived between longing and limits. The longing of a child before Christmas can feel limitless, but learning to live with a few limits (“No peeking!) can increase the fun substantially. Sometimes, we begin learning these important life lessons before we even know they’re lessons. Thank you for reading this little tale of a life lesson learned. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  23. Oh, you bad girl! lol

    I don’t have any specific memories of closet creeping. Where it was all hidden, I have no idea. Everything would magically appear under the tree on Christmas morning.

    We always went to one grandparent or another for Christmas; we,never spent it at home. After I was grown, Mama told me that getting all the ‘Santa’ into the car undetected for the trip was a nerve-wracking struggle. I’m sure it was a lot easier on her once my brother and I no longer believed.

    1. There’s an old verse that my mother liked to quote: “There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.” I don’t remember ever hitting “horrid” on the bad behavior scale, but I had my days!

      We always went to my (paternal) grandparents’ home for Christmas, too, but our routine was a little different. Gifts from relatives were opened Christmas Eve, and Santa always appeared in person that same night. (That’s another story, all on its own.) Christmas morning, we’d open gifts and stockings, and then collect the gifts for the grandparents and make the short trip to their home in another little town. I can’t tell you how many times we sang “Over the river and throught the woods…” but it was at least twice per trip.

  24. Well, you’ve quite successfully chronicled what most of us experienced as a child – that parents hide and children seek the Christmas presents game. When I peeked, it certainly took the fun out of opening gifts on Christmas morning for me. Lesson learned. And once I became a mother myself, I found better hiding spots.

    1. You’re the second person who’s mentioned how our common childhood experience shaped adult practices. Gary found a more tamper-proof way to wrap presents, while you found better hiding places. That’s how wisdom is gained and passed on — through experience. Children, of course, find new and better ways to foil their parents attempts at secrecy: it’s part of their job description as children.

  25. Absolutely beautiful, Linda. Your description of your quest to discover your parent’s hiding places around Christmas had me grinning from ear to ear. It all sounds so familiar. I took great joy in discovering my parent’s secret stash, but I never opened a package. I think I just wanted the reassurance that there was something to look forward to. ~Terri

    1. Believe me, Terri — I grin, too, whenever I remember the experience. There’s nothing like the impatience of a child, especially when it involves presents, and especially when it’s accompanied by that slight tinge of anxiety that’s rooted in fear that last year’s behavior hadn’t been quite good enough for Santa to visit.

      Even worse, what if Santa had tipped off our parents? I suddenly have visions of Santa as the Soup Nazi, standing next to my Christmas tree and saying, “No presents for you!”

      Let the searching begin!

  26. You are a very talented writer! I remember snooping for gifts as a child, one time a bit too successfully, and the result was a watered-down version of what you described. The thrill of Christmas morning wasn’t the same when I had seen a couple of the gifts before then. Waiting is a gift, this year more than ever. And Advent does teach us that, if we’re open to it!

    1. I’m glad the story evoked some memories for you, Ann. It seems that a lot of us shared the experience of seeking out presents before we should have. The reasons and the results differed for each of us, but the memories are there, part of that wonderful tapestry of holiday celebrations. We so often associate waiting with unpleasant experiences, it’s good to be reminded that waiting itself can be a gift. I hope your Advent’s filled with the pleasures waiting can bring!

  27. I enjoyed your true story, Linda. It’s wonderful to have such vivid memories. I had no such experiences of Christmas as it wasn’t a tradition in my family but I did experience a Christmas in hospital when I was a child, and a doctor dressed as Santa Claus left a ‘stocking’ of presents at the bottom of each of our beds. Of course I peeked!

    1. What a fine doctor. I’d say that a visit from Santa would be a perfect prescription for any child in hospital, no matter their disease or condition. A similar surprise awaited me in Salisbury one year. I’d spent the night in an inn there, and on Christmas morning, the innkeepers had left an orange and a peppermint stick by each door. That was wonderful enough, but on Christmas night — very late — the guests got another surprise. We got to open the door to the innkeepers, who’d been out celebrating, had a touch (or a dozen) of wassail, and had lost or forgotten their keys. The best memories never fade.

  28. Your pang of guilt resonated deeply with me this year.

    After spending an unseasonably warm day (40’s) decorating a single pine in our yard with cobalt blue lights, my wife and I resolved to not light them up until the first day of Advent.

    Ah, but someone I know couldn’t wait.

