Christmas from the Dumpster

When I was five, Mom had a few days off work over Christmas. She rolled out sugar cookie dough and let me cut out Christmas trees and reindeer with little tin cookie cutters. I sprinkled them with colored sugar before she slipped the trays into the oven.

She led me before the cardboard fireplace hung with our Christmas stockings and pulled out a Bible, which she had marked with scraps of paper tucked here and there. She read the Christmas story to me, but it was one she created herself by mixing the versions in a way that was pleasing to her. The story of the baby Jesus brought tears to Mom’s eyes. We bowed our heads and clasped our hands together and prayed a prayer from my Little Golden Book.

Dad walked in the door, carrying a box. I thought it would be a Christmas present he planned to wrap downstairs on the ping pong table which he had set up with all his gift wrapping materials and tools. But it turned out to be a box he had discovered in a school dumpster.

“I had to get out of my truck because the dumpster was so full they had boxes spilling out all over. That’s when I spotted this.” Dad crooked his index finger for me to follow and then glanced back at me. “It’s books. Maybe you can use them now that you’re in school.” Although I had only started school in September, I already knew how to read.Recently I asked my mother if she taught me to read with flashcards, the way she did my younger brother, but she didn’t remember. When I was a toddler I knew how to spell ice cream and by age 5 I could read children’s series books, but how I got from point A to B, I don’t know.

I skipped down the hall behind Dad. Peeking into the box, I saw outdated textbooks from the forties. I couldn’t wait to open them and was glad when my father left the room. When I lifted the books out of the box, they smelled like real school, not like kindergarten where you have to take a nap and can’t read. I was glad Dad drove a garbage truck and could find presents for me.

The second-grade reader had a story where the porridge left unattended on the stove poured onto the floor, out the door, and down the hill. I tried to skim and sample each book. Some of the books had poems, and they were all illustrated with water colors. Some, in the manner of Walter Crane illustrations, featured black, white, and orange.

At the bottom of the box, missing its paper jacket and like a lot of old books covered in a plain green fabric, was a fairy tale book. The stories of witches and poor sons and goblins in this book opened my mind to the world of possibilities. I would only have the book for a year because eventually it would disappear (care of my mother). Some of the stories had a habit of giving me nightmares (thank you, Brothers Grimm). Nevertheless, I am forever grateful that I had the book long enough for the fire of my imagination to be lit.


Filed under Books, Children's Literature, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

20 responses to “Christmas from the Dumpster

  1. Look at adorable you on Christmas morning looking ever-so-pleased with whatever is in that pink box kind of like how you might have looked with your book treasures. What a gorgeous memory for Christmas morning. Thinking of you and your family, Luanne.

  2. Love it, Luanne! My parents were inveterate ‘repurposers’ well before it was trendy, and I was the beneficiary of many well-loved books from musty boxes nabbed at estate sales. I appreciate the treausre your father salvaged for you!

  3. Good Dad, thanks for sharing.

  4. Wonderful Christmas memory! I am so grateful you shared it. Thank you.

  5. Wonderful story. I could never read the Brothers Grim as a child. They were just too scary!

  6. Christmas story, book story, and dumpster story. I can see the Venn diagram now, and it’s happy!

  7. What a lovely story! Merry Christmas.

  8. I remember that story. “The Pot that Wouldn’t Stop Boiling.” (or maybe a variation of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Little Golded Books were popular in those days, weren’t they?

  9. Beautiful memory Luanne…thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas!

  10. I remember once giving my students the Grimm version of Cinderella…it was so fun to watch their eyes bug out of their heads as they read silently! They only knew the Disney version.

  11. Look how cute you are! I love that photo, Luanne. Thank you for sharing this Christmas memory. xoxo

  12. Love this memory, Luanne. I am grateful that this spark boosted your imagination and we all benefit with your words and insights. xoxo

  13. What a precious memory! Smart man, your dad, to see the value of books for his little girl. Hope all is well with you and your family 🙂

  14. How wonderful! I’d forgotten all about that porridge story but it came back to me vividly when you mentioned it!

  15. Lovely writing, Luanne! I “like” the new header on your site, too. Beautifully expressed memories.

  16. This is such a warming post – so vividly written!
    Glad i found your blog.
    Best wishes to you for 2015.
    Emma 🙂

  17. The photograph and your simple decorations demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas, Luanne. I love the fact your Dad brought you something amazing: a box of 40’s books. I would have loved them all, so glad you had a short time with Grimm, enough to spark imagination and adventure, but also giving you nightmares, oh my!
    Thanks for your kind wishes on my post for my Merry Christmas, Luanne! We had a lot of fun, Mom and I, along with coming back after only 2 and a half days, some visits with grandies and my two daughters ‘patching’ their differences and making me laugh! All kinds of fun, in just 5 days away from blogging… smiles! Hoping you have a fantastic year, publishing your memoir and the poetry book, too. Happy New Year to you and yours, Luanne!

  18. Lovely picture and memory. Books are everlasting and I applaud your dad for rescuing them and bringing them home to you. What a treasure. Happy New Year!

  19. Gorgeous memories Luanne, so precious you made me smile with that excited girl who could not wait to read the books in the box. A real treat thanks.

  20. How cool that you remember the moment your imagination was fired. Hope you had a Merry Christmas this year too.

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