Where to Focus?
I stuck to basic holiday themes for my senior groups in December.
Focussing on childhood traditions and wishes kept things simple. I have to remind myself that Christmas nostalgia can cast a moody spell if I'm not careful... so I brought lots of toys.
Toys Help Us Remember
Books, dolls, sleds, trains and wagons. Everyone could relate to the old toys scattered about the table. Some shared memories of the surprises they discovered under their trees. A few of us even chuckled about the things we hoped for and never got.
Many of us remembered having a Teddy like the one my dear Santa friend is holding. Mr. G is 102, which is about how old my grandmother's bear is.
Power of the Bear
I debated a bit about lugging these old treasures from place to place. My mother's Sonja Henie doll could easily have been dropped and broken. But I knew I'd made the right decision when I saw Ms. E. react to the Teddy Bear.
This dear woman, at the age of 104, has earned the right to "pass" on our gatherings. She is not usually up for our loud chatter and silliness. So when she decided to join us on Thursday morning, I was thrilled. Then when she reached for Teddy and smiled as she recalled her own, I couldn't have been more delighted.
To the Beauty Parlor
December is a busy time. Sometimes getting your hair done is higher on the priority list than a gathering around the quilt.
In my Thursday group, I hated missing a few of my regulars, so after my small group finished, I gathered my things and headed upstairs to the Beauty Parlor. Some were under hairdryers and others were waiting for their appointments. Ms. J hadn't gotten her hair done yet, so she was happy to throw on a striped hat and pose with old bear. Even the hairdresser was getting in on some of the festive silliness.
Two more friends were waiting for therapy sessions, so they helped me do some "research" on the old toys. I couldn't remember if my mom's old doll was a Shirley Temple doll or the famous ice skater/actress, Sonja Henie. "Not enough curls for Shirley!" they assured me. "She's a Sonja doll."
Project for Kids
At the Community Center, my friends have such varied backgrounds and traditions.
We talked less about what we received as children and more about the holiday gatherings and all the yummy foods. After talking about tamales and ambrosia, sweet potato pie and taffy making, we turned our focus to the kids at the nearby Women's Shelter.
Cards for the Kids
While Christmas music played, we sat around the table and used stamps and ink, colored pencil and ribbon to make small cards. Over the years, the folks at the center have made numerous gifts and goodies, that I've been able to deliver to the kids.
It was fun to see how the tone of the room changed as this loud and chatty group began working away. Some were absorbed, choosing the right words or colors to decorate. Others talked quietly, wondering about the kids and hoping they would have a decent Christmas in their temporary home.
The music played softly and a few sang along as they worked. But when White Christmas began to play, there was more listening than singing. Ms. R. (not pictured) paused from her work and spoke to me. "Sometimes I get sad at Christmas. My mother died in December. I kind of feel down sometimes, around Christmas."
Oops. I should have been paying attention to the music and keeping it more upbeat. A little honest sharing is good, but I needed to keep the mood positive. I leaned in and shared, "I know what you mean, my mom died in December, too. I love Christmas music, but sometimes the music can make you sad." Then I reminded her what I did when I started feeling glum. "I try to do something for someone else." She caught on quickly and asked, "Like making these cards?" "Of course!" We switched to Holly Jolly Christmas and Ms. R. got back to work and then she reminded me that we needed a group picture.
Everyone grabbed a hat or a toy or book and posed, "Merry Christmas!"
I got smarter about music and brought bells to the next groups. You can't be too moody if you have a bell to ring.
But the most fun of all was guessing the voices of the old "crooners" singing the traditional songs. I was amazed at how quickly all my groups could recognize the voices of Burl Ives, Pat Boone, Gene Autry, Frank and Bing...
The Toy Book
This was the heaviest thing I lugged from group to group, but the photographs and history of these old favorites made the book a hit. So many old toys, that I don't own, came to mind.
Picking our Favorites
After everyone had a chance to talk about their favorite toys or stories as children we were reminded of the gifts that cost no money.
We remembered the gifts we made as children and the homemade gifts we've received over the years. We brainstormed gifts that cost nothing. SNOW! We all decided that the surprise of a WHITE CHRISTMAS would be the best gift! At least for those of us living in Texas.
So snow became the theme for the second week. Again the thought was simple, but wonderful stories were shared about sledding and ice skating, snowmen and even the chore of shoveling!
We obviously had no real snow to play with, but we created some of our own oddball games with a snowball head ornament. He was just right for tossing and we created a very silly game passing him with candy canes.
The Theme Goes to the Shelter
After spending a couple weeks hearing stories about Christmas from 65 to 90 years ago, it was fun to get a different perspective!
The kids at the Women's Shelter were from age 2 to about 11. They were wound up with holiday energy the day I arrived. It was a balmy day, so I took them outside to run and play... and wear them out, first.
Then we gathered on the quilt for games and stories, but they were still giddy and hyper. After a while, I pulled out the crayons and paper and we headed for the table. I watched their little bodies relax as they went to work creating snowmen and Christmas trees. No glitter, no pipe cleaners, just paper and crayons. Like I'd done with my first Senior Group, I played music softly and then enjoyed chatting with them as they drew.
Card Gifts from the Seniors
Before the kids headed off to dinner, I laid the cards in the middle of the quilt and let them take turns picking one. These children who couldn't sit still before, were suddenly staring into their cards. And then came the questions. "Who made mine?" "What do the words say?"
I had worried that the kids might not care about these simple cards with candy canes attached. But they surprised me with their appreciation. They were curious that these "grandparents" who made gifts for them. "They don't even know us!"
A Surprise For Pickles
The children lined up to head for the dining room, with their special cards. A few carried an extra card for a sibling or another child who hadn't come to our gathering.
After the kids left the room, one little boy came running back in with his Christmas tree picture. "I want to give my picture to Pickles!" He grinned. The puppet climbed out of his sleeping bag and happily took his gift! to edit.
What Did I Learn?
It was another Re-Learn for me. Simple is Better. We all know it, but I just need a reminder now and then.
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.