Saturday, December 26, 2015

Reflections on Christmas Present

Many years ago, I purposed to let go of all the expectations that Christmas be celebrated like the ones I remembered so fondly from my childhood.  Christmas, a time of joy and peace, should not be lived by remembering the past to the point where one does not enjoy the the present.  Distance, divorce, and death, the three "D's" of Christmas, can threaten to destroy the joy and peace that we hope for during the Christmas season.  

Over the years, I've learned that it is best to let go of those expectations surrounding holidays that can lead to disappointment and a sense of sadness that robs us of the joy of the season.  During this time of year, despite my best intentions, I still find myself feeling stressed and unhappy because of the pressures I feel from the expectations of others.  I am working on establishing boundaries on time commitments and on spending during the season of parties, get togethers, and gift exchanges.  I've learned Christmas can be the time when we most get to practice using the skills of being present in the present and learning to enjoy the moment minus trying to meet the expectations we place on ourselves and others.

Early in the season, I purposed to focus on the Reason for the Season rather than being distracted by all the demands that seem to so easily overwhelm during this busy time of the year.

I purposed to enjoy the decorating my house with the those objects that hold meaning and significance to me and tie me to memories from the past.  When I prepare for Christmas,  I put up a small live tree which I decorate with Julie's Christmas ornaments.  Julie was single, and didn't have a lot of ornaments, but the ones she had were stored in a round Christmas theme hat box that I had given her filled with Christmas gifts years before.  Julie had carefully wrapped each ornament in tissue paper and placed them in the storage box on that last Christmas of her life.

 The first Christmas after her death, upon opening this storage receptacle holding Julie's ornaments, I was overcome with sadness and weeping by the unexpected scent of Julie that wafted from the box.  Julie used a strongly scented hair pomade which she would work through her curls as she styled them.  I pictured her doing her hair, and letting it dry, as she had packed away Christmas in 2009.  Honestly, every year, when I open the box, the scent hits me and makes me cry.  Each year, I am grateful I can still catch a bit of the beautiful scent that was Julie.

I don't know where Julie got this skier ornament.  It reminds me of an athletic Julie during her healthy days when she had the money, the time, and energy all at the same time so she could go skiing.  I remember her living in ski country near Vail, Colorado and wonder if she got the ornament while she lived there.  

I gave Julie this angel holding a puppy for Christmas when her dog Phoenix was a pup.  Now, Phoenix is also gone.  

Julie was a highly organized person.  Her Christmas ornaments and other trappings of Christmas were all stored in a large green plastic container.  This year, I opened up the many unopend packages of Christmas lights that she had purchased with the intent of decorating the outside of wherever she was living at the time.  For the first time ever, I decided these lights should be used.  Jim and I spent an early December day stringing the lights on the back deck of our house.  The light from them brought me great joy this year.


Throughout the year, my life is richly blessed by several groups of women from my church.  I found myself saying, "Let's have a Christmas lunch at my house this year," during our last Bible study time before the holidays.  Immediately, afterwards, I felt just a touch of panic when I realized that meant I would have to have my house cleaned and decorated before the date set for the lunch!  

Somehow, I pulled it off.  The house was cleaned.  (Ok, I had the cleaning ladies clean the house.)  The tree was decorated.  The various other Christmas displays were set up.  I even was able to get the food arranged, the coffee and tea made, and the dishes and eating utensils all placed on a counter so my guests could serve themselves in a buffet style.  It all seemed to be a success.  I had fifteen women in attendance.  A more sedate, reflective group of eight sat in the formal dining room, while the rowdy, laughing ladies and I, nine of us, gathered around my kitchen table.  Somehow, I forgot to get a photo of the occasion.  Everyone stayed a long time.  We gathered in the living room and chatted as a group before everyone departed.  What a wonderful group of ladies I have been able to get to know this year.  I look forward to studying the Psalms with them next year.

It seemed a waste not to have another party once I had the extra leaves in the dining room table, so I had another party on the Saturday before Christmas.  This time, my dear prayer group ladies, my Monica Moms, came to my home for a brunch.  How I love these women.  We gather twice a month to pray.  We sat at my dining room table and rejoiced over the answers to prayers we have seen this year. We cried together over those requests that are still on our hearts, the prayers not yet answered.  We encouraged each other.   We laughed.  We celebrated each other.

On Christmas Eve, I was able to go to church with one of my dear high school friends.  It was so wonderful to spend this time with her and then to go over to her home to chat with her and her husband before I had to leave to pick Jim up from work.  

The rest of Christmas Eve was spent at Jim's daughter's house with all of his daughters and their families.  It was a great gathering.  What a great pile of cousins this is!

My daughter Amy was to join us on Christmas Day, but she came down with a cold that she didn't want to give us for Christmas, so she stayed home.  We missed seeing her and spending time with her.  The presents for her and her family will be delivered next week.

