Our last Christmas in Belgium was a somewhat strange one. Though there was a lot of joy in it, the spectre of big changes in the wind hung there, just in the corner of my mind.
Among my memories of that day, other than playing a lot with Boris the bear, were discovering a package from America, from Mary. In it was a new Barbie doll with straight arms and long silky blonde hair. She had a whole wardrobe tucked into the bottom of the box beneath her as a bed and wore a Pioneer girl costume, complete with bonnet and apron. My first Barbie doll had arrived when we lived in Paris. She was my big gift of Christmas 1978 and by 1984 she was much the worse for wear, since Tom had a marked predilection for chewing on her feet when he was a baby. In 1980, my father's boss' kids who were teenagers, gave me their Ken doll and in 1982 Skipper arrived for Christmas, so by the time this new Barbie joined the fold, I had quite a collection.
The new Barbie reminded me of a princess. Her face was different from my older Barbie, her hair a different shade of blonde and her body had better articulation. Although I didn't know it at the time, Barbie was undergoing another of the series of revisions that the doll has gone through over the years, becoming yet again, more contemporary as styles and trends change. In my pantheon of dolls, my old Barbie got a new haircut and became the "mother-in-law" Barbie with the new doll becoming the romantic heroine of all my games.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Lego and Playmobil were the two types of toys that we played with most often. We told epic stories, hours in length in a sort of cooperative fantasy that melded their desire for action and my desire for daring rescues and dramatic romance.
This was also the Christmas of the sleeping bags. Perhaps my mother was just thinking ahead, because we would need them that summer, but each of us got a plush L.L. Bean sleeping bag. We'd never had sleeping bags before and hence we treated them like toys instead of camping equipment. They became tunnels to hide in, caterpillar costumes and wonderful pieces to add to the forts we built out of furniture and old blankets.
There were books too, I'm sure of it. There always have been and always will be. But now I don't recall which ones arrived that Christmas, though there must have been a handful of Nancy Drew mysteries from my Grandmother.
What I do remember though, was that Dad wasn't going to be home for long and that Mom was going to be joining him in the US in February, to look for a house and schools for us.
This prospect was both exciting and nerve-wracking all at once.
For years, I'd looked forward to going "home." But now that the moment of truth had arrived, I found that I already was home. Over the years, Brussels, my school and the house at 31 avenue Juliette had become home as surely as 81 Hilltop Ave. in Providence had been home before all the moving started.
Even at Christmas, I couldn't help thinking that I didn't want to leave.
That feeling would only get worse over the cours of the year.