Under the living room and family room trees were dozens of gifts. Mom shopped and crafted all year long for Christmas. Gift giving became so involved that Mom devised a system of numbering the back of each gift and logging by number the name of the recipient and contents of the gift. Much to our chagrin, there were no gift tags. And every year as gift exchange commenced, Mom would unveil a black 5" x 7" binder containing her very highly guarded Christmas gift list.
When we lived in the south bay, our Christmas presents were wrapped in newspaper Dad brought from Japan, and each was tied in Christmas red ribbon. This unique and op-art theme (remember, it was the 1960s), of course, worked beautifully with the decor Mom had assembled in the living room: black and white upholstery, black and blond woods, gray carpet, and, at Christmas time, a silver aluminum tree. Japanese newsprint was a brilliant idea for wrapping paper, and red ribbons were the perfect holiday compliment. In our Marin home, Mom wrapped our gifts in shiny white shelving paper. Since the color schemes were different in each room, gifts under the snow-flocked tree in our living room were tied in bronze ribbon and bows, and gifts under the tree in our family room were tied with red ribbon and bows.
Mom's parents were immigrants from Ireland and were both laborers in San Francisco. Money was scarce when Mom and her sisters were growing up, so, with all the opportunities Dad's salary afforded our family, Mom was budget-minded yet generous when it came to Christmas gifts. She wanted to create for us a magic that she may not have had as a young girl. Her intent to give generously was evidenced by the long list of gifts contained within the pages of her little black binder; the total number of gifts usually topped 100. As young ladies, the three of us were dazzled by the beauty, in awe of the generous quantity, and curious about the contents of every single present.
One year, when it was extremely difficult for us to wait even one more day to open our presents, we playfully hounded our parents to please open just one gift on Christmas Eve. "Please?" We continued to beg, "Pleeeaaaase?!" We were ecstatic when our parents agreed, but the rule was that Mom would pick the gift we could open. She went to the tree in the family room, picked up three presents from beneath the lowest bough, then handed one to each of us. There were block-like in shape, and they had a hefty weight to them. We were so very excited and proceeded to open the little brick to find a delightful variety of Lifesavers packaged in a charming little book-like box. The book was entitled "Holiday Book of Lifesavers." We politely thanked our parents and our suspense was satisfied until Christmas morning.
The following year, we remembered that our parents had agreed to let us open just one gift on Christmas Eve, so we took the chance to ask again. Our request was received with some hesitancy, but Mom and Dad recalled the precedent set the previous year and succumbed again to our request. We were allowed to open just one gift, but the same rule applied, so Mom chose the three presents. She repeated her trip to the tree and handed to each of us a gift that felt vaguely familiar. We unwrapped the package to find another edition of "Holiday Book of Lifesavers."
Besides all the wrapped gifts from Mom and Dad, Santa brought a major item or two. One year, a hall closet was cleared out, wallpapered with a graffiti design, and converted into a phone booth. We had our own phone number, a place to sit, and privacy was suggested in the form of half a Dutch door and groovy 1970s hanging beads. We were in our early teens that year, and the popularity of the phone in our household was about to spike through the roof. In an era when cordless and cell phones were not even a twinkle in Santa's eye, this gift was brilliant and original and so much fun! That phone booth was in our home for years, and, because of the clever way it was wallpapered, our friends were welcome to add to the graffiti by "signing" anywhere they chose on the walls. Each of us spent many an hour in that phone booth talking at length with girlfriends and boyfriends.
The "just one gift" ceremony became tradition, and so did the annual "Holiday Book of Lifesavers." Later in our teens, the plea to open one gift on Christmas Eve changed in tone to a jaded, but light-hearted, "Can we open our Lifesavers now?" We loved the tradition those lifesavers had become. Every kind of lifesaver you could name, it seemed, was in that box. And every color, too. Inside our "Holiday Book of Lifesavers" were the Colors of Christmas.
To be continued . . .