Merry Christmas and “Dime Store” Serenity
As far back as I can remember the Christmas season seemed to bring with it both excitement and anxiety. I grew up as the oldest child in a family of nine. When December 1st rolled around one of my biggest concerns was how to get enough money to buy each of my siblings and my parents a Christmas present. As the seven of us were growing up we were each expected to do a weekly household job, without pay, just because we were part of the family. My father was a schoolteacher and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. There was not much excess.
I think back with gratitude that my mother had a plan to help us take care of our financial age 4-11 Christmas worries. Without fail, every Saturday morning for several weeks before the Big Day the old 3’ by 4’ piece of blackboard came out from behind the couch. Mom would use the chalk and fill the blackboard with lists of lots of little jobs (vacuuming the edges of a room, cleaning this drawer or that shelf, wiping window sills, cleaning a mirror or a window, shining up the woodwork etc). The list represented all the extra little things that needed to be accomplished around the house to really spruce the place up for the holidays. Mom took advantage of our need for a little money. Next to each job she chalked in how much money she would pay for that job “well done.” Each job was worth anywhere from five to twenty five cents. There were things on the board for all ages. I remember being very motivated by this system. As a job was completed we were paid and the completed task was erased. It was fun to see the little old black board empty by noon on Saturday.
When it was empty it meant we had each moved one Saturday closer to that magnificent yearly family excursion to the local “dime store,” Newberry’s, where we would each purchase eight Christmas treasures. We split into two groups, each group being manned by one parent. Each of us got to push around our own cart. We thought that was pretty cool. We were required to bring a coat. The purpose of the coat was to provide cover over our secrets. There must have been much less concern over shoplifting back then. We sleuthed around the store, hiding things behind our backs, whispering in Mom or Dad’s ear, waiting for validation that the choice we had made for someone was “a great idea, honey!” I don’t think we ever had more than ten or fifteen dollars to spread eight ways. But, we all came home satisfied that we had worked for and secreted away eight “somethings” that were really going to bring smiles on Christmas morning.
Every year our Dad lovingly hand flocked a little tree for our “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas in Los Angeles” mother. Before our shopping spree each year it was bare under the tree. After the shopping was complete there was no pause between entry into the house and our scurrying into some hiding place with paper, tape, and a stack of old Christmas cards we’d cut up to make just the right tag for each gift. Most times the tag was bigger than the gift. In one fell swoop we would move from having nothing under that tree to having a carpet of forty little things wrapped as only children can wrap, awaiting Christmas morning.
I don’t remember even one of the things I received as a result of this humble Christmas tradition. All I remember are feelings—the feeling that my mother cared enough to help us have a good experience giving to each other, a feeling of excitement at finding just the right thing that could be paid for with what was in my pocket, and the feelings of anticipation, of looking forward to the hour when all those little dime store packages would be opened one at a time with lots of “Thanks, that’s just what I wanted!” with hugs all around.
One of the most wide-spread troubles of our day is the problem of debt. Spending is an activity that has become a compulsive/addictive behavior for many. Maybe the message of this old Christmas memory is “Keep It Simple.” Surprises don’t need to be costly. Expressions of our love for each other don’t have to involve money at all. As kids we couldn’t have had any more fun if we’d each had a hundred dollars to spend. Although gifts will be given, maybe this Christmas the most important thing I can do for others doesn’t have to involve a tangible wrapped, ribboned and tagged gift at all. Maybe the greatest contribution I can make to others is to live in recovery, with the serenity and sanity that come from living within my means. Just as our mother helped us as children, the Lord can help us live this way today, with JOY!
Visit Nannette’s blog, LDS 12 Step Reflections http://lds12stepreflections.wordpress.com
Copyright 2008 by Nannette Wiggins. All right reserved. Making or sending copies is permitted if the page is not changed in any way and the material is not used for profit. This notice must be included on each copy made or sent.