Christmas 1957 was one of the happiest days of my life. It was made all the more joyful by surviving challenging times.
On April Fool’s Day 1957, our house burned down. I was 10 years old and was playing with my ducks in the irrigation ditch behind our house. I heard screaming and run to the house to see my whole family crying and calling out my name. My parents had all my brothers (ages 8, 6, 4, and 2) out of the house and they thought I was still inside. I arrived just as my father was trying to go in our house, which was totally engulfed in flames, to find me. He surely would have died if he went back into the house. My parents were only able to save what was most valuable, our family, and nothing else. Even my Dad’s wallet with his paycheck was left inside.
All my parents had were 5 children and a green 1950 station wagon which had the keys inside. We were all wearing our oldest clothes that we used to do our chores. Now we had no home or clothes to go to school. We drove to Albuquerque to stay with my abuela. She had only a 2 room house with one bed. Our parents arranged us like logs on the bed and they slept on the floor. In the morning my abuela made us frijoles and tortillas and we were happy to have good food. I still think that frijoles and tortillas are the best food around.
My father worked as a security guard at Los Alamos and was able to get government housing during the summer. We moved to Los Alamos into a home with nothing in it. Some of my Dad’s friends brought over boxes of clothing and household items. I remember going through the boxes hoping to find something that would fit me. There were lots of miscellaneous items including a small silver pin in the form of a cuckoo clock. I was able to start school in Los Alamos with donated clothing and the cuckoo clock pin.
We met a Santa at one of the stores and my brothers wished for trucks and toy pistols and cowboy hats. I wanted a doll dressed like a bride. That Christmas was the year that I began to seriously doubt the existence of Santa Claus. I knew that we would get nothing because we could barely afford food for the family. We did manage a scraggly tree with one string of lights. We all stared at the tree as if it were magical. I don’t think I slept very much on Christmas Eve. I dreamed of the bride doll and hoped for a new sweater. As the lights came in the window I imagined it was Santa and the lights on the wall looked like Christmas presents.
On Christmas morning, we all went downstairs and looked at amazement at the 3 bicycles and 2 tricycles left by Santa. There was a bride doll too. My mother had made a most beautiful bridal dress for the doll. There was even a blue sweater too. We were all so happy that Santa remembered us in our new home.
I was cleaning out my jewelry box this year and found the little silver cuckoo clock pin that I received over a half century ago and remembered that Christmas which was one of the happiest days of my life. My father has passed away and I never asked him how he managed to buy all those bicycles. I never thanked him for risking his life to save mine either. However, the Christmas spirit that I experienced as a child still lives strong in my home. My Christmas tree still looks magical. I just bought some new bicycles for my granddaughters too.
Here is a photo of that Christmas in 1957.