I don't know that I'd say I grew up poor. I had plenty to eat, and I had clothes on my back. They were new clothes. I didn't need shoes. I had toys (not as many as I would have liked, but what child ever does?)
But I remember Mom making Christmas ornaments. She would have liked the fancy glass ones (and we had more than a few of those, handed down from previous generations), but she did not buy new ornaments often. More often, she made them.
She got real creative in the Christmas of '68. She wasn't working, and Dad was bringing home the bacon as a newly minted High School Counselor, a job that never pays as much as you'd want it to for the work it involves.
I think that might have been the Christmas that the Shotgun Shell Angels appeared.
Dad was an avid hunter, back in the day. Liked to hunt dove and quail; I have many fond memories of roasted little game birds, hordes of them, like tiny chickens, complete with little drumsticks. Dad did a lot of shooting. Mom did, too. And one Christmas, she brought home the spent shells... added pipe cleaner wings... little styrofoam heads and little wigs (I have no idea what she used for their hair)... and made Shotgun Shell Angels. Still have one of them.
Christmas of '69, though, I remember. We didn't have money for much of anything. My sister had been born that year, and with a five year old and a toddler to raise, Dad's check did not go as far as it might have. So that year, Mom bought this little craft kit thing... with a little rack of paints and punch-out wooden ornament shapes and stencils, and she set up at the kitchen table, and began to make that year's ornaments.
Naturally, I wanted to help. So she let me paint Santa. I was not then the painter I would someday become, and I made kind of a mess of it... well, I was only five. She went over and fixed a lot of my mistakes, but you can see where I wasn't all that good at staying in the lines.
I remember painting the Christmas tree, too. Spent most of the night doing that, because after Santa, I was utterly determined NOT to screw up, and to get all those ornaments PERFECTLY ROUND, and INSIDE THE LINES, goddammit!
Mom did the birds, and the rest of the wooden ornaments. They were stenciled on both sides, identical.
They look so Seventies, now...
But those were our new ornaments, back then. And when they were dry, we hung them on the tree with all solemnity. I liked 'em. They were colorful, and I didn't have to be anywhere NEAR as careful with them as I did with Gramma's antique handmade glass whatchadiggers...
And now, I am middle aged. These ornaments are among the few that remain that Mom made. Mom died in '94, and after a year of hanging on to nearly everything she'd ever touched, he went through a purging process... preparatory to moving out of their house... and my sister and I wound up with a lot of this stuff.
And traditionally, every year, we trim the tree at Castle Bedlam and ooh-and-ah as we remember the stories behind various ornaments. And every year, I talk about these wooden ornaments, and my family rolls their eyes because they've heard this one a million times...
...and this year, as I looked at Seventies birds and Santa, I flashed back across forty years and for a brief moment, I was five years old again, sitting at the great, massive wooden kitchen table, dabbing and painting while Mom sat and bounced my sister on her knee and gave useful advice, in between working on birds and angels.
Merry Christmas, Mom. We still miss you.