I admittedly don’t remember much from when I was eight years old. For that matter, I don’t remember that much from when I was seven or nine years old either. But with pretty much every person, there are certain moments from childhood that stick with us forever. Christmas Eve of 1994 provided me with one of those moments.
My family would always spend the Christmas holidays in my parents’ hometown of Walla Walla, Washington. We would spend Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family and then spend Christmas Day with my mom’s side. The celebration at my dad’s side was always much more of a rowdy, crazy one. My dad has seven brothers and sisters plus their spouses and kids so it was always a large gathering. But it just wasn’t the size that made these Christmas Eves a little wild. Let’s just say my dad’s side likes to have fun. Get the picture?
Well on this particular Christmas Eve in 1994 the adults decided that all of the eating, drinking, gift opening, and game playing could wait to start a little later that night.
My aunt adopted a family for us to take care of. However, it just wasn’t a deal where we wrapped a few gifts and dropped them off at a church or grocery store with tags on for others to distribute. Rather, we were going to the house ourselves on Christmas Eve to personally deliver the goods. And by goods I don’t mean one present for each member of the family. In addition to a complete Christmas dinner prepared by the Reser Chefs and other miscellaneous groceries added in for good measure, we brought enough gifts to pack Santa’s sleigh.
Our Reser group of over twenty people rented a decked out trolley to take us to the west part of Walla Walla County to a very small town called College Place. It was here where the trolley dropped us off at a house that had been converted into apartments. In the corner basement there was an apartment that belonged to our adopted family. We unloaded the trolley with everyone grabbing something. We then tip-toed up to the door, knocked, and waited for the door to open…MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
Overwhelmed was the best word to describe the family. Overwhelmed was also the best word to describe me. To the day I die I will always remember the smell of that house. At that time I didn’t like it. It smelled so strong, so greasy, and so foreign. This evening when I called my dad to talk about this blog post, he just told me it smelled like good Mexican food.
You see, we were in the house of a Mexican migrant family. Walla Walla has a high Hispanic population but I didn’t really understand that at eight years old. So while I was shocked by the smell I was also a little shocked by the people I was looking at…people who looked different than me. Also add to the shock factor living quarters that I never realized humans lived in combined with a crying lady and a chaotic scene of almost 30 people smashed into an area meant for maybe four and you bet my eyes were wide open.
Yes, the mom was crying. It was probably her way of communicating how thankful she was because they didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak a word of Spanish. I remember a little boy running around with his shirt off the most. I also (although more faintly) remembertwo little daughters roaming the house as well. I remember us giving the little boy Power Ranger figurines. I remember seeing a smile go across the face of the dad. I remember the overall high degree of destitution inside that apartment.
Before we left we sang “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” to the family, another one of those vivid memories still lodged in my brain. We then left, boarded the trolley, and went back to the nice warm house of my relatives where we celebrated Christmas Eve. But for the rest of the night I could still smell the scent from our adopted family’s house.
That night I learned about poverty, culture, giving and, most importantly, the Christmas Spirit. I thank my Aunt Nancy for adopting that family and giving all of us Resers, especially my siblings and cousins, an experience and an eye-opener that we have not forgotten. Pretty much the best Christmas gift ever if you ask me. Don’t Blink.