    I blame it all on Scooter.

    1. I’ve always enjoyed coming across a home that’s chosen blue lights. The old-fashioned, large colored bulbs are my favorite, but blue is a close second. As for those ubiquitous white mini lights? I suppose they’re acceptable, but they’re the white bread of lights.

      I’ll own it. If I had a tree decorated with blue lights, I wouldn’t have been able to wait, either.

  29. You told that story beautifully, capturing more than just the act and its consequence, familiar to many of us in at least some form. For me, it brought back our older houses, the kinds that had closets with doors and doors that held keys. I was just telling my husband a few days ago that I missed our old houses the most at Christmas time. I was trying to stack some unwrapped gifts in my current closet, a wide-open space with no door, and we both reminisced about our little closet when the kids were young, and how we kept changing the hiding spot for the key so the kids would not peek! (Our most well-behaved child was the only one who ever copped to getting in and seeing the presents.) Anyway, thanks for conjuring up that old house, a few before that, and even my own childhood home, all of which had not only those closets but mantles, chimneys big enough for Santa, old nails for wreaths, and mullioned windows for candles. They all seemed so much more Christmasy than the sleek, modern abode with palm trees outside that I live in now!

    1. You have to keep an eye on those well-behaved children. In truth, they’re often just more clever, and more close-mouthed. The old poem may have gotten it wrong; sometimes there is a creature stirring, and it isn’t the mouse!

      Like you, our old houses seemed built for Christmas. Maybe it’s only that we decorated them differently, but I don’t think so. For one thing, the scent of old woodwork and wooden floors is unmistakable and memorable. Add in some bayberry and pine, and it’s Christmas. Some may think today’s decorations are a step up, but I’ll never forget: paper chains, popcorn and cranberry strings, cut-paper snowflakes, ‘snow’ made of whipped Ivory flakes, candles in the window, carols at the spinnet — whoops! I’ll be humming that one all day long.

  30. Wonderful writing! Comfortable.

    Each age of our human development brings accomplishments and challenges. The advent of the “electronics age” exacerbated the phenomenon of instant gratification. Erosion of patience has been an unintended consequence. Those of us raised by what may today may be known as “old fashioned” parents remember the sting of belts, switches and that much more painful and long-lasting punishment – a guilty conscience.

    Waiting and anticipation make our reward so much better.

    When you entered the closets, my mind immediately sprang to C.S. Lewis’ Lucy entering the wardrobe, rubbing her face in the furs and discovering the closet to be so much more.

    1. Too bad you had to wait so long for a response! I was pleased beyond words to see you use the word ‘comfortable.’ That’s one thing I was striving for. Heaven knows we can use all the comfort we can find these days, and I’m well aware that some don’t have our ability to go out in nature and be comfortable there.

      Eagerness is one thing, but the growing demand for instant gratification is quite different; at least, I think so. I’m convinced it leads to our shortened attention span, and the role of technology is clear. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) we can’t Tivo life, fast-forwarding, rewinding, or pausing as we will. Seasons, rituals, traditions, and the resistance of time itself are salutary reminders that we are, after all, limited: which is to say, human.

  31. So beautifully written you had me feeling impatient, anxious and excited and a host of other feelings alongside with you. You captured so eloquently the feelings that accompany a child’s normal inquisitiveness and desire to delve into the hidden private world of ones parents. Great piece of writing! Bravo.

    Peta

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Peta. This is a season for allowing ourselves a little child-like joy, not to mention the anxious excitement of those days before Christmas. I suspect the same is true for every tradition. Festivals and gifts are necessary parts of life, if we’re to live life fully. As for that private world of parents — what a mystery that always was! Even when the regular Saturday night bridge game was going on in our living room, there was something thrilling about sneaking halfway down the stairs and listening to the big peoples’ conversation.

  32. Waiting is not my strong suit. My oldest grand takes after me in that way. She always “needed” to use the bathroom in our bedroom because she knew the Christmas presents were in that closet. Ha!
    What a lovely post.

    1. Children can smell presents like a mouse can smell cheese. Of course, knowing that they’re snooping around gives the advantage to parents — but not entirely, as my little story proves. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed the remembering and re-telling.

