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Christmas of the green sweater

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Christmases can sometimes seem traumatic, sometimes sad and sometimes just plain disappointing, but years later they will bring a smile to the face and create some special memory that remains a treasure stored in the heart. So it was and has been with the Christmas of the Green Sweater.

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My brother, older by two years, and I had just moved north to live in Minnesota with our father and step-mother. My dad was a simple, honest, hardworking and uneducated man who worked in a greenhouse for a very low wage. My step-mother was a nurse who worked in a local clinic and thus was the major wage earner for the family. She never had any children of her own and she loved us as hers. She was taller than my dad, slim, graceful and intelligent. They were very much the odd couple, but very much in love.

They had been married only a couple years, when in September of 1966, my step-mother was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. They gave her six months to live. This would be her last Christmas. She couldn't work, money became scarce. My dad's wage couldn't pay the bills, but with the help of family, friends and a landlord that let the rent stay for a while, we had a warm home to live in and food to eat.

We took care of my step-mother at home for all but the last week of her life. Hospice and home care as we know it today did not exist. She taught me, that winter when I was fourteen, to give the shots of Demerol that could ease her pain. It would be the first skill learned in my nursing career.

Christmas of 1966 came. My step-mother was emaciated and walked only with assist and great difficulty, but we celebrated. Family and friends came and our gifts were boxes of food. I had not expected that there would be a present under the tree with my name on it, but there was. I eagerly opened it. Inside was a green sweater. It was the ugliest green sweater that I had ever seen. I was disappointed, but said my "thank you" and continued to celebrate with the family.

I think I wore the green sweater once. Sometimes I think about that sweater and I can see it and describe it exactly. It was a sweater that would fit into today's styles with compliments. Back then it was horrible.

Some would say, "Oh, how sad, what a terrible Christmas!" But I look back at that Christmas of 1966, and I think of how I was blessed to have spent this one last Christmas with my step-mother. We had nothing but each other, family, friends, a kind landlord, gifts of food and that green sweater. How I love that Green Sweater now and the wonderful memories created that Christmas.

(Readers are welcome to submit their favorite Christmas memories to nbowe@dlnewspapers.com.)

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