It was December 2005. I had been divorced for a little over six months. After the divorce, my twelve year old daughter and I had found an apartment that suited us fine, but then in late September all the tenants were informed that the apartment complex would be closing and all tenants had to vacate by late November. Rozi and I had no choice but to go and stay with a friend for a couple of weeks until school was out for Christmas, and then we went to stay in a Days Inn in Atlanta, not too far from my work, while I tried to save up the money for a security deposit and first and last month’s rent so we could move somewhere; not that easy to do on a single salary.
It sounds grim, but really, Rozi and I sort of liked living in the hotel. It was like an adventure, and her fifteen year old brother had finally stopped being furious with me over the divorce and stayed with her while I was at work. The maids kept everything clean, and we were comfortable. All of our things were in storage except for some clothes, books, a few of her personal belongings, and a tv, but we had all we needed.
The only problem was Christmas. Despite trying to save up money to rent a place, I had started in mid-October to put a few dollars a week aside, and by a week before Christmas, I had about $100 saved up. I set aside $40 for Christmas presents for
Jeremy and Rozi, and gave each of them $10 to buy presents for their father, me, and each other. That left $40 for decorations and food, since my ex-husband, my son, Rozi and I were all celebrating Christmas at my place.
(My ex-husband was a good man, and even though we could not stay married, we stayed civil and eventually we became good friends, and still are to this day.)
What to do? I couldn’t cook and we couldn’t afford to eat out. I had no money for decorations, but I was determined that the place would look like Christmas.
I bought a little tree for a dollar at the Family Dollar store, and set it on the dresser. Rozi and I made decorations for it out of tin foil and paper. I bought a tiny string of lights with another dollar.
Next to the hotel, there was a Waffle House, and between the hotel and the Waffle House was a line of pine and cedar trees.
I went out at night, making sure there were no stragglers who might be a threat in the parking lot, and gathered fallen branches and pine cones and brought them inside to make arrangements on the dresser, tabletop and counter.
With the decorating taken care of, it was time to think of food. We went to the grocery store and bought two party trays, one of meat and cheese and one of fruit and vegetables, and two bottles of soda. That cost about $35, and Rozi and I got two boxes of Little Debbie Christmas cakes and cut them up into fancy shapes, and placed them on a silver tray I already owned. We were set.
Rozi was all excited about my present. She had spent the $10 on her dad and her brother, but she insisted on buying my present with her own money, and she had saved up a few dollars, but I knew it was very little. Still, she said she had found the perfect present and I was going to love it!
On Christmas Eve, Jeremy arrived right on time. We had Christmas music playing on the radio, and we all dug into the meat, cheese, vegetables and fruit, followed by our fancy Little Debbie desserts. Nobody seemed to mind the lack of turkey and stuffing and all the rest, and we all ate until we were full. We had a grand and glorious time, and while I don’t remember what I gave Rozi and Jeremy, I do remember what they gave me. Jeremy gave me a CD which was his and which we both loved. I was touched that he gave up something I knew he cherished for me.
And then it was time to open up Rozi’s perfect present. When I opened the prettily wrapped package, I just sat on the floor and laughed and cried. It was a box of Lucky Charms cereal, which she bought because, as she explained, I’m Irish and I love them, and we hadn’t had the money to buy them.
That box of Lucky Charms turned out to be my favorite Christmas present I have ever received. To this day, every Christmas, I herald the season by buying Lucky Charms. And to this day, Rozi has to have her Little Debbie cakes.
We have all moved on, and Tony and I are both happily married to other people and we blend our families at Christmas. Jeremy has given me three lovely grandchildren and Rozi is now a 25 year old married woman.
But if you ask me or Rozi to recall one special Christmas, the one at the Days Inn is the one most likely to be recalled.
Because that was the Christmas when we discovered that what Christmas is all about is not expensive presents, lots of food or fancy decorations.
Christmas is about family, and togetherness, and love.
And that is what Christmas means to me.