read part 1 of Holiday Happiness on Lindsay’s Romantics… (Dec 15, 2010)

Bob Allen from up the street lost his job a few weeks ago. His company had to downsize, and there was no promise of hiring anyone back. At least his unemployment checks have started coming in, hopefully that will help them. Lenore Billings across the street sold off most of the jewelry she inherited from her mother to help pay off their mortgage so it will be a little easier to deal with their monthly bills from now on.

The business started to crumble with the housing market – Dan sells real estate. There wasn’t enough business for the two sales reps and Dan so he had to let one of them go – that really broke his heart to have to do. I come in for a few hours a week to help with the office work and do paperwork; he says it helps since he saves money on an office manager. We’re hoping that we don’t have to let the other sales rep go.

The economy seems to be destroying everybody around us. The newspapers are filled with reports of high unemployment rates and home foreclosures. Every time we run into another one of our neighbors we hear sad news of lost jobs, lost homes and squashed dreams. Every politician promises to help and a week later they make more promises…

As a child I remember hearing my parents talking, usually when I should have been in bed asleep, about the bills and stretching their money to pay for everything. I remember offering my piggy bank filled with pennies and nickels when I heard my ad say he couldn’t avoid getting a newer car just to be able to get to work. I remember my mom sewing school clothing for me. Yet every Chanukah I got presents – mostly clothing and things I needed for school – and there was always one present, one toy, just one frivolous treat.

I wanted better for my kids. I wanted to spoil them. I wanted to be sure that they got to go places and see things. I wanted to open bank accounts for them for their college years. And I never wanted them to remember their parents agonizing over the bills or wondering where they would find the money for the necessities.

It’s not that I’m feeling sorry for myself, Iwas just wishing I had more. I know how selfish that sounds.

The other night when we were driving home from the office I noticed all of the holiday decorations in front of every house in my neighborhood. There weren’t as many electric lights twinkling, that gets expensive. And there were definitely less inflatable, life size figures and sculpted ornaments. The decorations were more of the homemade variety. Lots of children’s school projects were hung on front doors and windows. One house had a snowman made from crumpled newspapers stuffed into white trash bags and piled on top of one another.

My kids had made a paper menorah taped to the living room window, each night there would be another paper candle taped in place. My next door neighbor strung popcorn together, a treat to look at and very attractive to the wildlife. Holiday greeting cards adorned front doors and red and white crepe paper was wound around mailbox stands to look like candy canes. Christmas carols and gentle voices sounded from the street and I went to gaze out the window.

This neighborhood which had been beaten down by the cloud of recession refused to ignore the pleasures of the season and faith in kindness and victory. I was amazed by the simple expressions of joy and appreciation.

My children were excited to see the shiny wrapped packages that they knew belonged to them. Dan and I enjoyed watching them as they ripped open packages. They ooh’d and ahh’d over everything from the socks to the toys. Dan took pictures because just as the holidays seemed to hurry along, our children were growing so fast and we wanted the memories.

There were gifts for Dan and me too, the most precious kind. These were gifts that little fingers had made. There was a soup can turned pencil cup for Dan and a necklace made of dried macaroni and string for me. We received pictures of stick figures that symbolized our family and cut outs of flowers and cute little animals. These were day care projects that became a parent’s treasurers.

Finally while Laurie played with her baby doll, Donny began building a small city, and Billy cautiously practiced swinging his bat, Dan handed me a box.

“But we said no gifts…”

“I really enjoyed my special dinner.”

“But that wasn’t a present.”

“To me it was.”

And then he waited while I opened my present. Under the wrapping paper was a small box just like the cigar boxes we used to use for school supplies. I opened the box and found it filled with postcards, ticket stubs, seashells, souvenir pencils, photos, matchbooks and napkins – each precious piece was a memory from our lives together. Tears of pure happiness rolled down my cheeks. This man had already given me my life and somehow he managed to hand it to me again. Selfishly I had been wishing for more and here I had it all.

It was then that I realized how beautiful the holiday season really was. The miracle was here – it was being with family, being loved and being together.