That was our first year in the Victorian rectory next to the church in Jenkintown.
My grandparents lived in Maine and probably thought they were getting away from snow when they headed south to Philadelphia to stay with us. Unfortunately, a huge snowstorm followed close behind and blew in early on the morning of Christmas Eve.
When it snowed there was a mad scramble for boots in our house, is it possible that we only had two pairs? Both were what we called army boots: calf high, olive green rubber with yellow laces that criss-crossed at the top. (Describing them I think, why they sound quite fashionable. Maybe I should resurrect that design and make a fortune.)
Anyway, I had worn them to school one day and the kids made fun of me...so the next time it snowed I wore my lime green plastic patent leather loafers thinking at least they were waterproof. I remember finding those shoes in the bin at E.J. Korvette's; the pair was held together by a plastic loop and they weren't easy to try on. Taking them to my mother I first experienced that momentary pause when a voice in your head tells you that you are about to make a serious fashion mistake.
Another day walking through the slush in my bright green loafers on the way to school the policeman at the corner of York and West said to me, "hey, where are your boots? You ought to have your boots on!" I just walked on, head down, creating the child's version of "fuck you officer" imagining the sort of future hell that a nine year old can create for a man in uniform: He has to direct traffic naked, wear high heels with his uniform, or carry me to school, walking in bright green patent leather loafers himself.
We were always allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. My parents probably started this tradition to shut us up ("Will you kids Just Stop Bugging Me? All right, open one present, just one present, that's it!")
Could it be that all I asked for that year was a pair of boots? I knew it would be my biggest present. We had lots of little presents but there was always "the one" which was the most expensive thing we had asked for. And when my parents said we could open one present on Christmas Eve, they meant a small one because the big one had to have an impact on Christmas morning.
The snow outside was deep and we were going to the midnight service. I pictured myself first fighting for, then winning the right to wear a pair of the green army boots. I know that I cried and begged my mother to let me open the box that I knew held the boots. And she let me. Thank you Mom. One more humiliation, narrowly averted. In my mind's eye I see me helping my grandparents through the deep snow to the church next door looking down at the wakes made with my new boots, brown pleather with faux shearling, designed for a girl, my brothers romping in the snow happy in their own green army boots.
And that my dears is why I'm probably so twisted about Christmas.