Juju was standing on the aqua colored, vinyl kitchen chair, on her tip-toes. She could see the box of Pin-Wheel cookies that her mother evidently did not want her to see. Juju’s mother was Christmas shopping with her older sisters and her father was glued to the evening news in the living room. Juju figured she needed more height. She was the tallest girl in third grade, but the marsh-mellow filled chocolate cookies were still just beyond her reach.
Juju’s mother had a habit of hiding the good stuff…her personal cravings. With seven children, sweets in the house usually lasted about the time it took to rip open the bag…think a dozen donuts in a police briefing room. Juju went to the hall and retrieved the yellow pages from the phone stand.
The phone book provided the necessary extra four inches and Juju’s fingers grabbed at the Nabisco delights. As she grabbed the package though, another smaller box behind it toppled to the floor with a loud, snake-like rattle. Juju jumped down and picked up the small yellow box with the word “Daisy” written on the side. Holy Cow! This could only mean one thing Juju surmised! Somewhere in her house was the Daisy BB gun she had begged her father to buy her for her birthday on Christmas eve!!
All the neighborhood kids had a BB gun and Juju was tired of begging her friends for a turn as they shot Coke cans off the creek’s edge in her north Texas neighborhood. Robbie Ray had one, Roderick Paul had one, even Donnie Gene had one and his parents didn’t have much money at all. All kids on Juju’s street went by two names. At dinner time you could stand in the middle of the street and hear a cacophony of mom’s voices; standing at front doors, yelling their kids names and calling them for dinner. “Roderick Paul, come on now! The roast is on the table!”
Juju and her sisters did not have middle names, an anomaly in the South for sure. Her mother always told her that her last name was long and enough to deal with without having a middle name. “Girls will marry and your maiden name will become your middle name,” she told Juju. Men need middle names, so Juju’s mother gave her two sons the names of James Edward and John Garfield.
Juju carefully placed the box of BBs back up on the refrigerator and hid it with the crinkly wrapped box of cookies, one of which was now sitting on the kitchen table and the other securely in Juju’s mouth. Her mother would blame her father for the theft, Juju thought to herself and giggled. Juju had premeditated her crime earlier in the day, making a point to tell her mother that she didn’t like marsh-mellows at all. Coming from a kid who had eaten fish sticks for the entire first grade, her mother had bought the story…..hook, line, and sinker. :)
For the next week Juju day-dreamed about her BB gun, envisioning great games of “war” and “Gunsmoke” with her buddies. It never occurred to Juju that all the kids she played with and who had BB guns were all boys. She had to act surprised when she opened the long box that would surely be handed to her by her father. Juju practiced looks of surprise and awe in the bathroom mirror.
The day finally came, Juju’s eighth birthday! With family all at the house for Christmas eve, Juju patiently waited on the sofa. There was always one special gift under the tree designated as her birthday gift. It didn’t matter that it was always wrapped in Christmas paper…Juju was spoiled rotten and the gift always made up for the fact that she had to share her birthday with the rituals of the season.
Christmas carolers were heard at the door and Juju’s mother gave them cookies and made her annual request for a song not on their list. Juju was called to the front porch and tapped her toes as ten strangers from a local church sang her the Happy Birthday song. Until she was five, Juju had thought all people have strangers come to their door and sing to them on their birthday. All the while, in her head, Juju was dreaming of strapping the Daisy rifle over her shoulder, as she crawled on her stomach to help her friends reach the bank robber’s camp just on the other side of the creek that ran under Pipeline Road.
Once back inside the living room of the small ranch-type house her family shared, Juju’s mother motioned at a small box with red paper, under the tree. Juju could hardly contain her merriment at the thought of opening that box of BBs. She felt confident with her acting ability upon the opening of the package. The previous year, her older sister Junene had opened up five of their gifts while their parents had slept. Junene expertly re-wrapped each gift, threatening Juju to secrecy. Versing her on the art of “cover” the next morning as their ruse went undetected
With the entire family watching, Juju ripped into the small, red box. A Snow White watch?? Whoa Nelly, what?? Juju’s face looked like it did the time her mother told her grilled liver tasted just like sirloin…it does not. “Well, that’s not the reaction I was looking for Juju,” her mother said. Juju gulped, a mouthful of disappointment and quickly strapped the watch on her left wrist, a forced smile on her face.
After her older siblings had left the house for their own homes, Juju retired to her bedroom. Her disappointment had lasted about ten minutes before she thought that the BB gun was going to be her big Christmas gift the next morning! Juju could hear her parents engaged in a loud conversation in the kitchen. Did Juju’s mother just say BB??
Juju tip-toed down the hall and heard the following interaction between her parents. Jewel said, “You spoil her, she doesn’t need everything she asks for!” Jim, “I know, but she is the last one, my baby!” Jewel, “A girl doesn’t need a gun!! That’s why I took it back to the store. She already plays football with all the boys on the street and have you seen her bicycle? She and Roderick Paul dismantled the swing set and turned their bikes into choppers like on that damn hippie movie!!!”
That’s why I took it back to the store?? Juju was not getting the BB gun, she looked at her wrist…Snow White told her it was time to go to bed.
The next morning was going to be an Oscar worthy performance, just as good as the acting in Juju’s favorite movie, Mary Poppins. Christmas of 1969 turned out to be pretty darn good. Juju loved the Monopoly, Twister and Operation games she received. Her big gift was a guitar, a gift that she had asked for to learn Beatles songs on…..a gift that would sit in the corner of her room for the next three years, collecting dust.
It was almost the year Juju got the weapon of her dreams. By January Juju took on the role of a rogue Indian in the neighborhood “Gunsmoke” games. Robbie Ray loaned her his tom-a-hawk…she rationalized it was better than a long-rifle anyway.
That Christmas is now the one Juju thinks of most often, it was ….Almost a Christmas Story. Having watched that ubiquitous movie about seventy times…..and every time she does tune in, her mind goes back to re-live her own memories. It is the favorite Christmas of her childhood….the year she learned you don’t need everything you wish for to create magic. The year she first learned her mother was watching certain things closely and beginning to question choices. The year she heard her father voice nostalgia and love at his last child growing up too fast.
Juju still loves Pin-Wheel cookies, when she can find them, and still hates liver. She still thinks it would be fun to go shoot cans with a BB gun and to play touch football in the street….and she still believes in Christmas bringing magic to your life.
Even if it is a five-minute moment, enjoy the magic of the season. Happy Holidays