It was 1977 in Erie, Pennsylvania. I was eight years old, and I was looking forward to many things that Christmas.

Every morning my sister, brother, and I would bound down the green-shag carpeted stairs to untie a Tootsie Roll from each of our Countdown to Christmas charts. There was always the temptation to eat tomorrow’s piece of candy too, but we somehow resisted. My littlest brother had just been born that September so he wasn’t counting down with candy yet.

That Christmas there was SO much snow. Drifts as high as the top of our garage door! Piles and piles of plowed snow along Loveland Ave! Perfect conditions for snow forts, snowball fights, snow tunnels, and snow men. Dad had a snowmobile back then and he would take us out to the “dirt hill” as we named it (an undeveloped piece of land between our street and the trailer park), and he’s ride up and down the hills and even wipe out on purpose on occasion. The dirt hill had great sled riding too, and it was all about how FAR you could go on your sled—typically sledding head first, belly down was by the very best position. If the neighborhood boys had given out trophies, I think I would have made at least the top 3.

Regarding my Christmas wish list, I had taken great care to circle my favorite things in the Sears catalog, the JC Penneys catalog, and I had written down a few extras from commercials on our four TV channels—Barbie stuff, LiteBrites, and the game of Operation were all the rage!

To be honest, I knew that many of the items in the catalogs I probably wouldn’t get, but it was still fun to dream about what I wished I could have anyway. Dad worked two and sometimes three jobs, but it was still hard to keep up with all the expenses our growing family had. I knew I’d get a new homemade nightgown from Grandma and a new handknitted pair of slippers from Aunt Pearl, but, other than that, Christmas morning would be a complete surprise.

The countdown to Christmas continued and soon it was the night before Christmas. We rolled out the sour cream cutout cookies, decorated them with icing and sprinkles, and sampled a few reindeers with broken legs. Mom made her delicious homemade bread too. We headed to Asbury Church that night and sang in the Junior Choir in our red robes, surrounded by poinsettias and candles. It was beautiful! Then it was home to bed and lights out so Santa had time to visit our house on Loveland Ave. I always wanted him to land his team of deer on our front porch, but he never did. He must have always used the roof.

Christmas morning 1977 finally came. Under the tree, each child had a gift marked Open Me First. My sister and brother had BIG gifts with that label on them. Mine was very small and I was so disappointed. I tried to hide it, but mom knew what I was thinking. She said with a big smile, “Beth, sometimes big things come in small packages!” Well, I knew it wasn’t a Lite Brite….so I wondered what kind of Christmas this was going to be. Getting ready to pout, I ripped off the paper and saw a yellow Kodak box. My eyes lit up as I got my first camera for Christmas! What an incredible gift for me. Even at age eight, I cared about capturing memories. I wrote things in journals. I made my own pinhole camera from the National Geographic magazine. I cherished my picture album, and now I had my own, easy-to-use camera! What a great gift it was! Luckily for my baby brother, I was immediately a shutterbug. Without that camera, there would have been very few pictures of that cute, red-headed baby boy.

Mom was right. Sometimes big things do come in small packages. Oh…so many fond memories from Loveland Avenue. I’m glad I had that camera to capture them.

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What is your favorite memory of Christmas or Hanukkah or your other favorite holidays?

What was the best gift you ever received and why?