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‘Christmas I Remember Best’: The lesson a mother taught with 7 dresses

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A Massachusetts woman is on a desperate search to find her wedding dress that was mistakenly donated to Goodwill.

Alberto Grosescu, Adobe Stock

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By Randy Skeen

This is the third of 10 winners in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, “Christmas I Remember Best.”

I was born into a family of Christmas people. Our family Christmas preparation usually began in early November and culminated in a Christmas celebration lasting until Dec. 26.

Around Nov. 15, my dad would drag the Christmas lights out of the garage, stumbling, tripping and calling for help. In those days, the lights consisted of large bulbs that required each bulb to fire up before the entire chain of lights would illuminate. Once the lights were hung, dad moved to the yard decorations.

As a carpenter, my dad built a nearly full sized plywood and painted Santa train. The wind elves would frequently appear and blow the Santa train over, requiring numerous repairs and strong language.

As with all other years, this is how Christmas in 1962 began for me. As a 9-year old boy, Christmas was a mixture of unmitigated joy, greed, hope and confusion. I wanted to be in the Christmas spirit of giving, but somehow always fell back into the dark side of Christmas receiving. I guess I was old enough to understand the Christmas season, but young enough to focus on the presents I wanted.

My mother was a seamstress of some renown. She specialized in making heirloom-type handmade dresses with elaborate embroidery. Her dresses were acquired by such varied individuals and entities as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Gerald Ford and rocker Alice Cooper. The dresses were highly prized and sought after and each dress represented an extension of my mother’s love.

As Christmas rapidly approached, my younger sister and I discussed the probability of receiving every item on our respective Christmas lists and the fun we would have playing with new toys. I was fairly certain that my sister would wind up getting a dress or two while I would receive the equivalent number of toys. All looked good for us this year.

On Dec. 20, we noticed our mother barricading herself in her sewing room. For four long days, we saw little of our mother as she worked away feverishly in her locked sewing room.  Except for meals, she was in her sewing room from before we got out of bed until long after we had retired for the evening.

In the early evening of Dec. 24, our parents asked my sister and me to accompany them for a ride in the car.

“Oh no”, I thought. “Not a sub for Santa run.” While I appreciate sub for Santa runs, they had a way of diverting our attention from the real meaning of Christmas — presents, gifts and fun. As we loaded the car, I noticed that my mom packed seven girls’ dresses which she had wrapped in Christmas paper.

I remember looking at all the Christmas lights and the fresh snow and thinking, “Why can’t we just go home and have Christmas dinner?”

We soon arrived at a home located in Salt Lake City. My father, my mother, my sister and I carried the seven dresses to the front door. The door was answered by a girl approximately my age who quickly summoned her mother to the door. We passed the dresses to a shocked woman, said, “Merry Christmas” and quickly left.

Why had we only delivered dresses to this home and not a sub for Santa family? Did we know these people? An unspoken message was exchanged between the two mothers, accompanied by tears.  

On the way home, my mother answered the questions.

On Dec. 19, 1962, a young father was killed in an automobile accident while traveling home from work. In those days, the newspaper would print the name of the decedent, his family’s address and the names and ages of his wife and children.

My mother saw the newspaper article and decided to help. She made the dresses, delivered the dresses, and hopefully helped raise the spirits of this poor family.  

Why was this Christmas so memorable to a 9-year old boy? I learned first and foremost that Christmas is not about me. Christmas is about everyone else and, particularly, about the baby who brought peace to our world.

My best Christmases have been the ones where I have given the most and received the least. I think that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Randy Skeen lives in Sandy.