Roger Marolt: I’m dreaming of a simple Christmas
December 21, 2017
The first and maybe only Christmas I distinctly remember was when I was about 6 or 7 years old. I was very sick. I don't know if it was a serious case of strep, a bad case of the real flu, or something else, but I had a high fever. The degree of that burning body heat is still evidenced by deformities in two front teeth that were coming in at the time. The vividness of the memory begins in the middle of the night, somewhere between Christmas Eve and Day.
I remember drifting in and out of sleep earlier that evening as the regular excitement of anticipating Santa Claus was taking place in the rest of the house. I didn't feel left out of the preparations for the big day. The radiance of wholesome joy, the aroma of a special dinner and the feeling that everyone in the family was happy at once blanketed me more securely than the covers I shivered beneath.
I was too weak to consider anything bothering me, and didn't need much convincing to lay peacefully where I was. It sounds like perfect contentment, and oddly I think it might have been. I know my mother was worried because it seemed like she was with me the entire evening, although that was more likely because the only times I was much aware of anything were when she came to check on me.
The point when the whole thing becomes crystal clear is when I woke in the wee hours and found myself clutching a round pillow with a clown's face that I had never seen before. It was a Christmas present from Santa, I knew. It wasn't something you could buy in a store. I never saw it in the Sears Christmas catalogue from which we all used to make our wish lists. It was crafted by someone who knew and loved me.
A warm glow of a different kind of light filtered through the dark and into my bedroom. My mother sat at the edge of my bed and I remember feeling her cool hand on my forehead. I don't recall any words exchanged in this memory but picture myself showing the clown pillow to her as proof that Santa had come. I remember she softly took my hand and pulled me gently from the bed.
In those days, my parents had a really special tradition that I will be forever grateful for its magical effect and the seeming impossibility of pulling it off by mere human effort and ingenuity. They put up and decorated the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve after they put us to bed.
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I will never ever forget experiencing those trees for the first time in the vague dawns of those most exciting days of every year. The intense scent of fresh pine in the house mingled with the vague glistening of tinsel on its branches above the outline of gifts laid out beneath made classic storybook versions of the special morn seem unimaginative.
This time, my mother led me to the edge of the living room and there it was, the tree lit up and in full splendor for my amazed eyes to see in the deep darkness in the part of night I had probably never seen.
That is the end of the memory. I don't remember the rest of the night or even any of the next day. I don't recall any of the other gifts I got that year besides my clown pillow which I treasured for many years until it wore out or I became too cool to have it resting on my bed.
I don't believe that I am glorifying being sick by saying it, but when I think of having the Christmas spirit, my mind always leads me back to that time so many years ago when the delirium of a fever and the innocence of childhood caused me to experience nothing but the glorious day at hand.
I am sure I wasn't keenly aware of being thankful for having that illness, but I think I was without actually framing it that way in my mind. I know I am now. I had my family around me. I was too weak to worry about anything. I was comforted by a simple gift that didn't require batteries to fulfill its purpose.
Of course, I hope you and all whom you love are well. Thankfully I think there are a zillion ways that lead to finding the true joy of Christmas. Whatever circumstance that is, I hope it touches each of us.
Roger Marolt is still hoping for a white Christmas, although it isn't necessary. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.