1969 was the second to the last Christmas I shared with my brother. Harvey was 14 years my senior, and in 1970, he died from complications of muscular dystrophy. We were both adopted at birth – from separate birth families.
I came into the family around the same time Harvey was transitioning into his wheelchair. When I began walking, Harvey was forever confined to his chair. However, our differences did not impede our relationship. As a toddler and young child, Harvey would join me on the carpet for play and affection. I was rarely in a stroller; rather, when we went out as a family, I sat on Harvey’s lap as my mom or dad pushed the wheelchair. Later, after I started school, I would walk alongside Harvey. Occasionally, we were even allowed to walk alone together to the ice cream parlor down the street and around the corner.
That second-to-the-last Christmas morning, Harvey came into my room to wake me up. It was a first. Normally, it was I who woke up Harvey. According to family rules, we were allowed to empty the gifts from our stockings on Christmas morning, but we had to wait to open our wrapped presents until mom and dad had their coffee in their hands. And even then, it was a controlled affair – one gift at a time was opened, and traditionally Harvey passed them out.
On the memorable Christmas morning, Harvey rolled into the living room as I ran alongside him. He got out of his chair on his own, as I removed the stockings from the fireplace mantle. Harvey’s stocking was smaller. It was red with a white fur trim and said “Noel.” My stocking was red velvet with white trim and bells. It said my name: “Joy.”Immediately, confusion set in. My stocking was filled with nick-knacks and items suitable for a young man, while Harvey’s stocking contained little girl toys. Santa had clearly made a big mistake! Mom and dad heard all about it when they got up some minutes later. The rest of the day went on as normal.
The following year everything changed. I woke up Harvey, and when we went for our stockings, Harvey stayed in his chair. Later, dad gave me the job of passing out presents. I looked to Harvey for approval; he just nodded and smiled. That February, he died three days before his 23rd birthday. Life would never be the same.
Our new Christmas tradition involved setting up a small decorated Christmas tree at Harvey’s grave. Visiting the cemetery was not just a Christmas ritual, we went every Sunday. At home, both of our stockings were hung on the mantle.
After I graduated from high school, my parents moved to Las Vegas. They downsized into a small apartment where they had no room for storage. So all of our holiday decorations were stored in a friend’s garage. His roommate cleaned things out, and everything precious to me was thrown away.
Dad passed away in 1980 from lung cancer, and mom died in 1991 following a stroke. When I cleaned out my mom’s apartment, to my immense pleasure, I found a couple of Christmas decorations mixed in with all her random memorabilia. These treasured decorations are in the photo above.