Memories of Favorite Things
Gifting Treasures and Cherished Experiences
“Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes …” I love that “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music—a song about overcoming troubles—has become a cultural holiday song. Many people enjoy this Rodgers and Hammerstein creation because it poetically evokes some of the things and experiences that uplift us when the challenges of life threaten to drag us down. Getting ready for the holidays this year has me remembering some of my own favorite things, especially in the midst of unpredictable chaos.
I remember some of the gifts I received, especially the year I got the Little House book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and read each one by the fireplace in my parents’ home. My eyes and mind drank in the stories of a girl with my name, who lived courageously with her family. Each day was about staying safe, hunting and gathering food to eat, cooking, cleaning, caring for one another, and struggling with the direct and often harsh impact weather had on their lives. I found their hard work, clarity, and uncomplicated purpose, as well as the love they shared, completely appealing. I was transported into their world.
I also counted gifts of music among my favorite things. While the books I read built bridges and highways in my imagination to people, characters, and places of comfort and escape, music spoke to my soul, especially songs of love. Reading and listening to music became part of creating a map to ultimate freedom from the unspeakable chaos and abuse I lived with. Books and music played tag-team as I looked for lifelines, knowing that I could never really phone a friend, an extended family member, or a child abuse hotline. I felt that no one would believe the madness I lived.
While books and music remain my favorite gifts to receive at Christmas, experiences trump all other gifts. Experiences stand out as the love expressions that I pull out of my memory file of Christmastime. Years later, these become the sweetened whipped cream that rises to soften the invisible-to-others unfortunate happenings inside my childhood home. I remember sledding on the big hill—belly flopping sandwiched between my dad, arms wrapped around his torso, and the weight of my little brother hugging me. We screamed down that hill and then laughed, tumbling off the wooden Flexible Flyer into the snow bank. Joy rushed through us, warming our parched and raw psyches. We hardly noticed our freezing hands and toes.
I remember ice skating with my dad on a starlit night on a frozen pond outside of the city; attending the musicals Annie and My Fair Lady; hugging my grandmother, who gave the best hugs in the whole world; the scent of a tangerine as I dug my thumb into the peel; the taste of creamy eggnog; and standing, kneeling, and sitting in our candlelit, stained-glass-windowed church and singing Christmas carols. All of these remain as uplifting, life-affirming experiences. I felt safe in natural settings, theaters, libraries, and our place of worship. I cherish most of these sacred places to this day.
Then there was the unforgettable year of being the chosen child when my mom declined to go to a concert of Arthur Rubinstein, the famous Polish American composer. I wore pantyhose for the first time, felt undeserving and bewildered by being my mom’s stand-in and terrified by my dad’s friend’s fury at my mom’s absence. I stood there as a shameful substitute, barely noticing the overwhelming visual beauty of the Ohio Theater. Yet when the concert began, the most beautiful music I’d heard in in my whole life rippled through the air. I sat suspended between the cushioned red velvet seat and a floating cloud of sweet bliss in an experience I can access in my mind and body even now, years later. Music heals. I know this now. I felt it then.
I know that my parents did their very best to love and care for all of us. I have a rich understanding of the particular, unfortunate, and heinous dysfunctional dynamic of my childhood home. I now know the insanity existed before I was born and I would wish this on no one. I thank my parents for my life and all the things they gave me at Christmas, but most of all I feel complete gratitude for these experiences that shaped my passions, my loves, and my blessed and treasured life.
Here are some suggestions you might find helpful as you reflect on favorite things—your own and those of your loved ones—this holiday season: