When I was young, I used to make these yarn dolls for our Christmas tree.

I’m not sure where I learned how to make them, but I used to wrap red and green yarn around my paperback copy of Little House on the Prairie. There was no significance to that book; it was just the right size.

Long way around the book for the body and the short way made the arms. I remember girl dolls were always easier because I didn’t have to tie the feet.

Strange the things that stick with us.

The dolls were simple and something I could do while my mom and I watched Christmas movies, or the Muppet Christmas Special.

I’m notorious for having a bad memory, but I remember the dolls. I’m not sure when I started making them, or when I stopped, but the memory is cherished.

I also remember stringing popcorn and cranberries for our tree garland. After wrestling the Christmas tree up the stairs and into our apartment, my mom would make a big bowl of popcorn and open bags of cranberries. We always needed to make sure there were extra cranberries because some of them were soft and mushy. Those never worked, firm cranberries are a key to good garland.

There were years I strung one to one, and some years I would create a pattern on the heavy white string. By the time I had a piece long enough to wrap around the tree, the tips of my fingers would be sore from pushing the needle through the puffy piece of the popcorn. It was crucial to hit the puffy piece otherwise the whole thing would split and there was more needle wiggling.

We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. We weren’t poor by any standard, but things were tight. Now that I’m older, I’m certain Christmas must have been a stressful time for my mom. She was solely responsible for my Christmas morning memories. There’s some pressure there.

Yesterday I was thinking about how my mom did it, how she held it all together. The stress of having to get and give for children can be ridiculous.

I’m wrapping presents tonight remembering yarn, popcorn and cranberries. I’m not thinking about my first bike, or the time I got that pink Barbie convertible.

I’m drinking tea and watching Christmas movies with my own children and suddenly I know exactly how she did it.

There’s abundance in the simple if you pay attention. Joy in the absence of glitter. Instead of what she couldn’t get, couldn’t afford, she gave me meaning. A sense of the season I carry with me each year.

Her time, her laughter, warm socks, the glow of our little tree, and the ease of a calm and peaceful home.

I’m not sure if my mother looks back on those times with angst, if she wishes she could have given more, made my Christmases more glittery.

I hope not, because they were magical pieces of my childhood. A time when things were slower and snow was on our windowsill.

Parents give their children so many things throughout a childhood. Rarely, almost never, do those same children, when grown, remember anything that was bought in a store.

-Tracy Ewens