THE BLACK CHRISTMAS SWEATER

 

We had been told that our first Christmas without our father would be very different from the others we had known. Mother was now on welfare and money was at a premium. When dad had been alive we were in good financial states. Now, after we moved to our new apartment, things were quite different. Our big house was gone.  There was no insurance of any kind, no financial safety net. It was therefore quite possible that Santa Claus would only make a brief stop at our house. Our little apartment was situated over a Drug store and was in a poorer neighborhood. Life was definitely a little more difficult.

 

In the middle of  November the Social Services began to send out their Christmas boxes. They were full of amazing things to help with the Christmas season. Food and clothing of all sorts, plus a butcher’s voucher for a wonderful turkey. Many families depended upon this to give their children a Christmas treat.

 

I continued to go to the same school and we all knew who the “poor” families were. Over the years I had noticed that after the Christmas season many of these children, especially the boys, began to wear new black sweaters with two red stripes around the arm. They were warm and looked just great on the kids. It was a true blessing, I thought,  that the “poor” were looked after.

 

This year I came home from school one day and there was a big box on the table. My mother was busy unpacking it and I could see that she had been crying because her eyes were all red and she kept pretending to be happy. When asked about it she explained that she had a cold and that it was nearing the time for the new baby to be born.  We were hoping that the baby would be here for Christmas.  Out of the box she took the big black sweater.  “Oh, isn’t this wonderful. It will help keep you warm during the winter”. She had me try it on. It was perfect.

 

To her surprise I took the sweater off and threw it on the floor. ”I will never wear that sweater as long as I live. That’s for poor kids.” Since my father’s death I had been called the man of the house and I took this duty quite seriously. I was ten years old. It was up to me to see that things went well. All things considered we were making it. I was on the threshold of puberty and I felt that my manhood was somehow being put into question.

 

I had no control over many of the things that happened to me but the sweater situation I could do something about! I was not going to depend on absolute strangers for my clothing! Pride does terrible things to us at times. It encourages us to cut off our nose to spite our face.

 

I had always been obedient and compliant to a great extent to my mother’s wishes. I saw it as my job to be her help. But the black sweater was where some Great Spirit had determined that I would make my stand. My childhood was about to end. For me the sweater was a symbol of poverty.  I was not poor and no one would attach that stigma to me. 

 

We were not poor, we were just broke.  There is a fundamental difference. In Astrology I am a Leo with a Leo ascendant. My pride and self-image are of the utmost importance to me. None of this I knew at the time but something inside me pushed me to react. The Jews in Nazi Germany had to wear yellow stars of David sown to their clothing so that all might see and judge them: humiliation of humiliations. I would not wear the yellow star that for me had taken the form of the black sweater. I defied my mother. No threat, no pleading, no negotiating would make me wear what, for me, had become the sign of my misfortune. I would suffer my lot in silence awaiting a better day. Thus, that winter I had no warm sweater. My old one would suffice.

 

I have no idea what ever happened to the sweater. Seventy years later I can still recall the incident with some feeling of emotion. The world has not changed much since then. We still have the poor with us and also the multitude of those who are just broke. It will probably never change but if we keep faith it will get better. Please believe me, I know.