In the projects where I lived with other low-income families, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were considered special times. Being poor did not negate the significance of the holiday seasons. Even in our small two-bedroom apartment we all sensed something special in the air. I thank the good Lord for that special feeling because it had nothing to do with money. Especially since money was tight all year round, and during the holidays it was no different. Every penny that I had in my possession—whether in my purse or sitting on my dresser was spent on buying food and gifts, and I mean it when I say that every penny was spent. I refused to allow my financial situation to prevent me from having a joyous holiday season with my five boys.
The arrival of Thanksgiving in the fall not only brought with it the changing of leaves but it also brought back fond memories of my dearly departed mother who I had lost four months after my seventeenth birthday. She was an excellent cook and at no time was it on display more than at Thanksgiving. When she was working her magic in the kitchen, the whole house was filled with a wonderful aroma. I did my best at Thanksgiving to mimic her activities around our apartment. Attempting to fill her shoes was no easy task given that my cooking skills did not match hers. There was the careful preparation of a large turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, stuffing, and homemade gravy. Included on the menu was the boys’ favorite cranberry sauce out of the can. The meal would then be topped off with some store-bought rolls that I would bake in the oven and serve with butter.
Such a good meal could not be eaten alone. Considering that I had five small mouths to feed, I would not have to worry about being alone for many years to come. My father, two brothers, two sisters, and their families normally partook of Thanksgiving dinners with us. It felt strange not having my mother, grandmother and oldest sister present. As the good Lord would have it, they each died before I turned nineteen. Amazingly still, the family gathering resulted in lively conversations throughout the living room and kitchen. Any differences throughout the year were always put aside for Thanksgiving. Once everyone’s bellies were full, the boys along with their cousins usually rushed outside to play football in the backyard while the adult men stayed inside to watch it on television. The women took care of the dirty dishes and leftovers. We then spent the rest of our time talking. This family gathering at Thanksgiving became a tradition that would continue for years to follow.
The very next holiday, Christmas, was just as meaningful as Thanksgiving. Many mothers and fathers probably had more presents to give their children, but I was never so fortunate. In fact, I recall an incident with one neighbor who also lived in the projects. She came over to my apartment on Christmas day and commented on the lack of presents under the tree. She felt as though I should have purchased more toys for the boys. What gave her the impression that I was holding back? The good Lord knows that I wanted to give them so much more. Her situation was far different from mine. She also was a single black mother with two boys; however, they each had separate fathers. At Christmas time, each father purchased gifts for his son in addition to what she purchased. So naturally she had more presents under the tree. I know that I should have ignored her comments but they made me feel very sad.
Deep down inside I truly wanted my sons to have more, but I would not be able to give it to them in the form of presents under the tree. My income at that time was very limited. Their biological father would pay his required two-hundred-dollars per month child support for December and maybe include an additional one to two hundred dollars more for Christmas. The monthly child support went towards the regular monthly expenses and so the extra one to two hundred dollars was used to purchase Christmas presents for all five boys. This basically left me with anywhere from twenty to forty dollars per child to purchase gifts at Christmas. I did my best to stretch the money by purchasing cheap gifts from a traveling salesman or by purchasing quality items from the department store after I had combined their father’s money with the little bit I had saved.
At Christmas, I also prepared a nice meal for the boys and me. The Christmas meal did not normally include other family members. Me and the boys would sit down as a family and watch the Christmas specials that came on television throughout the day. Whatever toys the boys got for Christmas, they wasted no time taking them outside. I would constantly remind them to not leave their toys outside because other kids in the project would steal them. They had skate boards, bikes, and toy trucks stolen. They would have stolen a pair of holey shoes if they were left outside. All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our time together during the Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays. We ate and we played, but most importantly we shared the moments together.
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