When I was a little girl, my mother would take my twin sister and I with her on Saturday mornings to shop at the Kitchener Farmer's Market. This is the oldest farmer's market in Canada, founded over 130 years ago by Mennonite settlers to the area. We have four older siblings, but this is a special morning only my twin and I spend with my mum, weaving around tables, ogling merchandise at eye-level, wondering how our wise Irish mother knows one cabbage is better than another. She teaches us how to feel if an avocado is ripe, but not overripe, and what fruits make the best pies and jams. A lot of the vendors sell locally farmed produce obviously, but other vendors specialize in craft sales. One table in particular is my favourite: handmade clothes for Barbie dolls.
Now, I don't remember the Christmas I was given my first Barbie doll, but I do recall what she looked like. Blue eyes. Shoulder-length brown hair. Pale pink lips. I recall being a little weirded out that her toes were slightly webbed between the digits. Years later, I watch Local Hero and smile to myself.
Sometimes, if there is a special day nearing (like our birthday or Christmas) and, other times, for no special reason at all other than being the Best Mom in the World, my mother walks us across the street after the market jaunt to a German bakery for some tea and dessert. Because even though my mother is one phenomenal baker, she can concede (along with the rest of the planet) that the local German women in town make strudel much better than she ever could herself. It is on one of these extra special Saturdays, I notice a satin Barbie dress at my favourite vendor's table. It is the soft, dusty colour of pink roses that are dying. A colour sometimes found in clouds during a July sunset after it rains. A burnt, rosy blush.
For about a month and a half worth of Saturdays at least, I craftily steer my mother around the tables at the farmer's market towards the Barbie clothes and point at the dress and beg her to buy it for me. Each attempt proves futile and I am firmly told, "No." One Saturday morning, I veer her there and my heart sinks. The dress is gone. Sold. Someone else's Barbie will don it. It is four or five months later when I unwrap a gift under the Christmas tree and there is the dress! Along with comic timing, ripe avocadoes and how to make a perfect cup of tea, my mother teaches me the ecstasy of the element of surprise. Also, that patience is a great virtue to hone.
I remember being about 8 when I get a Barbie camper for Christmas. My twin gets the airplane cabin. The smell of new Barbie paraphernalia does for girls what new car smell does for adults. We have endless fun camping, then flying. Flying then camping. Flying to camping. Camping out on the way to the airport to fly away. Every day is a vacation, it seems. That is, until my brother sits on my Barbie "accidentally" one afternoon and her boobs indent. I didn't even realize this was possible. After this unfortunate event, even the handsewn clothes wouldn't exactly fit her. All those special, pointy darts in the tops to accommodate Barbie's bosom. I start dressing her in the fatigues of my brother's old GI Joe. They fit better. The next Christmas, I ask for a Barbie Jeep.
My first bicycle for Christmas is indelible. Its pink banana seat and streamers on the handlebars. Awesome!
The Adidas track suit, robin egg blue with navy stripes, is another favourite gift. Yes, in fact, I was a dork. Why do you ask?
When I'm just about to turn 15, the brother closest to me in age gives me the Christmas present I want the most: the Foreigner '4' album (on vinyl, naturally). I like to fantasize in my angst-filled, teenage heart that Mick Jones has been waiting for a girl just like me. The feeling surpasses even the summer three years before when my brother buys Get the Knack at a booth on the midway at the Canadian National Exhibition and I wish secretly that my name is Sharona.
So many Christmases I can recall now. Each with some special gift I remember receiving.
Let me be honest. In my 30s and for about a decade, I have loathed when December would roll around. Back in 1998, it happened to be the month the first baby I lost was due to be born. The last six years, December was also the month I learned I miscarried my second baby. On the 24th of December, 2003. That Christmas in particular is bittersweet as my twin sister gives birth to her second son a week or so earlier. She has a homebirth, the second one of hers I attend and I recall holding his perfect newborn form in my arms, thinking how exciting it is that we are having children seven months apart. The next week my husband and I don't attend any Christmas celebrations. We walk around the house for weeks dazed in grief. Moving around the rooms like zombies, holding each other for brief, wordless hugs and then moving apart again. Toast is all we can summon up the energy to ingest for Christmas dinner. Cups of tea, tiny balms to the soul.
You would think now that I'm over 40, Christmas couldn't necessarily hold the same kind of magic it once did when I was but a wee girl. Especially after dreading the month of December and its shadows for so long. But you'd be wrong.
This Christmas surpassed every one I've ever known!
The most amazing gift I've ever been given is the feel of my darling, bouncy boy in my arms. The sight of him reaching out so gently, almost timidly, to touch the tree ornaments. Gazing up at Santa with an open mouth and wide eyes, in silent awe over the length of his beard. The sound of contagious fits of giggles while I sing carols to him at feeding time.
Mary had nothing on me when it comes to celebrating the arrival of one very special son.
I hope you've all been given what you've dreamed of under the tree and that 2010 holds much more magic in store for all of us!
(I think that's pretty much guaranteed for me.) :)
Music: Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy, Bing Crosby and David Bowie
Treetop Annie comes home
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