By Tammy Trail
In the summer of 1972, I was 10 years old, the oldest of four children. My baby brother, Tom, had been born the October before. My mother worked during the day so my Dad watched over us. He was out of work,
recovering from back surgery.
We lived in a working class neighborhood. There was never a shortage of kids to ride bikes, play games, or get into trouble. Of course, if we did get into trouble, our parents found out before we ever got home. It was that kind of place.
My grandparents lived a block away, and our other family all lived within blocks of our house. That summer, we were allowed to go and hang out with kids around the block instead of just on our street. We had to be home when the church down the street rang the bell at 6:00, or when my Dad whistled.
As I remember, Dad was heavily medicated for pain, and he had a tendency to drink in the evenings. I imagine that combination didn’t help a man make good decisions. He paid for a bad decision. It would be a summer of humiliating change for the whole family as Dad was sentenced to the State Penitentiary for a year.
We moved away from the neighborhood we had always known to a small town outside the city. I guess my parents’ thought no one would know our business and it would be a clean start for everyone while Dad was in prison. We found a small house that Mom would be able to manage with her paycheck. I went from having my own room to sharing a room with my three brothers. We had double bunk beds. Not the ideal situation for a girl, but I remember nights spent telling stories to each other and laughing until we fell asleep.
It was a year I would never forget.
- It was the year my baby brother, Tom got pneumonia, had convulsions because his fever was too high and was rushed to the hospital.
- It was the year I was jumped by a bunch of kids after I was dropped off by the bus and got the tar smacked out of me.
- It was a year I heard my mother crying on the phone begging someone not to repossess our bunk beds because it was all we had to sleep on.
- It was the year my mother took a broom and defended herself against a drunken neighbor who tried to force his way into our house.
- It was the year we grew sick of “Hamburger Helper.” To this day, none of us can stand to look at it.
- It was the year my mother sat us down and explained there would be no Christmas. She didn’t have the money or the heart to deal with it. To say we were disappointed was an understatement.
Now, there would be no presents, no tree, and no special dinner. But we all resolved that we would get to spend time with family at our grandparent’s house, eat special food, and maybe get a present or two there on Christmas day. We had something to anticipate.
The next morning, instead of the kids waking up mother, she woke us, telling us to
hurry to the living room for a surprise. We ran to see a tree, decorated and lit. All around the tree were more gifts than we could have ever hoped for, nearly filling the entire living room of that small home. There were boxes of various shapes and sizes, just for us. All of them.
We received new clothes, hats, gloves, and winter coats. We got new pajamas, toys, and books. I remember having such fun opening every one of them. And my mother watched with tears in her eyes, smiling. You see, we had not been forgotten in our small town far from the city. Our aunts and uncles pitched in and made sure we had Christmas. One Aunt, in particular, was only eight years older than me, working her first factory job. Aunt Vicki went Christmas crazy and bought most of the gifts for us. She had the biggest smile on her face when we thanked her later that day. To this day, I don’t know how they managed it without waking us up!
That Christmas was one we would never forget. One small act of kindness made the holiday magical for four kids, and a mom who was trying everything to do her best by them.