In my life I have been given many wonderful gifts: lovely hand-made embroidered items, expensive and high-tech sports gear, works of art, earthy rustic crafts, primitive watercolor paintings on simple newsprint created by the chubby little hands of my own two children.
I have been honored and complimented.
But none of these gifts has been so valuable to me as the gift of an interesting childhood. The lopsided balance of discipline with a little hard-earned freedom, the love of simple things, the respect for elders and a deep reverence for thrift.
I truly believe that most of what I’ve been able to do with my life has been a direct result of the rich and no-nonsense heritage I enjoyed. My family gave me a head start on life with a realistic concept of disciplined effort and the resulting reward that comes of it.
At my childhood home, in a village in the central highland jungles of Malaysia, everything was an event — even Christmas, in a Buddhist household.
The local churches held their Christmas party in my family’s grocery store. The abundant and free supply of food and drinks made the store a logical venue.
There was always lots of singing — nonsensical lyrics about dashing through the snow and snowmen coming to life. To a six-year-old, it was all exciting, even the bedraggled Santa costumes on scrawny Chinese men with black eyebrows, sans beard.
The mistress of ceremony for the longest time was an American missionary by the name of Miss Mabel Mitchell.
To Miss Mitchell, I owe my ability to spell (in English), sing “Yankee Doodle” by age five, and an unhappy relationship with Santa Claus. Miss Mitchell told me fabulous stories about her country. She told me that if I behaved well, every day throughout the year, Santa Claus would bring me a present on Christmas eve. I behaved very, very, very well for a very, very, very long time. I waited for Santa to come with a present on Christmas Eve. I waited for Santa to come with a present on Christmas Day — surely it must be a long journey to get to Malaysia from the North Pole.
I waited through the morning, through the afternoon, through the evening, and by nightfall, there was no Santa and no present.
As I look back on the initial events that shape my conception of Christmas, I realize that I am, to this day, a Santa backslider who did not share the Santa myth with her own two children and who will, perhaps soon, be disinvited to be part of the Santa spin-machine with her 1 1/2-year-old grandson.
The Pagosa Lakes Recreation center will close at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve and remain closed all day on Dec. 25.
My staff and I wish you all a merry Christmas.