From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Christmas in the Silver Egg

The spur of delight comes in small ways.

Robert L. Stevenson

My husband Dave and I have always believed you’re never really poor as long as you have hope. And hope was about the only thingwe had in thewinter of 1948,whenwe packed up our little boys and left our family and friends in Oklahoma for the “boom town” of Houston, Texas, where we’d been told the streets were paved with jobs.

Knowing that better days were on the way, we cheerfully moved into a trailer court because it was the cheapest place we could find, and we rented the cheapest trailer in the court. It cost thirty dollars a month—inexpensive even by the standards of the times—and we christened it “the Egg” because it was shaped like a silver egg. At times, it didn’t seem much bigger than an egg, either, especially with two active toddlers—Mike, age two, and Tony, three and a half. That made four of us trying to live in a teensy trailer not big enough to swing a cat in.

There was only one room in the Egg, and that room served as dining room, kitchen and bedroom; the bathroom was as large as a broom closet. The bed was the size of a train bunk . . . maybe. David and I had to sleep in each other’s arms every night, even if we were mad. But we didn’t get mad too often—you can’t cuddle up to someone like that without feeling loving, so I figured it was good for our marriage.

Because the boys were so little, we could all four squeeze into the breakfast nook—two seats facing each other, with a table between—if we really scrunched together. At night, that little table collapsed, and the boys slept on top of it.

A full-sized adult could touch from wall to wall if he stood with his arms outstretched. No one did, though, because the Egg wasn’t grounded very well, and any time you touched a wall you were in for a shock. Literally. We all learned to walk around leaning inward.

Still, we managed to have a pretty good time. The trailer court was full of nice people and some of them were eccentric enough to delight me. One woman, who became one of my best friends, worked as a hula dancer in a carnival. She tacked her old grass skirts up at her window, parted them in the middle, tied them back, and presto—curtains!

“Isn’t that a cute idea?” she asked proudly. I nodded, not daring to trustmy voice because I was so full of the giggles.

So it was sort of fun, usually. Then Christmas drew near.

Houston Decembers aren’t your snowy, Christmas-card kind of Decembers, but they can be very nice— delightfully warm with brilliant sunshine and even flowers and green grass. Or they can be miserable—chilly rain, gray skies and gloom. That’s the kind of Christmas we had that year.

My background is Cherokee, and never before had I so missed my loving, extended family. Our Christmases in Oklahoma might not have been opulent, but they were rich in love, laughter, savory smells of cooking and the earthy aroma of pine filling the house.

The trailer court was a sea of mud that clung to our shoes and came off on the floor the minute we stepped inside. Everything was damp, moldy and cold. Christmas seemed a million years away, but it was only a few days away—and there wasn’t any money.

Oh, there was a wee bit. David had a job in a car lot— not selling, justwashing the cars and shifting themaround the lot. We didn’t miss any meals, though the menu was mostly macaroni and cheese. But when David and I sat down four days before Christmas, we found that, even though we’d saved like crazy, we had less than ten dollars to provide Christmas dinner and gifts for two little boys.

“I guess there isn’t going to be any Christmas this year, hon,” David said, and for once, his brown eyes weren’t sparkling. “No toys for the kids or anything.”

Or anything. No grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins bustling around, laughing and telling tales. No turkey on the carving board or special desserts mounded on the table.

No Christmas tree. In a way, that was the hardest thing for me. The Christmas tree had always been for me the very symbol of Christmas, of love and prosperity. Of hope.

Not that a tree could fit in the Egg, anyhow.

I clung to David a second longer than usual when he started off to work. My smile was very stiff, for it was rigidly holding back a sob.

That afternoon, the misting rain let up for the first time in days, so I took the kids for a walk. It was rough keeping a couple of littlewidgets cooped up in something like the Egg.

The wind was raw.We slogged through the mud, frosty hands clasped in each other’s. My heart felt as mired as my feet—but Tony and Mike were having a wonderful time. After being shut inside for a couple of days, the outdoors was newly wonderful—especially because Christmas decorations were up all over! The boys splashed through the puddles and laughed with glee as they pointed out wreaths, plastic Santas and Christmas trees in windows.

