Good Christmas morning to you!
The day has dawned, a day of birth, renewal, hope and joy. This morning storyteller Megan Hicks brings us a story of another child, and it's a tale to bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.
This afternoon, come back for our last story of the series, a tale from Lynn Ruehlmann of Virginia about a family adventure and the kindness of a stranger on Christmas day when she was a young mother.
And now for our story.
Christmas Baby — 1961
by Megan Hicks
1961 was a year you could turn upside down, and it would still read “1961.” It was the year my status as “baby of the family” was turned upside down. At the age of eleven, I became a big sister.
My mom and dad decided to adopt a baby from Korea. My new sister would be delivered, along with about forty other new adoptees, on December 17 at the San Francisco International Airport. I was getting a baby sister for Christmas!
I was really excited. But I was also pretty anxious. I had gotten babies for Christmas before, and it had never ended well.
My first Christmas baby was Raggedy Ann, when I was four years old and we lived in Riverton, Wyoming. I loved Raggedy Ann. Her bright-eyed expression seemed to say, “Let’s have an adventure!” And that little heart hidden under her pinafore — “I love you” — charmed me. For the first couple of weeks, Raggedy Ann and I were inseparable.
One January morning I took her outside to play in the back yard. When Mom called me in for lunch, I ran indoors, but I forget to bring Raggedy Ann. By the time I woke up from my afternoon nap, she was buried under six inches of fresh snow. “Out of sight, out of mind.” When the snow finally melted, there she was, sodden and dingy, lying in the slush. Mom ran her through the washer a couple of times, but Raggedy Ann never fully recovered, and after that it was never the same between us. I let her sink to the bottom of the toy box, and that’s where she stayed.
My next Christmas baby came the following year. It was a Ginny doll, created to resemble a real little girl. She wore a little plaid pleated skirt and a blouse with puffy sleeves; her shoes were black patent Mary Janes; and — best of all — she had real hair, braided in pigtails.
Before Christmas dinner was even on the table, I was busy restyling my Ginny doll’s hair. But when I unbraided the pigtails her hair went “sproing!” into a headful of frizz that I could not get a comb through. I figured she could do with a trim. So I got my mom’s scissors and ... by the time I was finished Ginny was bald and hopelessly ugly. She joined Raggedy Ann, forgotten at the bottom of the toy box.
It was a couple of years before I got another Christmas baby. When I was almost eight years old, Betsy Wetsy was born. There she was, on TV, being fed her bottle by a pretty little girl in a clean party dress. Betsy Wetsy came with a doll-sized baby bottle, a doll-sized receiving blanket, and two doll-sized diapers. She had a little round hole in the middle of her mouth, where you fed her; and a little hole in the middle of her bottom, where she would pee on you.
I liked the feeding part. But Betsy Wetsy’s little flannel diapers did not absorb much, and I found the peeing part cold and uncomfortable. I don’t know why, but I decided to put milk in the little toy bottle. Of course, she curdled; and before New Year’s Day, Betsy Wetsy ended up at the curb.
After that, there were no more Christmas babies. Until now — December 17, 1961.
Here I was, eleven years old, on the verge of becoming a big sister, and I had blown all my chances to learn about taking care of babies.
Walking from the parking lot into the airport, I thought, What if I drop her? What if I trip and fall on top of her and smash her? What if I let her stroller roll into traffic? What if I forget I’m babysitting her and I go outside to ride my bike?
We found our way through the airport to a lounge where about fifty other people — all grownups — waited to meet their babies. It was standing room only. I looked up into a landscape of shoulders and earlobes.
After an interminable wait, a man with a clipboard stepped through a door at the back of the room, followed by a nurse who carried a white flannel bundle. Everybody got really, really still. The man called out somebody's last name. From the back of the room we heard, “Oh! That's us.” And a woman came forward to claim her baby.
I thought, look at that woman’s confidence! Are people born that way, or is it just something that happens after years and years?
One by one, those white bundles were brought through the door. One by one, they were placed into the arms of a smiling (competent!) parent.
And then the man with clipboard called out, “Hicks!”
I jolted to attention. That particular white flannel bundle was my baby sister! That one was coming home with us!
I don’t know what came over me in that instant. Something took charge of my feet. Something filled my heart with … what? … Confidence? Authority? I didn’t ask if it was okay, I didn’t even look at my mom and dad. I just plowed through that landscape of grownups and held out my arms.
“That’s my sister!” I said, and the nurse handed me that bundle.
To this day, I carry the body memory of what it felt like — the weight of my baby sister coming to rest in the crook of my elbow, solid, safe. In that moment, I felt rooted and steady.
She slept through all this excitement. Tiny, skinny, pallid. Just getting over chickenpox, she was all scabs. Her hair was matted and greasy looking. She smelled awful. I thought, This baby’s going to pee on me any minute.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her, and I couldn’t quit smiling. I was in love. And I knew that this wasn’t just another Christmas baby. I was holding my little sister. She and I — we were in it together. For the long haul.
written draft, December 16, 2015
|Megan and her sister Keun, 2011|
Megan has earned an enviable reputation as a professional storyteller. She was featured as a New Voice at the National Storytelling Festival in 2011, and her credits range from small venues in rural America, to regional stages throughout the United States, and international programs on three continents.
Her awards include a Parents' Choice® Silver for the CD, "What Was Civil About That War…" which was also a 2005 Finalist for an Audies® award in the category of Best Original Work. She received the Parents' Guide to Children's Media Award for "Groundhogs Meet Grimm," a collection of her original parodies that was also tapped for Honors by NAPPA.
Megan is a sought-after workshop presenter and seminar leader, with credits at Florida StoryCamp, the Northlands Storytelling Conference, Sharing the Fire, the National Storytelling Conference, the Virginia Library Association, and ElderStudy, among others.