by Robert Gillis
Published In The Foxboro Reporter 12/2018
This past Friday at my weekly visit to Mom, over two helpings of chicken broccoli Ziti, Mom and I caught on news, gossip, and then got down to doing a few things around the house. I always ask Mom to have some tasks for me to; it makes me feel needed, I tell her. We got the Christmas tree up last week and she has already decorated and I spent time rigging up the star to stay in place with a MacGyver solution of a coat hanger. We then once again reflected on how much we both love the Nativity set, a gift from her mother that has graced every one of her Christmases long before I was even thought of. It was another cathartic and happy visit with my awesome Mom, and I thought it might share a letter I wrote to her a few year years back, remembering our other Christmas traditions and how much I still cherish those memories.
Years ago, Theresa and I would make our annual Christmas shopping trip into Boston an extremely enjoyable day. We didn’t own a car and this was in the pre-mall days, so this trip to the city was a big deal for us. We rode the bus to the Andrew Station T stop, the train to the station that was simply called “Washington” back then. As the rackety and antique Hawley street escalator made its wonderful “clack clack clack” noise, I thought about the $35 bulging in my wallet and how rich I felt. I’d saved for weeks for this day.
We stepped off the escalator into the cold December afternoon, and we heard the familiar ringing of the Salvation Army bells. I smiled again. Boston! Christmas time! We’d be so excited that we could barely contain ourselves. Our first stop was always Arch Street Church, to go to confession (“Bless me father, I took the name of the Lord in vain twice”) and then we’d light candles and say prayers. From infancy, you always taught us how import church is.
From there we’d head to the store that used to be called Jordan Marsh. The store was always mobbed, and it was very exiting to be flooded with all the scents from the perfume counters and the visual explosion of Christmas in every direction. We’d get on the escalator and head upstairs to the Enchanted Village the years it was there, and then head upstairs to see Santa Claus.
I look at those pictures these days and I think, “Was I ever that young,” and recall at the mature age of 11, I was already “in the know” about who was really delivering the Christmas presents, but at age 8, Theresa still got her picture taken. I’ve often reflected about what a joyful period it was when Theresa believed and I didn’t — it really made the holiday more special.
After Theresa got her picture taken, we’d begin our shopping. We’d head to Woolworth’s, Grants and Kresgees, and I remember the roar of the heating air vents as they blasted us with warm air as we entered each store. We’d go in separate directions, buying little presents for each member of the family. By dinnertime, the bags were already heavy and we were starved. We usually had dinner at the Kresgees basement cafeteria — it might not have been the best restaurant in town, but it sure felt like it to us. Our hamburger fries and drink (and chocolate pudding) were more than enough to make us happy.
After dinner, we’d start our shopping again, and by around 8:00 we were done. We’d head back to Grants and pick up some warmed Spanish peanuts, and then walk over to Boston Common to see the Christmas lights. It was cold out, but seeing all those beautiful colors hanging from the trees was well worth the discomfort. We might even take the trolley to Prudential Center to see that famous Christmas tree. Ablaze with over 15,000 multi-colored lights, it was (and still is) quite a sight.
After the subway and bus ride home, we’d find that Dad had made us some of his terrific homemade fried rice, and then it was time to wrap! Although we still had two weeks until Christmas, both Theresa and I made sure that we carefully wrapped our purchases that night. The day wouldn’t be complete until this was done.
I’m so grateful to you for the many years you took us into Boston. Back in the leaner days when money was tight and trips to McDonalds were special, that one day meant more to us than any other day leading up to the Christmas Holiday. Sure, it was a much simpler time, yet I think back to those shopping trips and realize that it was a day that flooded all five senses with Christmas. It was a day of joy — so much joy that I thought I’d explode.
You always made Theresa and me so much a part of the Christmas season — we could decorate any way we liked, you taught us the importance of the Nativity set Memere gave you (that you still display every year), and I remember the special treats like the Brach’s raspberry candy, peanuts and M&Ms; you put out every year.
I remember your Christmas dinners. I remember the joy we felt sitting with you and Dad opening presents.
I remember it all, and I am so grateful for all of it.
Thank you, thank you. Merry Christmas Mom. I cherish my Christmas memories with you.