  33. This is a beautiful post, Linda. We have been waiting a long while, haven’t we this year? Waiting for a vaccine, a cure, an election, a something, anything to bring the hope and joy we associate with that other Advent’s culmination.And oh, that first part so resonated. When my cousin David and I were nine we found “The Lie Detector Game” under my parents’ bed. I’m pretty sure we didn’t tell or get caught (at least, Mom and Dad never let on if they knew we knew!) And we did Christmas morning happiness full on — but it was genuine. Of all the Christmas gifts of childhood, that is the one I remember most. Was it the discovery? The adventure? I don’t know — but I’d love to play that one again!

    1. I can’t get over my amusement that you found The Lie Detector Game under the bed. That’s just funny. At least you weren’t confronted by your parents. Perhaps their lie detectors already knew the truth, and they chose to let it go. In any event, it’s always the storm, the accident, or even the accidental discovery that make for the best stories. Over the years, it’s not the most expensive gifts that stay in memory, but the ones that have a story attached!

  34. Lovely. Thank you for this. I am intrigued by the common heard phrase, in the face of what cannot be hurried “I can’t wait!” But wait we must and so we can. Eliot, of course, gives us much wisdom in the way of waiting, and I am glad for this Advent grace.

    1. That made me smile. I suppose the translation of “I can’t wait” is something like “I don’t want to wait!”. Knowledge is looking at the calendar and seeing that Christmas is seventeen days away. Will is transforming “I can’t wait” into “I will wait,” and learning to enjoy the waiting for its already present gifts.

  35. I always hated the waiting, Christmas was always a season of mounting anticipation as I opened the windows of my advent calendar. My trick was to sneak to the tree when I should have been sleeping, look at the pile of boxes and bows, and guess what I’d open. And try to get back to sleep.

    1. It’s always harder to wait at night. Christmas Eve was the worst, since I knew that Santa would arrive, eat his cookies, and leave a little something under the tree. One of my best memories of all that is the year my dad suggested Santa might like 7-Up with his cookies, rather than milk. It took some years to realize that Santa was adding a little something extra to that glass.

      You’ve reminded me that the presents under the tree were as compelling as those hidden away. There’s something satisfying about shaking a wrapped gift.

  36. What an enjoyable telling of your little escapade, Linda. Isn’t a conscience an awful thing for a child?
    Christmas is not in my history so I have no similar sneaky memories of rummaging through hidden presents. In our Jewish tradition we had eight nights of Hanukkah celebration with candle lighting equal to the day’s number 1-8 and a small present each night, mostly Hanukkah gelt which was gold foil wrapped chocolate coins. Usually there was one large present and the mystery was which night it would appear. Aside from the little chocolate treats we had Taiglach, an egg dough fried and then soaked in honey. Those are what I remember best from the holidays. We never had a Hanukkah bush.

    1. That’s interesting about the gelt. I always — every single year — got gold-wrapped chocolate coins in my Christmas stocking. I didn’t know until decades later that they’re part of Jewish tradition. Whenever I see them in the stores today, I always pause, tempted to buy some. I did, a few years ago, and discovered the chocolate was mediocre, so that was the end of that.

      There was one Jewish family in our town, and their daughter was a year ahead of me in school. Every year there was a Christmas dance at the country club for all the kids. One year, everyone got smart, and a Hanukkah Hop was added to the list of parties. We all went, and had a grand time.

      As for the Hanukkah bush — when Dixie Rose composed her cat carols, she added one called “O,Christmas Bush,” sung to the tune of “O, Christmas Tree.”. It never was published, and perhaps you can see why:

      “O, Christmas bush, O, Christmas bush —
      I sat upon you with my tush.
      I did not see you lying there,
      thank god you weren’t a prickly pear.
      O, Christmas bush, O Christmas bush —
      I do believe you’re flattened.”

      I’ve been thinking of republishing those carols, and I might just add this one.

      1. How nice that your town recognized and celebrated the holiday for that young lady. I am sure it touched her and the family and made them feel a part of the community. I don’t remember whether the chocolate in ours was good or not. I only had them as a child and at that age any chocolate was good chocolate…or so I thought. There was that one time I thought I was eating chocolate but it wasn’t. Eventually it passed. :)

        Dixie Rose obviously had her own way with words. I wasn’t aware of her song authorship. Must have missed that post.

        1. I think I”m going to repost her carols next week. One of the good things about being in this ‘business’ for so long is that readership changes, and it’s fun to bring back some old, good posts. As I told Steve S., it’s like a verbal/literary reshoot.

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