A week before Christmas, I headed to the Shelter for a little holiday celebrating with the kids...or the quilt kids as they like to be called. After a couple weeks of sharing Christmas memories and traditions with my Senior Quilt Groups, I knew I would need a different focus. Kids don't really like to reminisce like adults. And I didn't want to focus on the past anyway...or the fact that the kids were spending Christmas in a Shelter, not a home. Since there are lots of people every year who are away from home or family on Christmas I decided to put the spotlight on firefighters.
I shared a story first.
On Christmas Eve in 1963, my mother took the 4 kids to see Santa at NYC's Macy's. When we left the store it was dark and snowing. Before we reached the car, we paused to look in the window of a fire station and some bored or possibly lonely firemen, tapped on the glass and motioned for us to come in. My mother agreed to let us stop for a while and we had a giddy time exploring the fire truck and trying on the giant fire hats. After our short visit we thanked the firemen and wished them a Merry Christmas. We rushed to the car jabbering about our surprise visit to the station. We couldn't believe how nice they were letting us climb on the truck. My Mom smiled and reminded us that the firemen probably enjoyed our surprise visit too. "It's Christmas Eve and they aren't home with their families." Every Christmas my family would retell that story about visiting the fire station on Christmas Eve.
When I had kids of my own, I told the Christmas Eve story and we made it a family tradition to visit the fire station every Christmas Eve. Sometimes I just took Heidi and Scott, but sometimes we took other neighbor kids and we always took lots of Christmas cookies.
Cards for the Fire Fighters
I told the quilt kids I hadn't visited a fire station in a long time since my kids were grown up. I reminded them that today there are firemen and firewomen who have to work on Christmas and other holidays. We wondered what they did in the fire station if there were no emergencies. We wondered if they might like a surprise. I told the kids I would bake some Christmas cookies for the firefighters if they could help make pictures for a big card.
There were about 15 kids squeezed onto our quilt in a small room that day. But in no time at all, the kids were at work, sharing markers and scissors and construction paper.
I loved hearing their voices talk as they worked. "When I hear a siren at night, it's scary." "How do you spell protect?" "Will they like it if I make a star?" "Do you think they'll like mine?" "Can you take a picture of the fire fighters?"
A Little Surprise
Before I left I told them I had a surprise for them, too. The Seniors I had visited earlier in the week had made candy cane cards for the kids. I had been a little worried that they would fight over the prettiest ones or maybe not even care about these simple gifts. But the kids were delighted with the surprise and took turns picking from the collection. I left promising I would put their pictures onto the big card and take a photo of the firefighters!
I put their pictures in the big card and baked the cookies and gathered up the rest of the candy cane cards.
When my grown kids arrived home I told them of my plans to drop off the goodies on Christmas Eve and joked that they could come along like when they were little.
My son reminded me that his good friend is a firefighter and might be working Christmas. Sure enough, Steve was starting a 72 hour shift at 7:00 pm that night. Scott reminded me that fire stations often get a lot of baked goods at holidays, so that afternoon we whipped up an extra egg and sausage casserole to add to our load of goodies.
We arrived around 7 and Steve introduced us to the rest of the crew. We stopped inside to unload the casserole and cookies and headed out to the trucks to take a picture for the kids. It was obvious the group had a lot to do since there had been a shift change, but they took time to look at the kids' artwork and they seemed genuinely touched by the gifts. We wished them a quiet, uneventful evening. They laughed that they wouldn't be surprised to have a call or two about fires involving fried turkeys!
Getting in the Picture
Heidi and Scott haven't posed at the fire station on Christmas Eve for over 15 years. But with a little egging on from this good natured group, they jumped in for a quick pose. We didn't linger long. Suddenly there were flashing lights and the crew was needed. We dashed off with a Merry Christmas! A couple hours later, Steve texted Scott to say the breakfast casserole had not waited for morning. It was already gone!
What I learned:
I re-learned what most of us know. Giving is the good part. I grinned a huge grin when I heard the casserole was gone. The seniors who made the candy cane cards for the kids seemed almost honored to be asked to help with that project. The kids were eager when they got their candy cane cards, but they were glowing with pride when they handed me their artwork for the fire fighters. The old 'tis better to give than receive thing is so darn true!
Christmas in the Past
For the past couple of weeks all my senior groups have been sharing memories of past holidays. As always I have to be cautious about too much nostalgia. Holidays can be hard for some. I made sure to keep us laughing as well as remembering.
We all shared about family traditions. I brought in my Christmas Crab and told the group about the ugly crab that hung from my family's tree years ago. When anyone in my family of 6 (including parents) got the least bit cranky, anyone had permission to swipe the lovely necklace from the tree and place it around the neck of the ornery one. The crab was to be worn as long as needed.
We of course had to have a lot of music! We swayed and remembered most of the words to White Christmas and at one point we made such a racket with singing and bell shaking that someone came and closed our door. We laughed over all extra verses to Noel that we didn't know. Then, Dorothy came to the rescue with her book of hymns that happened to be in her lap and encouraged us to keep going!
Kids and Holidays
We tried to remember what we liked best (besides presents) about Christmas when we were kids. Many recalled favorite foods, from Christmas taffy to tamales! Some remembered the tree going up on Christmas Eve and many remembered the fun and extra noise of visiting relatives. Almost all of us had memories of tinsel and how impatient we were as children putting it on the tree in sloppy clumps. Betty remembered her mother removing the tinsel each year and packing it away to use again. We spent a long time pondering the fact that tinsel was originally made of lead. I remember that heavy lead tinsel on my grandmother's tree!
In some groups we had hot chocolate while we shared about our favorite family traditions. We tried to remember a special present we once received. Mary remembered a Shirley Temple doll that she still has. Bob, who did not grow up in Texas remembered a Radio Flyer sled! Some remembered oranges in stockings and no one remembered getting coal!
Many remembered making gifts, especially as children. These wonderful cards made by my husband a million years ago, still come out every December. Many remembered making paper chains and stringing popcorn...and usually getting bored with the task before the chain or string got very long!
This week we talked about gifts and tried to think about what kinds of gifts you can give that cost nothing. Betty said, "A pie!" Ken remembered making his daughter a small puppet theatre out of a cardboard box for Christmas. It never took long in any group for someone to say "Love" or "Time". It was heartwarming to hear them talking about people they had reached out to in the past.
Making and Giving
We talked about how our attitudes have changed over the years, when it comes to gifts. The joy of giving something that is appreciated is pretty hard to beat. So in all groups we set about making cards and tags to attach to candy canes for the kids at the Women's Shelter. While music played, the conversations flowed. It was touching to see how so many of these folks ended up cooperating, since skills are limited with some. In my very last group, Margaret held a loop of sparkly yarn with a dangling tag and announced. "This is the first time I've tied a knot since my stroke!"
These Incredible Folks
I feel unbelievably lucky to gather and share with these dear friends! Not only did we get to indulge in ridiculously fun reminiscing about the past, but we got to enjoy the moment with singing and laughter. And better yet, we were allowed to ponder the future a little as we wondered what the kids would say when they got their surprises. Everyone begged me to let them know what the kids said when they got their candy cane cards.
What I Learned
I gathered up the cards and tags made by the groups and prepared to visit the kids at the Shelter. I wondered briefly if homemade cards and candy canes could possibly thrill children in 2013. But I didn't bother with that thought for more than a second. I focused on what I'd seen earlier. The image of those dear hands carefully snipping and gluing and tying... reminded me that the project wasn't for the kids, it was for them.
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.