I remember the Christmas that I was almost 9 years old because it had a very profound effect on my life. It all began the last Sunday of November. During the church service the pastor announce that we were going to be collecting new and used toys and clothing to give to less fortunate children for Christmas. He gave the instructions concerning the time frame to get the items to the church. He also said that more information about this campaign would be given in a couple of weeks.
On the way home my mother gave my sister Mary and I a list of things to do when we got home. This week she added that we were to begin going through our clothes and toys so we could take them to the church the next week. Mary, who was 4 years older than I, immediately began to cry. She didn’t want to give away any of her belongings. As a matter of fact she frequently claimed anything that I received if it was something she liked. Because this is how it had always been, I really didn’t have feelings toward this either way.
My Dad brought two medium-sized boxes into our room and told us to put clothes in one and toys in the other. I decided to get it over with so I began to go through my things. Mary out weighed me by about 100 pounds so she could have cared less about the clothes I found. However, she kept saying “If you don’t want that, I will take it” to any toy or book I put in. By Saturday morning I had accomplished filling the clothes box half full, but there were only a few of the toys that Mary didn’t want in the bottom of the other one. She had not put in one item!
Over the next 2 weeks, each Sunday when we returned from church the same thing happened and my mother would yell at me for being selfish. I finally went to my Dad and told him what happened, and he confronted Mary, who immediately broke into tears and told him I was lying. My mother came running in and all heck broke out. I finally yelled for them to go check in the spare bedrooms closet! Mary ran to the door trying to keep them from leaving the room, but my Dad threatened her with a spanking. So, she reluctantly moved. My parents came back in the room with my 2 boxes of toys. My mother just left the room and said nothing, my Dad grounded my sister, and he gave me a hug! Nothing more was said about the “incident”.
The big surprise was the next Sunday after church we went into a classroom and all those who participated got to wrap the presents. We then loaded paper grocery store bags filled with the gifts into the back of the trucks and trunks of the cars and drove off. I can’t tell you how far we drove but it seemed to take forever to arrive at our destination. We pulled onto a long dirt road that had newly plowed fields on both sides. (We lived in Tucson and the farmers could plow in December). We pulled into a makeshift town of tents and wooden shacks. It was a migrant workers camp, just to the South of Tucson. I saw open fires with poorly dressed women cooking in big pots over the flames. I saw so many raggedly clothed kids, many with no shoes, playing and running around. A gentleman came over and spoke to the pastor, then he turned and with a loud bullhorn he spoke to the people in Spanish. The kids came running and the adults cautiously approached us. Then the pastor turned to us and told us to help hand out the wrapped gifts and for the adults to help give the food boxes to the grownups.
My Dad had dropped the tailgate of our truck, so I climbed in and started grabbing the gifts. They had been wrapped in red for girls and green for boys so it was easy to know who to give it to. I saw the kids excitedly open the gift and I saw a few of them crying with joy. Then I spotted one girl about my age open a doll I had given. She hugged it and kissed it as she had tears running down her cheeks. I, too, had tears leaking out of my eyes determined to run down my cheeks and land on my dress. My tears were from mixed feelings. I felt joy at seeing others so happy, but at the same time I felt sad that these kids were so happy to receive what I probably would have eventually just thrown away. I couldn’t wait to start a new box to give away the next year. This day taught me so many lessons during the short period of time we were at the camp, ones that I have carried with me and that I attempt to still adhere too for over 55 years.
I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.