Suddenly, Tony pointed at the far end of the trailer court. “Look, Mommy, look! A million Christmas trees. Come on, Mommy!”

Mike caught the excitement, and he and Tony towed me along like a couple of tug boats towing a shabby scow.

There weren’t a million trees. It was actually a modest little lot, but the trees had been stuck into the ground so they looked like a small forest. The kids and I walked between them. Fir and pine, smelling wet and cold and fresh-smelling like Christmas! The earthy aroma took me back to my childhood Christmases, and my own excitement started building.

Then Tony whispered urgently, “Buy one, Mommy. Buy one now!”

And reality crashed down. There would be no tree for us. It just wasn’t fair! They weren’t so terribly expensive, but even the cheapest was beyond me. And all around, people were happily picking out this one or that. They were even fussy because the trees weren’t absolutely perfect, so they’d ask the lot owner to trim off branches to make them look more symmetrical. How spoiled they were to ask that precious branches be cut off and just thrown away, when I longed so much for just . . .

My mouth dropped open “. . . for just one big, beautiful branch,” I whispered. Yes, a big branch with a lot of little limbs would look almost like a miniature Christmas tree.

In fact, even the smallest tree would be too big for the Egg, but a branch would be just right! Surely I could afford a branch!

I went over and pulled on the owner’s sleeve. “How much would a branch cost?” I asked, feeling shy but fierce.

The man, chilled and seeing his trees like a little forest of dollar signs—he probably didn’t have much money himself—snarled at me. “Lady, I don’t sell branches. You want a tree, buy one. I ain’t gonna cut one up just so you can have a branch.”

My feelings weren’t even hurt. “No, no!” I cried. “I don’t want you to cut a branch from a tree. I want one of those.” I pointed to the sizable pile of trimmed-off branches.

“Oh, sure,” he grunted. “Them. Help yourself.”

“How much for a big one?”

“Lady, I told you, I don’t sell branches. Take all you want free.”

I could hardly believe it! Joy overtook us as the boys and I hunkered down, selecting a branch with all the care that others were taking to pick out a full tree. When we were certain we’d found the most beautiful branch of all, we proudly carried it home, Mike holding the top, Tony holding the bottom, and me supporting the middle.

While my friend with the hula skirt baby-sat, I ran five blocks to the five-and-ten-cent store. I hid my packages when I got home. Then I retrieved the kids, and we anchored the branch firmly in one corner of the trailer, where it fit exactly. In the Egg, it looked as big as a real Christmas tree.

When David got home, we all decorated it together with a big package of tinsel I’d found for ten cents and some little balls really meant to decorate packages that had cost another dime. When we were done, it was—well, beautiful, that’s all. David made a star out of the tinfoil from a found cigarette pack, and we perched it right up at the top. There weren’t any lights, but it gleamed and glistened all by itself.

On Christmas Eve, David came home with a fat boiling hen he’d managed to buy for a dollar. She was cheap because she was tough, but no matter. I would boil her and boil her until she became tender, and David would make German dumplings to drop in the rich broth, just like his mother had taught him. He was a wonderful cook.

As that old hen boiled merrily away on the hot plate and the kids were cuddled down asleep on their table-bed, we put toys under the branch—two cars, two trucks, a fire engine and a red and yellow train. All plastic, all less than a quarter, but they looked wonderful. The trailer looked wonderful.

I reached up and kissed David’s cheek. Although he was so tall, it was easy to reach him, for of course in the Egg, he was a little bent over. “There once were four people who lived in an Egg,” I said.

“Oh, hon, hon!” He put his arm around me and pulled me close. His eyes were twinkling again like dark brown stars, and we stood together in the shadow of our tree, which smelled of Christmas and of magic, of the memory of childhood and of the promise of the future. Of hope.

And we knew we were one of the richest families on earth.

Mechi Garza

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