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The Christmas tree and new blessings from old memories

Op-ed

The cornerstone of happiness is gratefulness

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One of the better joys in life is looking back at your memories and finding new lessons and blessings to appreciate that you hadn't realized previously.

I had one such blessing brought to light by a simple question from my children.

"Did you have Christmas trees as a kid?"

They ask because they have figured out that I didn't have the standard American family upbringing. My parents were immigrants from Mexico, and not all the customs were held in common from the old country to the new. Some of this was accidental, and some of this was on purpose.

So this made me think.

We did have Christmas trees. And I hadn't thought of it before, but it wasn't because of my father. It was because of my mom.

My mom worked hard at home to take care of her children, and she also took up small side jobs outside the home to bring in extra money so that she could buy us the creature comforts that my dad wouldn't. My dad worked hard, but they both came from a very poor and austere life in Mexico. He refused to indulge our high standards of American comfort, but she spoiled us.

And she tried as hard as she could to assimilate us into American culture as much as she could.

So we had Christmas trees, and we had presents, as much as she could buy on her meager earnings.

And we had wonderful holidays, and it didn't matter how much she spent on presents or that our tree wasn't the biggest of all the families on our block. All that mattered was that we were together and Mom did all she could to make us happy. And we were very happy.

In fact, it was a long time before I realized that we were considered "poor" by American standards, financially. By all other, more important measures, we were very wealthy.

Every day I would come home from school and immediately run out to play baseball with my neighborhood pals, and we would yell "car!" when a car drove through, and for many blessed hours, it was just us with a baseball bat and a baseball playing our muscles sore. And when it got dark, I came home and my mother had an incredible home-cooked meal ready for us. We all sat down and prayed to God for our blessings. Together.

It wasn't perfect; there were a lot of shortcomings I could dwell on, but as I grow older, I realize that being an adult means focusing on the good and forgiving the bad.

So embrace your blessings. The good that God gives you is always greater than you realize, and the more you look for it, the more you will find.

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