Camel Saddle Christmas

The year that my sister and I got camel saddles was the Christmas we never stopped talking about.  

In 1966 we lived in a fashionable suburb of Cairo.  Our villa was just a few blocks away from the vast Sahara desert, where we would sometimes walk after dinner with our parents.  That Christmas night we placed the camel saddles we’d received that morning at the end of our beds.  We sat on them and sang.  When we ran out of songs, we made up stories, and when we ran out of stories, we described all that we saw– for now our camel saddles had transported us and we were on a journey that we helped one another see.  We described the infinite number of stars suspended in an ink-black sky, with no water to reflect it.  This was the first of the imaginary desert rides we would take.  There were more. Cross-legged on those saddles, we dreamed futures and told each other’s fortunes. These fortunes involved a mix of TWA, Pan AM, the UN, and Broadway.  Neither of us did any of those things, but symbolically those dreams foretold who we would be. 

My sister is gone now, but the camel saddles remain as my Christmas image in that snow globe that shakes up flurries of memory and longing and gratitude.  Now I travel without her under that vast sky– an epic journey begun together, continuing in stillness in the growing light of Christmas each year. Alone and yet never without her.

My sister, my parents, and my brother were writers.  They wrote letters and journals and stories– leaving a trail of anecdotes and laughter set free by the typewriter ribbon and held in place by the ink on the page. 

In going through my mother’s papers, I found a letter that she had written to her mother.  She was writing about our Christmas in 1966. In it she said that the worst thing had happened: the Christmas presents had not arrived from the States.  By the time the final post came and she realized the presents were not in it, the shops had closed on Christmas Eve.  She made her way to the market at the Mosque in the center of Cairo.  She clearly despaired as she wrote: “All I could really find for the girls were a couple of camel saddles.  If they were disappointed, they didn’t show it.”  

Had she not known?  Had we never told her?  Those camel saddles carried us into our futures as we sang the epic song of a childhood Christmas year after year.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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10 Responses to Camel Saddle Christmas

  1. Win Loria says:

    A beautiful story! And obviously the gift of the magi!

  2. Leslie Skoda says:

    I love this Annie. Merry Christmas!

  3. Love this memory… thanks for sharing it with us!!! Love to you and Ben.

  4. lolsimpson says:

    Loved reading this. I have happily discovered your blog through your Isolation Journals prompt 🙂

  5. Ashley (Bunyak) Bradley says:

    I’m not sure how I found this page but I can feel your love and hear your voice so clearly through your words. They make me long for the simpler times of my life in the Fox basement, when our paths would cross to and from the cafeteria. I love you so much and I’m so lucky to have learned from you as I began my teaching career. My Lucy is in 4th grade now and my twin in kindergarten. How does time fly so fast?

    • Annie Campbell says:

      Ashley! I love hearing from you!! Sending you so much love this morning! You have made my day. I hope our paths cross again soon.

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