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December 17, 2022

Mexico's Baja Charlie’s Favorite Christmas Memory

My friend, Baja Charlie, sent me his favorite childhood Christmas memory to share with you readers.  Below is his story.

We all have memories of some story or times of our childhood that leave a mark on us.  In my case, I would like to share a particular story of a Christmas in the year 1965.

Let me begin by describing my family and our customs.

The days passed slowly in anticipation of what Christmas would bring.

Our family lived in Tijuana, a border city in Baja California, Mexico.  Tijuana has what is called a Mediterranean climate, which features hot, humid summers (from June to September) and mild, sometimes rainy winters (from November to March).  In 1965, the city’s population was about one-tenth of what it is today.  Life was simpler.  But living so close to the international border, our customs were influenced by both Mexico and the U.S.  Back then, we only had access to three TV channels.  All three were in English.  So we grew up with shows like “Leave it to Beaver”, “Bonanza”, “Lassie” and about a hundred others which I could list.

My family lived in a two-bedroom house on a large plot of land, which used to be a grove.  Many lemon, fig, grapefruit, and a number of shade trees surrounded the compound consisting of three homes. The area where we lived was close to the school that my younger brother and I attended.  

Our family consisted of my parents, two brothers, and myself.  At that time we were 15, 12, and 6 years old, I was the middle one. 

My older brother was a standout at school and sharp for his age.  He loved sports and had an impressive memory.  He could recite the lineup of most baseball teams at that time. As for the youngest, he just loved to tag along and be with us older boys.  We sometimes would share keeping an eye on him.

For a long time, my father worked in insurance sales.  Sales came naturally to him.  He was well-spoken and considerate.  In addition, he was very committed and precise.  This was probably due to his military academy upbringing.  Father usually earned a reasonable income to provide the family with important basics of life.  Occasionally there would be short family outings and some treats like a toy or a bike to share.

My mother was completely dedicated to her responsibilities at home and giving family education to her children.  She too was a hard-working person.  She was frugal and kept to herself and the family.

At home, Mom set up the rules we boys had to follow. We had to help around the home.  Additionally, my mother insisted that boys also should know how to clean the house, make beds, even cook some simple food, clean the family car, water the plants, be handy with house repairs and even paint our house.

I remember that the days of December and closer to Christmas were cooler.  Specifically, the weather changed and we would have the occasional rain.  Although the rain brought some discomforts in a small city that at that time only had pavement on its main streets, I celebrated the rain, because I knew it would benefit all living things.  

At that time, when it rained in December, we went outside wearing rain boots and a yellow raincoat.  

For me, this was a great event because I could step into the small potholes filled with rainwater on the way to school or during recess, which was from 10 to 10:30.  During recess, we went out to the schoolyard.  Boys and girls played with balls or some small toy like a car or a jump rope.  Of course, the teachers only allowed us to use them during recess.

Returning to the story, school was already out for the Christmas holidays.  A period of two weeks awaited us children to enjoy everything related to the festivities.

In those times, and especially in open spaces like in front of my home, it was allowed to make a small fire and cook marshmallows, and even light and launch fireworks like a whistling rocket or sparkler.

My mother was very strict and only allowed us to play until dark, occasionally an hour later.

We boys would meet a group of 3 or 4 friends of the same age to play, share or exchange stories and read comics.

Someone mentioned that their Christmas tree had already been bought and decorated in their house. I started to think that it was already the third week of December and at my house, we still did not have one.

Worried after getting home that night, I asked my mother when we would have our Christmas tree.  Her answer, perhaps not very reasoned, was that there might not be a tree because the family's finances were difficult.  However, she would ask my father about it.

That night I went to bed with concern about the Christmas tree.  I did not understand that something so important could be forgotten in my family.

The next day, like every day, my 9-year-old friend and neighbor arrived.  I shared with him my concern.  We decided to go to the stream bed that was just 200 meters from my house and to find a little tree for my family.  

We headed for the stream, which had swollen about half a meter due to the recent rain.  We observed the different vegetation in the area.  It took us about an hour of searching before we identified a small tree on the other side of the stream alongside some native vegetation.  The little tree was perhaps four feet high.  After walking and stepping across some large stones that served as a bridge, we reached the other side of the stream.  

With an explorer's knife, we cut the tree’s base.  Although its thick stem was slippery, we tried not to damage it.  In the process, our hands were covered with some sort of sticky sap, which was not easy to clean up later.

My friend along beside me, we returned home with our tree.  Both of us caught our breaths with excitement.  I could not have been happier.  My older brother was playing with our dog in our front yard.  He gave us a strange look but didn’t say anything.  Funny, he was the silent type at home but chatted a lot with his school buddies.

In the back of my house, I found a small water bucket.  We filled it with soil from the garden and planted the little tree.  Then we brought it inside and placed it in the living room of my house.

My mother was surprised when she saw it and asked me: “What are you doing with that tree? And where did you get it?”  We explained where we found it.  A faint smile came across her face.

She knew the answer, she told me.  “I just told you that maybe you wouldn't have a tree.  But your dad told me last night that it would be bought in a couple of days.”

I was puzzled.  My mom remarked, “Let’s ask your father to see if he accepts this as the tree for us.”  Then she added, “Let's make the tree beautiful, so Dad can see how wonderful it is.  I'll help you decorate it.”

It took us a couple of hours to transform it.  The tree even had blinking lights.  My friend smiled too.  All of us were happy with the results.

That night my Dad arrived.  When he saw the tree, he asked, “Whose idea was this?”

He already knew the answer.

For some strange reason, that 1965 Christmas, my brothers and I received more gifts than usual.  I fondly recall that Christmas as one, if not, the best of my childhood.

Feliz Navidad!

P.S.  Please feel free to leave feedback for Baja Charlie in the comments below.  


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1 comment:

  1. Baja Charlie, thank you for sharing your beautiful memories with us. Even though I grew up in Northern Germany and you a continent away in Baja, your story brought back memories from my childhood too. Seems, we are more alike, than different. We too loved to put on our rain boots and yellow rain jackets, and walk through the puddles. And we too grew up watching Lassie and Bonanza on TV.


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