Jim and I spent a lazy, quiet Christmas morning.  It was good.  As I sat on the couch visiting with my hubby, I snapped a photo of the place where we do much of our living.  I am so grateful for each Christmas that I spend with the man I love in this home that brings us such comfort.  Home is the heart of Christmas in so many ways.  While none of our children ever lived in this home, and while so many Christmas memories were made in the home we left three years ago, this is now our home, and we are so happy living here.  

We ate a leisurely breakfast after opening our gifts.  Then we took the dog for a walk.   The day was cool, and snow kept lightly falling on us as we walked among the other creatures of the valley where we live. I counted 15 mule deer dotting the grounds around the corner from our house.

I was reminded of that Christmas song,
Grandpa got run over by a reindeer 
as Jim walked by our other neighbors who were also out enjoying Christmas afternoon.

Christmas Day was finished off with by Grandpa and Grandma joining daughter Trinette's family at the movie theater to watch "Star War."    I must confess, that I am not very culturally relevant  on many things.  I had never seen a Star Wars movie!  It was great.  I enjoyed it.  After the movie, the kids came to our house for cold cuts, candy, cookies, holiday bread, and ice cream.  

After dinner and a movie, sweet T was fell asleep in her mother's arms.  Christmas is exhausting!

 Today, I got up to a messy house with the wrappings and trappings of Christmas strewn about.  From the looks of things, I'd say we had a very Merry Christmas.   

Christmas Day 2015
Sally & Boston

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas ~ A Reflection of Christmas Past

The day was a bleak, cold one.  Snow and cold weather had brought life to a standstill throughout most of the city the day before.  I had an early afternoon appointment with my cardiologist at the hospital downtown, the one in which I was born so many years ago.   By the time I left the appointment and made my way out of the hospital parking lot, I was starving.  A holiday dinner was scheduled for later that evening, so I didn't want much lunch.  As I drove west, making my way the few city blocks towards the home in which I had lived as a child, my mind was focused on trying to find a place to stop into for a quick bit of food to tide me over until dinner.  There's no place to stop for lunch in this neighborhood, I thought.  

Just then, I caught sight of the little coffee shop across the street from the corner of the block where my childhood home was located.  The coffee shop is housed in the building that once housed a grocery store and the neighborhood drugstore.  Hungry to the point of going into a state of hypoglycemic  craziness, I parked my car on Boulder Street, my street, the place where I grew up, and made my way to the shop. 

As I rushed from the car to the shop, my mind returned to all those times over half a century ago when I would stop on the corner across the street from where I now stood.   My memory transported me to a time when my mother would entrust a quarter to me with the instructions that I was to go buy a loaf a bread.  "Yes, you can keep the change and buy candy if you wish."  I'd skip down the street, stop on the corner, look both ways, run across Boulder Street, and then Institute Street, and then skip up to the front door of the grocery.  

I could almost see those long ago penny candy boxes lined up in front of the front counter where I would pay for the bread as I approached the door.  The door was locked.  It was dark inside.   Pressing my nose against the window, I peered in and saw the shell of what once was the market of my youth.  I remembered the meat counter at the back.  That's where the check-out counter and the candy was, I thought as I noticed the worn floors I had walked across so many times so many years ago.  Coffee bean bags and equipment for brewing coffee were strewn all over the small space.  Was this store really that small?  

Just as I turned to head back to the car, desperate to find another place for a quick snack, I realized there seemed to be life in the other side of the shop, the place where a drugstore once was located.  I walked towards the door and realized the coffee shop was housed on that side of the building.  Inside, the layout was all wrong.  Tables and benches lined the wall where my cousin and I would once sit at the soda fountain to order our cherry cokes when we were cool thirteen year olds with enough money to buy a coke.  On the opposite side of where the soda fountain once stood, was a bar where I could now order coffee and something to eat.

Soon, a bagel, a very good bagel, with cream cheese, and an excellent cafe latte brought my sugar levels back up to normal.  Siting on the wooden bench in the bay window store front, I savored the moment.  

Somehow, despite the cold weather, the dreary skies, the worries in my heart, and the feeling that this Christmas just wasn't going to be that merry, my spirits were lifted by being in that simple little coffee shop that was full of young people studying for finals. 

I felt I was in the heart of "home" while I sat sipping my cafe latte.  Grateful, for the time of rest, refreshment, and time for reflection on the happy, simple days spent in this little corner of my early world, I left the shop and headed back to my car.

These streets, these sidewalks, are as familiar to me as the back of my hand.  I know where all the cracks are, and even the several types of concrete used to make these sidewalks are familiar.  They haven't changed in all these year.  

I look up at the trees that line the street.  They seem to be standing guard as they protect all the memories once made under their leafy branches. Their aged, bare limbs seem all the more empty now that they no longer shelter my great grandparents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my father from hot summer days. 

Grandma's house is just down the street.  I can't see her house, but it is there just steps away.  How I wish I could walk down that street and walk in the door for a visit.   

Trees stand guard on the way to Grandma's House

My roots run deep on this street.

