I never minded being an only child. I had my parents’ undivided attention, my own room in our small two-bedroom bungalow, and I learned a lot about myself and the way adults operated in the real world, and I’m not going to lie. Christmas was the best. My parents were blue-collar, hard-working people, but Mary had a new doll every Christmas, a new dress, and new socks and underwear.
Until the summer my parents applied and were accepted as foster parents. My sibling free existence evaporated, and we transitioned into a new way of life. My parents opened their hearts and their home often in the middle of the night to a child in need. Either by court placement, parental abandonment, or another set of circumstances, these children quickly became my brothers and sisters. Oddly, we all adjusted to the swell of children living in a two-bedroom situation.
Back in the sixties, the system wasn’t half as worried about what material things you could give these kids. A roof over their heads, hot meals, some discipline and guidance, and helping them through school seemed to be enough with a lot of love. It was definitely enough, and so, my two brothers arrived, followed by two sisters, one who was my age and one younger, then a four-year-old, two-year-old, and an infant, three months old. My bedroom became child central with the addition of a crib in my parents’ room. Seven plus me, two boys and six girls. My parents were crazy.
I didn’t mind being a big sister either, not even at Christmas. Mom and Dad saved through the year to give us what they could, and gifts were meant to be shared. No one questioned why. We just did.
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And our house was filled with the smells of my mother’s special Christmas cookies, the cuccidati, an Italian fig cookie, pizzelle, a waffle-like cookie, and her amazing cannoli. Lasagna for the main course; a comfort food, rich, delicious, and filling. I don’t know where my mother got the energy to care for all of us and create magic in the kitchen, too.
One of my fondest memories at Christmas was the ordeal of putting up the tree. That was my dad’s job. First, he moved the recliner over, blocking the front door. For the entire season, we relied on the back door. The end table ended up in the basement temporarily. Then he brought up the artificial tree, no needles in the carpeting till March. The tree was silver, seriously, silver. The first Christmas we used it, I had my doubts, but it was actually pretty with my mother’s handmade ornaments between a few store-bought glass bulbs, and the angel tree topper with feathered wings and silken hair. We should have left it at that, but on the floor was a motorized wheel divided into four squares of color, red, blue, green, and yellow. As the wheel rotated, the silver tree was drenched in one of the four colors. (Does this ring a nostalgic bell?) For a few seconds the tree was actually green, then an awful yellow.
I remember the mess of packages and wrapping paper of children excited and happy no matter what happened yesterday. I remember leaving it all behind to go to church in our Sunday best.
While my parents did their job at home, I did mine at school. I had a reputation in elementary for watching out for my sisters; one teacher even noted it on my report card.
But gradually, one by one, each of my siblings left. Some returned to parents who had improved their circumstances enough to regain custody of their children, some had been placed in adopted homes, and some outgrew the system. Each child that left, never returned, never called, but left a mark, and I hope we left a mark, too. Each child valued and loved by strangers.
Eventually, I became an only child again, but in my case, it’s a misnomer, because I know what it’s like to have brothers and sisters. I know how to share and how to give in, though I still like to do things my way. My parents had their reasons for becoming foster parents, but they gave me so much. The spirit of Christmas with memories to last me a lifetime.
In that spirit of Christmas, I want to wish everyone the peace and joy of the season, and in the spirit of overeating, below is my mother’s custard pudding recipe. It’s easy, delicious, and a must at every holiday gathering.
Mom’s Old Fashion Pudding
- In a medium saucepan measure 10 tablespoons of sugar and 7 tablespoons of cornstarch.
- Add 2 eggs—one at a time combining thoroughly. It will be thick and yellow.
- Add 4 cups of milk a little at a time and beat thoroughly.
- Next put on the stove over medium heat and stir constantly. You can’t leave this to do laundry. Wait it out. It will thicken to pudding consistency and come to a slight boil.
- Take it off the heat and add 2 teaspoons of vanilla.
- If you have a pound cake, yellow or chocolate, line a 10 x 10 or 9 x 13 pan with slices. Cover the bottom. If you don’t have cake, it’s still amazing, and you will save the extra calories.
- Pour hot pudding in pan and dust the top with a generous portion of cinnamon.
- Refrigerate till cold. Then enjoy.