Someone had hung ornaments on the evergreen trees down in the fairy woods near our mountain cabin where we'd spent the weekend. I was filled with the mystery of Christmas. How had it happened? One other time there'd been Easter eggs hidden in the fairy woods.
I was five years old. It was Christmas eve. Twilight turning to dark. There was a palpable sparkle in the air on the streets of downtown La Jolla, California, an elegant beach town near San Diego. A hustle and bustle of activity in the village, people scurrying along with wrapped packages under their arms. Folks dashing in and out of the small high-end shops featuring Asian gifts, jewelry, clothing, sporting goods, stationary, and a bakery with delectable holiday smells.
All the stores were lit up with Christmas lights and colorful window decorations. Wreaths with huge red bows hung from streetlamps. My mom owned a store stocked with gifts, toys, Christmas decorations, notions, anything you'd ever need or want during the holiday season and all year around. She'd decorated her shop window with a white tree with sparkling lights, red ornaments, ribbons strewn tastefully about, and an electric train meandering around under the tree.
My mom gave me a 25-cent piece to go buy some candy. That was a lot of money for a child in those days (just after the end of World War II). In retrospect, I'm not sure what she was up to, but maybe something I was not to see. The pharmacy was next door to her store, and that seemed to be where my mom had sent me to buy the candy.
Outside the pharmacy was a Salvation Army volunteer in uniform ringing his bell. It was dark out now and all lights aglow. Now and then you could hear the clink of coins as passersby dropped money into the large donation pot hanging from a tripod. I wandered around in the pharmacy, looking at the possibilities, the candies and the glitter, with my ears always aware the sound of the bell calling people to donate for Christmas. I paused at the Sugar Daddy candy bars, my favorite. My mother never understood why I liked the caramel better than chocolate.
Something stopped me when I started to pick up the candy to take it to the cashier. All at once I was glowing with excitement—the sound of the bell, the smell of evergreens, the colorful lights filling me with a bubbling joy. I ran outside and dropped my 25-cent piece into the Salvation Army pot. My entire being swelled with pink puffy clouds and a soft light was glittering all around everything. And that was my very best Christmas ever.