Mom was grateful for many things; Christmas was not one of them. It was nearly impossible to give her a gift that she liked. My father had given up years before I was born. It was a lose/lose proposition. Mom did not like surprises and she did not like routine, she considered gifts that were not practical to be frivolous while presents that were ordinary she considered mundane. Dad purchased her a dozen nylon stockings each Christmas from the most expensive department store in the city. Mom silently tucked them in her dresser drawer and wore them only for special occasions, but at least she did wear them. She would feign pleasure when neighbors or relatives sent her a gift and then grumble about the waste or inappropriateness when they were out of sight. Over the years, I gave her wallets and scarves and gloves that she stuffed in the very back of the closet and called “too good to use.”’
When at last I asked her why she didn’t like Christmas, she told me that when she was a little girl, she received a lump of coal in her stocking. “No!” I said truly shocked.
“Yes,” she replied. She never quite recovered from that disappointment. Silly as she knew that sounded, she looked embarrassed and changed the subject. I thought that lump of coal had settled in my mother’s heart as a reminder that she was not good enough.
Mom also did not like shopping for gifts. Each December just before Christmas, she would purchase the supplies for making steamed pudding. She would put the suet through the meat grinder and make a pot of strong tea. While the tea cooled, she mixed the eggs, sugar, and molasses, then added the chopped dried fruit. It was such a gooey dough that it required a strong arm to stir. I watched my mother through her weight into the wooden spoon. Even on the coldest day, there would be sweat on her forehead as her shoulder rotated. Throwing the weight of her whole body, she would thrust the reluctant batter into one mixture.
The aroma of cinnamon and allspice from the steaming pudding drifted through our house. While the puddings were cooking, Mom would mix the powdered sugar and butter for the hard sauce. It was my job to roll the stiff icing into balls, forming little snowmen with current eyes.
Mom would sit beside me at the kitchen table, writing out the instructions for re-heating the pudding in three by five cards. “They won’t take the time to warm it properly,” she mumbled, “they will ruin the pudding and people will think it is my fault.”
Its hard to give or receive a gift if you do not believe you are worthy.