The Joy of Giving by H. Schussman

The Joy of Giving
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
I was raised a poor kid, but I didn’t know we were so poor until I was in my teens. Born in a town too small to have a hospital, as the fourth child to parents who couldn’t afford the first three, I thought we were the richest family around. We moved three times before I turned five, finally settling in the ancestral home of the Schussman’s. It was a rambling two-story old place set on the upper slope by the highway.
Christmas meant creativity to my mom. Invention is the mother of necessity, or creativity is the mother of poverty. We worked for weeks to create gifts for each other from cast off clothes and toys, dragging various items in from the cold foggy yard. They always had a fire in the family room, but the oven was in the kitchen… tough choice. When Pop was home we gathered in the family room, otherwise we were clumped in the kitchen.
On Christmas Eve, Pop hung a sheet from the ceiling, blocking our view of the scraggly Christmas tree loaded with handmade ornaments. Our gifts to each other were already under the boughs, but there were no presents from our parents yet. How could there be? Santa hadn’t come yet! Somehow we all waited for Santa Claus, with zero expectation of there being a big chubby white bearded man sneaking into our house. I knew it was our parents and appreciated Christmas the more because of that knowledge.
Christmas morning dawned with the usual thrill of anticipation, but my father had a tradition that we hated. We had to do all of our chores and eat breakfast, before the tree could be revealed. Torture! Never did the house get cleaned so quickly as it was on Christmas morning. Mom was kind enough to make a small breakfast, saving the annual cinnamon rolls for after the gifts were opened.
Pop lined us up, youngest to oldest, or oldest to youngest, tallest to shortest, etc… He changed it every year. Then he would dramatically yank the sheet down and reveal the tree with new presents under it. We raced over to inspect the wrapped gifts, determining which one was our own. We’d form a half circle on the floor, and Pop would give us a gift to open, one at a time. From my folks we always got a pair of shoes, a jacket, homemade dresses for the girls and slacks for my brother. I can still remember being more excited when my siblings opened the gift I’d made for them, than I was with my own gifts.
Mom had taught us that giving was better than receiving… the greatest gift given to me as a child.
Thanks for dropping by to read this true Christmas story!

5 thoughts on “The Joy of Giving by H. Schussman

  1. That was really good, I’m such a sucker for stories like that! Some of it may hit a little too close to home.

  2. Yes, this was the way it was for both my parents and earlier generations. When my dad was little, his father and mother and three year older sister picked apples on an orchard, living in a tent in the wet Washington climate, and lived off apples for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dad was supposed to help too, but he was only about 4 and his attention span didn’t last long.

  3. My grandparents on both sides had big families and struggled with poverty in the early 1900’s. My Mom’s Dad was a school teacher and inspired all his daughters to follow that dream. There were not a lot of career choices for women in those times, thankfully we have improved that now. Anyway, even though our lot was much better for my generation, they never stopped teaching us to be thankful. Poverty is the best motivation for hard work.

    • Absolutely! That’s a lot of the reason my dad joined the AF. Even at that, he was always working on the side. When they lived in California, he had a taxi service of sorts–for the airmen who didn’t have cars. He was in charge of the service and scheduled others to drive those who didn’t have a vehicle and they earned some extra money. And then later, he repaired TVs on the side. So he was always working two jobs. My mom had been in the Army. She was a postal clerk, back when they still had military clerks.But as soon as she got pregnant with me, she had to leave the service. It was mandatory back then.

  4. Life is interesting, isn’t it? We are so brainwashed that happiness equals money we forget we were perfectly content being poor… well not perfectly content. I’m sure my parents weren’t thrilled with having to skip dinner for themselves because there wasn’t enough food for us all. I still remember thinking how fun the end of the month was because we got to eat tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. We didn’t know that’s all we had until Pop got paid! LOL, Mom always made it fun.

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