Posts Tagged ‘toys’

The words “Merry Christmas” sound like music, and, I like saying them myself. Yet, those two words also represent hard times for many.

Growing up in the late 1960s Christmas meant reassembling our 3′ aluminum tree, decorating it with silver and gold-tone tinsels and red tinfoil balls. We were new immigrants in San Francisco. One year, a relative told my mother (in Cantonese) to take us to Emporium. This aunt said to me: “Professionally wrapped presents, in bins marked for boys and for girls and sorted by age.” I was the oldest (and had learned English quickly the first year in school–third grade), so, I felt it was my duty to interpret and to voice my vote to MaMa that she should take the three of us to this department store and let us each choose a wrapped gift. So, the next day while BaBa was at work, MaMa counted coins for bus fare and took a ten-dollar bill from the cookie tin (our family piggy bank), bundled me and my brother and sister in wool coats and scarves, and off we went onto the #15 bus. Emporium was one-and-a-half extremely long blocks from the bus stop. Inside the store, my cold face warmed up instantly. We rode the escalator all the way to the sixth, or, was it the seventh floor? Excitement would have been an understatement. I saw tables and tables of presents– lovely boxes, wrapped with Christmas paper, possibly containing dolls or dump trucks or Tinkertoy kits or porcelain tea sets or any number of toys that my siblings and I had seen at the Woolworth toy department.

MaMa did not speak English, but, the signs on the tables did not require knowledge of the language. Big signs: “$5 per gift” and “$10 per gift.” A sick feeling was churning in my stomach. I looked up at my mother’s face. Her expression reminded me of the time the driver told us that he had to return his bus to the yard and that we all had to get off. A saleswoman came up to us. She looked at my mother in a strange way. I wondered if it was because MaMa was wearing a thin coat, not like the other mothers who had big coats, with fur collars. “Merry Christmas,” the woman said. I had my smarts that moment. “Let’s go,” I said to my siblings. I led the way as we descended the escalator, all the way to the first floor. “Woolworth’s toys are better,” I said to our mother. She smiled. That sickly feeling in my gut was gone.

Looking back . . . we were poor, but, we three children never had to wear tattered clothes or shiver inside our apartment or go to bed hungry. BaBa had a job and MaMa was home for us.

I’ve been fortunate. Many families haven’t been. Many families still are not. I salute organizations that help families-in-need. Local. Statewide. National. International. Do you know about others?

  • FESCO — the Family Emergency Shelter Coalition — is a nonprofit organization comprised of over 30 churches and community members in the Hayward, Castro Valley, San Lorenzo and San Leandro, California area…reaching out to serve homeless families with food, shelter, clothing, counseling and links to community resources. http://www.fescofamilyshelter.org/
  • Western Service Workers Association 510-832-2111 Oakland, CA. WSWA helps thousands of low-income workers during the holiday season with “Pledge A Turkey Campaign”
  • CARE’s Work Last year, CARE programs improved the lives of more than 55 million people in 66 countries. CARE not only feeds the hungry, we also help tackle underlying causes of poverty so that people can become self-sufficient. Recognizing that women and children suffer disproportionately from poverty, CARE places special emphasis on working with women to create permanent social change. http://we.care.org

Cheers to the heroic folks at these organizations! Christmas is just the beginning of winter. May we all be fortunate and continue helping our communities through winter and into following seasons.

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