This was one of my first posts when I started writing last summer, but I thought that it was fitting now, at the Holiday Season.
I can still see the blue and yellow flames flickering inside the glass panel of the old propane stove in the living room of our farmhouse. A turn of the rusted knob at the back could reduce them to the smallest glow or make them dance intensely with a steady, hissing rhythm. In the ceiling just above it was a grated register which allowed the heat to penetrate the room upstairs. Luckily for me, that room is where my sister and I slept. I can remember on cold winter evenings standing above that register, my little girl feet straddling its sides. The warm air would fill the bottom of my nightgown, causing it to billow out like a hooped skirt, my face illuminated by the light from below. Then quickly, I would race to my bed, pulling the covers up tightly and curl into a ball, trying to conserve the heat against the coolness of my cotton sheets. Our Calico cat would sometimes get too close to the old stove and burn her coat on the glass panel, sending a pungent smell throughout the room. But for the most part, my memories of that stove warm my heart as surely as it warmed our bodies on those long winter days and nights. For the most part.
It was Christmas morning, 1965 and the usual chaos of flying wrapping paper and squeals of delight filled the living room. Underneath the tree that year I found the beloved Mickey Mouse telephone of my dreams. It was fashioned like a pay phone, upright and bright red with the receiver hanging to the side and pictures of favorite Disney characters at the top. Colored discs could be inserted into the appropriate slot and the voice of Mickey, Minnie or Donald would emerge through the handset. It was shiny and perfect and I'm sure, expensive. With six children and one paycheck, I knew that it was an extravagance and that for this holiday, my parents had indulged in a little girl's fancy.
It happened in an instant....and yet in slow motion. In all the excitement I placed my new telephone on top of the old stove and in the busyness of that morning, no one noticed until the shiny red plastic had melted into a rubbery, hot goo. I never got a chance to use it. Not one voice, one conversation. It was an act of carelessness and even at that young age, I knew that my parents had spent hard-earned and hard-saved money on this precious gift. I was in tears, partly from my own loss, but mainly because I knew it had been such a monetary sacrifice. The joy of that special present was short-lived......and I'd let them down.
I'm sure they were upset and thinking themselves, about the expense. But there was no scolding, no lectures. I was a little girl, just four years old, and I imagine they were wise enough to see that no amount of fussing would bring it back. My imprudence had brought about a bitter disappointment evident on all of our faces. But that, too, was short-lived. Sometimes quiet acceptance and forgiveness is more effective than harsh lamentations. And after all.....it was Christmas.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In a photograph dated December 25, 1965 there is a small girl, still in her nightgown, standing beside a tinseled tree. On her face is a happy smile and a few feet away sits a shiny red telephone. It tells a story, this photograph. But it doesn't tell the whole story.
How fortunate I was to have grown up in a family where material objects were never substituted for the things that were truly important. And though I never got another Mickey Mouse telephone, my parents' love rings in my heart still as I remember their sacrifices, the old propane stove and the true blessings of that Christmas.