Friday, December 26, 2008

Twas the Day After Christmas

It’s over for another year. I’ve already begun putting away the evidence of the holiday, starting with wrapping paper, ribbons, and gift bags that can be used another year. The tree is still up, but I keep looking at it, thinking it will be the next thing that I concentrate on. It’s been up since Thanksgiving, and I am ready for that section of my living room to return to the way it was. I miss my bookshelf table where I keep all of my children’s books. It was pushed into the bedroom to make space for the tree. I want it back where it belongs!

My mother had a tradition that everything from Christmas had to be out of sight before New Year’s Day. She said that the Baby New Year would have his own Christmas, and he didn’t want to see anything from the old year. I think it was Mama’s way of saying the same thing I am thinking this morning. Let’s get back to normal! Sounds like a pretty good tradition to me.

I have a coupon in my purse that was given to me on Christmas Eve when I was shopping at Kohl’s as a way to entice me to do some after-Christmas shopping. It is quietly beckoning to me, and I guess I’m going to follow my urge to get out into the fray one more time to see if I can find something I really need at a bargain price. I can’t think of a thing that I need, but the $10 off coupon keeps whispering to me to return to Kohl’s.

This was Rocky’s first Christmas, and he was totally absorbed in the gift bags, wrapping paper, and stockings. Tom and Diamond were ho-hum unimpressed with the morning’s festivities, but I think they’ll admit that they like the treats that Santa left for them. Phil and I had a delightful morning, and both of us were successful in surprising the other with the gifts that we gave. The afternoon was spent watching the first season of “Deadwood”, a gift to Phil from Jeremy. We still have two seasons left to watch, so this gift is one that will keep on giving for quite awhile. After our Christmas dinner of pot roast, we settled in for a quiet evening and an early bedtime.

This has been a wonderful Christmas! Beginning with Cookie Baking Day and continuing on through our trip to Indianapolis and Louisville, and finally ending in a few quiet days at home prior to the holiday, it was near perfect. The only thing I missed was being with Wade this year. I hope that by next year, he’ll be settled in a good job and we’ll be able to get together sometime during the holidays.

Now I must begin thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Wonder what they will be.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Eve Eve

That is what today is – Christmas Eve Eve. When I was a little girl, our mother made up holidays for us to celebrate. We had unbirthdays, half-birthdays, and always Christmas Eve Eve.

This was the day that we went out and bought our Christmas Tree. When Molly and I were little, Daddy and Mama, Bob and Grady would participate in the selection of our tree, but as soon as Molly got her driver’s license, this became something that we did together as sisters. We’d go from lot to lot as we looked for the right tree for our home. We were never looking for a perfect tree, but one that needed us. By the 23rd of December, the lots were pretty much picked over, so it was a challenge for us to know which one of the remaining trees was the one for our home. They were all pretty straggly looking by that time. We also were on the hunt for mistletoe, because Christmas wasn’t complete without the mistletoe hoop hanging in the archway between our living room and dining room. We had to find a Christmas Tree lot that also sold mistletoe before we’d even look at the trees. It was all or nothing for us, which added to the fun and adventure of the expedition.

We’d finally find our tree and mistletoe and take them home. I remember Daddy sometimes made a Christmas tree stand out of two pieces of lumber, but as we grew older, the new and modern Christmas tree stands that held water came into fashion, and that is what we used. As soon as the tree was placed in the front corner of the living room, so that the lights would be visible through the window, we were ready to decorate. First on the list of things to do was checking the lights. We’d string them out across the room and replace any lights that were burned out. Once the lights were on the tree, we’d then get into the ornament box and begin adorning the tree with ornaments that were loved and familiar to us. We each had our favorites, and would make sure that these special ornaments were hung on a branch with full visibility and deep honor. Some Christmases we’d drape popcorn and cranberry strings onto the tree, sometimes it was dressed with construction paper garlands that we had cut out and made by hand. When icicles came into fashion, we added these to the tree to add sparkle and glitter. The last thing to go onto the tree was the star, which was one that Mama had made out of cardboard covered with aluminum foil. Daddy usually had the honor of placing the star on the tree while we watched. We’d stand back to take a good look at the finished project, and there was never a Christmas that our tree was not beautiful and special. We’d then tie the mistletoe into the special hoop made from an embroidery hoop wrapped in red ribbon and place it in the archway, ready to catch someone standing under it for a holiday kiss.

We could hardly wait for evening when we could turn off the lights in the living room and have only the tree lights filling the room with Christmas warmth. Daddy would put a Christmas music album on the record player, we’d have a cup of hot chocolate and sugar cookies that we had cut-out and decorated. All of us were immersed in the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings of Christmas as Daddy plugged in the lights and we’d simultaneously all take a deep breath from the shear wonder of it all.

I have many memories of Christmas Eve Eves. Each year was different in small ways, and they all blend together now in my memory to paint a wonderful childhood Christmas mural.

I think I need to do something special today in honor of Christmas Eve Eve – I think I’ll go bake a batch of sugar cookies!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Heart of Christmas

Up until yesterday, I thought I was ready for Christmas, but I wasn’t. There was a small hole in my heart that I didn’t even know was there until we arrived in Indianapolis.

