By Primus Mootry
For The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
“Twas the night before Christmas,
Don’t ask us why
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even a fly
The stockings hung by the chimney with care,
They’d been worn for six months, and needed the air
When out in the yard, there rose such a clatter
We jumped under the bed as our teeth started to
The Mootry kids (circa 1955)
... And on and on the poem went. My sisters and I went through the whole thing, trying to come up with the silliest rhymes we could. That’s part of the way we celebrated Christmas.
We did not know that we were poor. In fact, as I think back on it, we were not. Though we may not have had much in the way of wealth, we did have our health.
And we had each other. The little apartment we stayed in with my mother was warm and clean. We had food and clothes. We had books and imagination. We were loved.
As I look back over the years, it is hard for me to believe those sweet Christmas holidays were so long ago. Every once in a while, as I have mentioned in some of these articles, it dawns on me that most of the adult loved ones who were there when we were children are now gone.
We are “Santa” for our children now, even though our own children are grown. Looking back, though, Santa usually left us clothes, maybe a pair of shoes, and one toy — one.
Today, my sisters’ and my children mostly just want money. If there is a gift, it is a token gift of some sort, or something they specifically requested. It’s either that or a trip to the mall to buy whatever they want on Christmas Day.
In general, however, I think today’s younger kids are expecting all kinds of “stuff” for Christmas — money, video games, cellphones, iPods, clothes, and the like. And if they don’t get their “stuff,” they think they are poor. Some even get mad at “Santa.”
But, as I said earlier, my sisters and I did not know we were poor. After Christmas morning when after we opened all our “gifts,” we went out and played with neighborhood kids — jump rope, marbles, kick-the-can, hide and seek, and other games. For the most part, we shared just about everything.
If some lucky neighborhood kids got something like a bicycle, a sled, or a scooter, it quickly became neighborhood property. Everybody took turns. I guess you can’t see yourself as poor if everyone around you is poor, too. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have more important things, like respect for elders and sharing with friends.
Anyway, once outdoor play was over, my mother would get us cleaned up and take us to visit relatives. We wore our new shoes or clothes and took our one gift (mine was usually a cap pistol) to show off. Our young cousins, aunts and uncles would show off their stuff, too.
And there was always plenty to eat. Nothing fancy, mind you, but plenty of whatever there was. The fanciest foods we encountered were cakes and pies.
Again, looking back, I don’t believe anyone assumed that not having money meant children were destined to a life of violence, misery, and crime. Those conditions simply were not connected to what we call poverty.
It’s different now. Between the sociologists, television, and generally higher earnings, many people feel that if they don’t have “stuff” their lives are ruined.
People feel this way in spite of the fact that they know there are millions of people in other parts of the world, including children, who live on less than one dollar a day. But, to my knowledge, none of these places has a prison population higher than what we have in America.
I know. Everything is relative. We don’t judge the quality of our lives by the quality of life in, say, Iraq or parts of Africa. In a way, I think that’s a shame.
As tough as things may seem right now, Americans are richly blessed. I know that, through the act of sharing, for example, many like my sisters and me were blessed.
Share. It’s a simple idea that should be deeply built into the larger idea of American exceptionalism. With that, whatever your circumstances, I do hope you have a Merry Christmas. But, for now ...
Have a nice day!
Primus Mootry is an Anderson resident. His columns are published each Wednesday.