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A marzipan strawberry and a tin alligator


A few nights ago, in the quiet darkness of my 50th December, my wife and I returned home from Christmas shopping. As I turned off the engine of the car, I said, “I think I see Norman Rockwell peeking out the upstairs window.”

She and I had spent the morning hanging Christmas wreaths outside each window of our four-bedroom colonial. A red ribbon hangs from each wreath. We have a single, electric candle in each window, and a spotlight illuminating the entire façade of the house. An American flag hangs motionless to the right of the front door.

It is easy to see why our little house could be on the front cover of the old Saturday Evening Post. We, in this country, try hard to re-create Christmas the way it used to be, or the way we imagine it was.

For Christmas one year I received six lead soldiers, British loyalists cast in rigid marching positions, each holding a bayoneted rifle, and each wearing a red coat and a tall hat that looked like a black olive.

Every Christmas when I was a boy my stocking contained marzipan fruit, chocolate coins wrapped in gold, a bird call or a plastic submarine that rose and sank in the bathtub with baking soda fuel.

My mother sewed my stocking the year I was born. It was a giant sock, made of white cloth with prints of clowns and sprawling circus dogs. She attached six little jingle bells to the stocking: red, green, blue and silver bells. I especially like the one that was sewn at the tip of the toe.

For many years as a boy all I wanted for Christmas was a set of walkie-talkies, which I never received.

When I was 10 my mother gave me Sterling North’s book, Rascal. My father gave me a toy safe made of gray metal with a red combination dial. My grandmother gave me a Lincoln Logs set, and my aunt sent over from Belgium a glass snow-globe that, when you shook it, revealed a small snowman with a black top hat standing in the swirl of little flakes that floated around his stout belly.

I liked magic tricks for Christmas, especially the one where the ball in the small plastic urn appeared and disappeared with a slight twist of the fingers. I liked the windup tin alligator from my brother, and the glow-in-the-dark superball from my sister.

This afternoon my wife and I drove our three grown children to Pennsylvania to cut down our 25th Christmas tree. We, as usual, disagreed on the height, the width, the shape. After much deliberation we agreed on the one my 18-year-old daughter marked with her scarf in the first place. I cut down the tree, and the two boys helped me carry it to the car. We sang Christmas songs, and as we drove through town, I saw that Robbie Jones once again posed the plywood Santa Claus and the eight reindeer along the rooftop of his hardware store.

As we pulled into the driveway, my wife said she would make hot chocolate. I turned off the engine as everyone stepped out of the car and started walking down the driveway. I sat for a moment, leaned against the steering wheel, looked out the windshield and thought I saw, peeking through the upstairs window, a little boy with a walkie-talkie pressed against his left ear, and then my 22-year-old son turned around and called, “Come on, Dad.”

I hope I find in my stocking this year a large marzipan strawberry and a tin alligator.

Christopher de Vinck’s most recent book is Compelled to Write to You. He is a public school administrator and lives in Pompton Plains, N.J.

National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2001