I find Christmas becoming more and more a time for reflection. Looking over past columns I was struck by the various moods conveyed in the days leading up to the holiday.
One year in a particularly cynical frame of mind I produced a tirade railing against the crass commercialization of the season. On a more whimsical note, I once shared the challenges and pitfalls encountered experimenting with special dishes for holiday celebrations. Trying my hand at parody I penned a satirical version of The Night before Christmas inspired by Congress’ last-minute passage of a spending bill just in time to rush home for the holidays – evidently, this has become a D.C tradition.
I found by far the most cherished was entitled Ghosts of Christmas Past, written in 2009. So with your indulgence, I will share some of the memorable moments of the season garnered over the decades.
It begins with revisiting the annual evening services at Nickerson’s First Christian Church:
For years the solemnity of the evening Christmas service was interrupted near its conclusion by the boisterous arrival of an ersatz Santa Claus splendidly decked out in a red suit and flowing white beard, sounding suspiciously like congregation member Dale Wells. Juicy oranges from bushel baskets were passed out to the youngsters along with treat bags. The contents of those bags were always the same: bright multi-colored ribbon candy, chewy sugared “orange slices,” salted peanuts in the shell and creamy cone-shaped chocolate drops. The programs were often an eclectic mix of sacred and secular with nativity scenes and Silent Night followed by a spot-on rendition of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” rendered by an appropriately dentally-challenged young Jerry Bieneke. I cherish the memory of those individuals along with the many other church members that I regarded to be as much my family as the aunts, uncles and cousins who were usually on hand to celebrate the season.
One year there was a strange incident when my mother swore me to secrecy as I became her partner in crime. We undid the wrappings of several gifts dropped off for the family gift exchange. After our snooping was satisfied, the presents were carefully re-wrapped. The element of surprise was lost but I had the guilty pleasure of a shared secret. The incident was never repeated nor was it spoken of.
Then there was a singularly unique and frightening recollection. Longtime residents of Nickerson may recall the Christmas Eve in the early fifties when the night sky turned a brilliant orange as the old high school auditorium was consumed by a fierce blaze. I don’t recall the cause of the fire but I can close my eyes and see myself in a navy blue taffeta skirt and white sweater with a red and gold embroidered emblem, performing along with my third-grade classmates on the wooden stage of the auditorium that had been filled with families just nights before. The specter of the tragedy that might have been remained with me over half a century.
When the temperatures plummet I am reminded of a special kindness shown me one Christmas when I was carrying mail. As I drove to my route the sunlight reflecting off the snow was blinding. The wind chill factor was reported to be twenty to thirty degrees below zero. I experienced many frigid winter days during my years at the post office but never again anything approaching that day. After carrying the first “loop” on my route, I returned to the vehicle fighting back tears, thinking I couldn’t go on; that I would finish delivery to that street and then return to the office to face disciplinary action or even possible dismissal. As I reached the last house on the block there was a note along with a thermos bottle near the mailbox. In the note the patron expressed her appreciation adding she thought I might want something warm to drink. The steaming cocoa helped cut the cold but it was her thoughtfulness that really bolstered my spirits during that holiday season.
The loss of a loved one is difficult to deal with at any time but is particularly challenging when it comes at this joyous time of the year. It was years ago that our holiday was marred by the passing of my mother-in-law on Christmas Eve. In honor of her memory, a special gathering including my husband’s siblings has continued through the years. Though all have their own family celebrations, one night in December is set aside to come together”.
After gifts are long gone and forgotten, memories such as these - of friends, family, a special kindness - will endure. Wishing you all the happiest and most memorable times through the years.
Kathie Moore, rural Hutchinson, is a freelance artist, retired from the U.S. Postal Service. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.