I think of the family history that these trees witnessed on this block.  They watched my father move into the house just down the way over ninety years ago.  I look at the trees and see my parents standing so close together for a photo on their wedding day.  The day was a bleak and cold one.  They'd been married in the United Presbyterian Church across the street right after morning services on that February day.

My earliest days were spent here.
My first Christmas was here.
Daddy was just home from the army.
World War II had just ended.

Grandma's house provided the heart of Christmas for so many years.

My grandmother in front of a fireplace with a Van Briggle hearth -
My grandmother holding me on her right and my cousin Donna on her left

Christmas was no small undertaking in those days.

All the aunts, the uncles, the cousins would be at Grandma's at Christmas.
It had been that way since my earliest days.

Baking for Christmas began before Thanksgiving.
That is when Grandma made her wonderful fruitcake.
The panty, that cold room right off the kitchen, 
the place where we as children could never enter,
the place that seemed like the inner sanctum of the home that was the heart of Christmas,
held shelves stacked high with metal tins full of 
perfectly made candy:
peanut brittle,
cherry drops, 
More tins held the most heavenly tasting spritz cookies.
Oh the joy I would feel
when she would enter the pantry after Christmas dinner 
and load down the kitchen table with:
mincemeat pies,
pumpkin pies,
and  candy,
all made by her own hand.

Preparation for Christmas Day would have also included
days of polishing the silver.
Sometimes, we, the older cousins, had the task of going to Grandma's house a few days before Christmas to polish the silverware and the silver serving dishes.
 We would very carefully take the china from the dining room buffet and set the table.
The table had to be properly set.
The salad plate, the water glasses, the silverware, the napkins, all had to be properly placed.
The silverware was measured with a finger to be an inch from the end of the table.

We always went to the church across the street for Christmas Eve services.  
It was the family tradition for Christmas.

The story was always told of how my father as a young boy, dressed in his new flannel robe, which had been purchased for his part as one of the shepherds in the Christmas pageant, 
had begged to stay home from church.
He said he was ill.
My grandmother was a strict disciplinarian.
He was told to get over to the church and fulfill his duty.
He did.
Halfway though the pageant, he vomited and had been rushed home across the street wearing soiled new robe.

Years later, my cousin, my sister, and I would be angels in that same Christmas pageant.

My home,
Grandma's home,
my elementary school,
the church,
the grocery store,
were all within a block of each other.

My world was small.
It was filled with rich relationships,
many funny stories,
great laughter,
long held traditions,
solid foundations for
and family.

As I think on these things,
the memory of my mother's beautifully clear soprano voice fills my mind.
Christmas memories from this place would not be complete without the memory of her
dressed in her green silk dress,
the one she made from drapery fabric,
 standing  in the choir loft at church just as the Christmas program starts.
My mother, a tiny 4'll" dark haired woman is adorned in
crystal jewelry which sparkles as she sings.
I am in awe of her beauty.
I am proud of her and her beautiful voice.
 With a lighted candle in my hand,  I listen with tears rolling down my cheeks as she sings.
I will soon be lighting the Christmas candles nestled among the pine branches placed in front of the church windows.

Her voice rings out with the words of that beloved Christmas song.

Oh Holy Night!  The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
Truly He taught us to love one another.
He law is love and His gospel is peace.


Today we sang those words of that much loved Christmas song in church.
O Holy Night!
Again, my mind went back to my mother.
I longed to be standing next to her in church listening to her sing that song of 
praise and adoration 
for her Savior,
God with Us,
The One whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.

This past week, as I walked back to my car after walking up to the long ago home of my father and his parents, those memories of days of long ago were again tucked away in my mind.

Grandma's house is still there,
but I can't walk up the path and step on to her porch and find her and grandpa sitting in the dining room reading.

She died on Christmas Eve over thirty years ago.

My father is also gone.
All the aunts and uncles are gone.
Only the memory of the 
times we spent together, 
those times filled with
such wonderful stories,
so much laughter

Mother is still with us.

Today, she and I talked of that Christmas when she sang her favorite Christmas song,
and mine.
She said she went to church today was able to sing in  despite it being her one hundredth year after she celebrated her first Christmas.

I am now a grandmother.
My grandchildren will never have the rich memories of the Christmas traditions of family that I hold so dear.
We don't live near each other.
We seldom see each other at Christmas.
It breaks my heart each and every year not to be with my children and grandchildren.

As I get in my car to leave the streets of my childhood,
I remember the prayer I had for this Christmas.

I prayed I would not be focused on the traditions and trappings of Christmas.
Certainly, those traditions are wonderful to create, to remember, and to celebrate,
but they really are not what Christmas is all about.
I prayed that I would not focus on the trappings of Christmas this year.

I prayed I would rejoice in the One whose birth we celebrate.
I prayed I would not miss the reason we have Christmas.
I prayed that each of my loved ones would know this truth this year:

Truly He taught us to love one another.
He law is love and His gospel is peace.

May your Christmas be filled with