by Jann Gargiulo — We were 12, not in years but in number of siblings. In winter, we also had lots of cousins with us. As kids we all loved that. My parents loved kids, and always seemed to be happy. That made us happy too. My mom used to say, “After the first two it all gets easier.”
We grew up on a truck farm. No, we didn’t raise trucks! We grew our own vegetables and sold them alongside the road. We lived between the Chesapeake Bay and Washington, D.C. and would have our truck stand out right off the road so that people could stop to buy food for the day on their way to the beach. Later in the day, they almost always wanted something on the way home. We learned our 12’s times table and how to make proper change very early in life.
I loved seeing those people who stopped. They always seemed different from us, though I didn’t know why. They would talk to my dad about all the same things the other farmers talked about, but something was different. Even as a child, I could sense that.
It wasn’t until I was about 10 years old that I learned what that difference was. We were poor. We just didn’t know it.
I remember kids coming back to school after the Christmas holidays to write a report on “What I got for Christmas.” They only named “things.” I didn’t know about those “things.” Our gifts consisted of underwear and socks. Sometimes we were happy to get some pajamas … not me, of course. I was the tenth child, third from the youngest, so I wore hand-me-downs. Daddy would buy us those little bat’n ball paddles as a gift. (Of course, there was an ulterior motive for that: he used it on our bottoms when we got out of hand.) We also got jacks and marbles, jump ropes, little toy cars, things like that. We liked them, since we didn’t get them any other time of year.
But what we really liked was the happiness we enjoyed as a family, and what fun it was to be in the church Christmas program. So that’s what I wrote about each year. I even wrote about this wonderful box of candy all the kids at church got after the service. It was great! I sure didn’t feel poor then! I thought we were a rich family. We were all happy. None of the kids from school looked very happy when they got back to school and read their reports.
Now, when I look at the Christmas tree in our home with ornaments that all have stories behind them, I think back to those “poor” Christmases when I was a kid. And I can’t help but feel the love and happiness that enveloped me and my family back then, and I try to share some of that with my adult family. I also realize now that the reason we didn’t know we were poor back then was because we weren’t. We had everything! At least everything that counted.
And that is my wish for each of you this year when I say, “Merry Christmas!”