A Christmas Birthday by Molly Howes
December 27, 2014 § 3 Comments
During Advent, when Mom wasn’t too depressed or distracted, she’d set up a wicker basket near life-sized cardboard cutouts of Mary and Joseph, their hands pressed together in prayer. Whenever my siblings or I did a good deed, we knelt and put a handful of straw into the basket, so baby Jesus would have a soft place to sleep.
All of us kids, not just the Blessed Infant, got presents. After Christmas, amidst crumpled wrapping paper, the holiday colors now shed and forgotten, I awaited my special day. The date inevitably came, of course, but another special day was one too many for my family to pull off. My birthday was always a tired, messy day, a reflection of our living room floor.
Decades later, I told my then-boyfriend Ron about my disappointing childhood birthdays. Maybe he didn’t understand, because he let it be known that he was short of cash and could probably only get me one present for both Christmas and my birthday. As all December-born people know, that is a potentially relationship-ending comment.
We exchanged our holiday presents ahead of time, because I would be traveling home over Christmas. I returned on my birthday, prepared for disappointment. Grudgingly, I allowed Ron to pick me up at the airport. Behind his aging blue Chrysler, he asked me to open the trunk, so he could stow my bag. I sighed and lifted the lid. Among his dull trunk detritus nestled a package, wrapped in emphatic, purple paper and tied with a bountiful ivory bow. I turned to him, my stiff face melting into a smile that lasted well into the new year.
Molly Howes is a writer and psychologist living in the Boston area. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe Magazine, Bellingham Review, The Tampa Review,Passages North and psychologytoday.com. Her memoir, The Temporary Orphan: A Tale of Invisible Wounds and Unexpected Grace, is close to completion.