I remember most Christmases past like they happened yesterday. As an only child of divorced parents, I was used to splitting my time between different households, each very different.
My dad's humble little house was located in East St. Louis, Ill. (when the now beleaguered city was actually chic and a popular entertainment hub). I used to love visiting because my stepmother and dad would spoil me so. Blanche loved to cook and would let me dig my grimy little fingers into everything. My mother preferred I not get in the way as I don't think she was that comfortable in the kitchen to begin with, even though her dishes were delish.
Blanche and I baked cookies and cakes and she and my dad always acknowledged holidays and special occasions with lots of creativity and style. At Christmas, under a big, green pine tree laden with tinsel and surrounded by an electric train, was every kind of toy imaginable. I remember a Chatty Kathy doll, a pink bicycle with streamers on the handlebar (that my dad taught me how to ride), a doll that was as big as I was, coloring books, a rubber Santa doll (that I still have), a little desk, an Emmett Kelly stuffed clown (EEKS!), a little metal stove and so much more.
At my mom's house in Dupo, Illinois, we had a different type of Christmas. My mother was pretty cutting edge for the time so we had one of those silver aluminum trees (that appears to be making a comeback) with the rotating color wheel. I remember our two cats went wild over it so I'm not sure if we ever had it again after that. I can't remember the toys I received but she was a very loving mom so I know they were wonderful. I remember my dad's house and gifts because he took tons of photos--so you see, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!
Sometimes we would spend Christmas Day with my other set of parents, Mary and Jim Johnson, who helped raise me. They lived in East Carondelet, Illinois. Jim opened my eyes to a lot of things. He told me that in the '50s, and earlier, African Americans weren't allowed to cross the railroad tracks into Dupo after sundown. He also taught me about the Jim Crow laws and how segregation was, sadly, still alive and well, especially at Walter Nolte's Supermarket. He kept clippings of Martin Luther King and JFK in his Bible, which I now have and cherish.
I'm glad I grew up with such diversity and in such different households. I think it's given me a unique perspective on life and, for that, I am forever grateful. I know for sure that I was loved and am sad that not every child feels this.
So, this Christmas season, I'm counting my many blessings and praying for the same for all.
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