Christmas Past

By Kathleen Lamont

I loved Christmastime when I was growing up. I came from a blue-collar family where my father worked as a mechanic for the Los Angeles City School District. He repaired small engines in the grounds maintenance department. He could build, fix, machine, or repair anything; so of course he built my 10-year-old brother a go-cart powered with a Briggs & Stratton engine. My mother managed a dental office and a home and family. She had two full-time jobs and was the glue that held our family together. Although I say was, she is still with us. It is just that Bernice is now in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease and her happy delightful personality has vanished completely.

I grew up in the 1950s in a time when there were no credit cards or charge accounts. Instead, we had savings accounts and the Christmas Club at Bank of America on Long Beach Boulevard. It was my mother’s secret weapon. In January each year she would open a new Christmas Club account, making regular monthly deposits from then on. In December, she would close the account, withdraw the money, give half to the taxman and with the other half bought our Christmas presents. We paid for everything as we went. We never had a lot and we never went without. My mother was the glue that held it all together.

I was in junior high school when I received my first record player for Christmas — the kind that played 33, 45, and 78 rpm vinyl records. I knew this ahead of time because my 15-year-old brother made me tell him what he was getting for Christmas. My father had it safely tucked away in a storage area near our boat on Terminal Island, and somehow my brother knew I knew he was getting his first car — a 1949 Ford Fairlane convertible. Oh how he did not like hearing that; mostly because it was not a Chevy.

It was however, the reason he started the Fade-a-Way Car Club and it was the reason he could afford a down payment on his first real love — a 1952 Chevy Bel Air. He understood then where gratefulness would take him and he held his head high as he cruised the circuit on Atlantic Avenue between The Clock and Grissinger’s Drive-in. Kenny got a car and I got a record player — seems a little off balance doesn’t it?

For us though it wasn’t about the cost of the gift, it was about receiving with grace the thing you wanted most. It was about gratitude for a mother and father who did the best they could with what they had.

Recently I found Bernice in a rare lucid moment and was able to tell her what a great mother she was, that she did everything right and made my life so sweet. That she was the glue that held us all together.

(Kathleen Lamont is the owner of Back to Basics. Her Web site is and her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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