Driving up here to be with Brian and Roy to celebrate the holiday was special in itself, and going out to dinner before making our way to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Yuletide Celebration” was something worth looking forward to simply because they are so much fun to be around. Roy was performing in the concert, so we were all excited with anticipation of the upcoming event. On our walk from the parking garage to the restaurant in downtown Indianapolis, we happened upon someone we had met two years earlier in Nashville, Jack Everly, Principal Pops Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. We paused to visit for a few minutes before heading in our respective directions. Then, around the corner, we were greeted by Ann Hampton Callaway, the hostess and star of the show. Overflowing with personality and life, she greeted us as if she had run into old friends, and I knew immediately that we were in for a real treat when we went to the performance a little later. Already the evening was promising to be fun, but I was not emotionally prepared for what I would experience in the next few hours.

We settled into our seats in Hilbert Circle Theater and as the program began, the spirit of Christmas settled as softly as falling snowflakes over the theater. We enjoyed the fun of the saxophone playing Capitol Quartet, the warmth of Ann as she welcomed the audience with her crystal voice and song, the amazing voice of Daniel Okulitch, and of course, the Dancing Santas and Singing Elves. I honed in on watching Roy, following the sweeping bows and nimble fingers of the violinists, and becoming mesmerized by the fluid motions of Jack Everly as he conducted the orchestra with the grace and poise of a true artist.

It was during the second portion of the production that my heart was touched. As Ann sang “I Wonder as I Wander”, the spirit of Christmas penetrated to my innermost being, and I was swept away by the wonder and miracle of Christmas. Tears filled my eyes, and ran down my cheeks from that moment until the program ended. I realized that something had been missing from my Christmas celebration up until this moment, and what was missing was the music. Nothing could have been more beautiful than the music that was surrounding me, whirling around me, and carrying me to a place of pure joy and serenity. Listening to the unique arrangements of familiar Christmas hymns brought me back to the true meaning of Christmas, and filled the small hole in my heart.

After the performance, as I was recovering while waiting for Roy to make his way from backstage to meet us, I was satisfied that my evening had truly been a day that would be in my collection. The real surprise came as Roy met us and told us that we were invited to join Jack Everly in his room backstage. Wow! Could there possibly be more to this wonderful evening?

In a few minutes I was seated on a comfortable sofa in a delightful room filled mostly by a grand piano. One of our hosts, Ty Johnson, Executive Producer of the “Yuletide Celebration”, immediately felt like someone I’d known for years, instead of someone I’d just met. A wonderful host, he treated us to delicious cookies and petit fours, along with a bubbly glass of champagne. Soon, Jack joined us, and we enjoyed talking to the two of them and getting to know them both. It was such an honor for me to be in this place and with these two gentlemen , I could hardly believe that this was actually happening. Over the course of the evening I had been given a divine gift in the music I had experienced, and to be in the presence of stewards of God’s gift of music was almost more than I could comprehend and absorb.

As I write this, I find myself totally at a loss to express the way I am feeling about last night. I only know that in my prayers I have often asked for confirmation of my faith, and last night my prayer was answered. My confirmation is music, and it’s been with me all along, all my life. It is truly God’s sweetest gift and one that is all the proof I need that there is much more to life and the universe than what we can experience with our five senses. Music carries me beyond this earth and shows me a glimpse of heaven.

Now I am ready for Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,
Christmas is only a week away, and we are all very excited about your visit to our home on Christmas Eve. We will have a plate of cookies and a glass of milk waiting for you on our coffee table, and we hope that you will take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to indulge in some homemade goodies. I’ll make sure that they are covered, so that curious little noses won’t find them first and sample your treats before you get here.

Our kids have expressed to me that they are unable to write a letter to you, so I am writing on their behalf. I am certain that they will all be awake early on Christmas morning, eager to see what you have left for them in their stockings. Speaking of stockings, since we don’t have a fireplace, we have hung our stockings on the window sill of the picture window in the living room. You can’t miss them.

Our youngest, Rocky, also known affectionately as Rocket Man, The Rockster, and Rocky Top, is very excited about Christmas. This is his first, as he is now eight months old. He loves the Christmas Tree and all of the low hanging ornaments, but he has been a very good boy, and has not tried to climb the tree. He would like for you to bring him a new collar, preferably a red one. He lost the one he had one afternoon not long ago while out in the woodpile catching field mice. It somehow got snagged; thankfully it was a breakaway collar, and he was able to get free. The collar is lost, however. It must have fallen down in the stacks of lumber, and we were unable to recover it. He misses it very much.

Big Tom has been very nonchalant about Christmas, and has not told us what he would like to receive. We know him very well, though, and he loves those crunchy kitty treats. The vet told him on his last visit that he needed to take better care of his teeth, or he would need to come in for a cleaning, so he has been diligent in reminding us daily that the crunchy treats are good for his teeth and gums. Both he and Rocky also love the salmon in a tube that is good for preventing fur balls in their throats, so if you have one laying around somewhere at the North Pole, please stick it into your bag for our boys.

Sweet Diamond has been a very good girl this year. She is our companion, protector and friend, and she deserves the best that you can bring to her. As you may remember from last year, her favorite thing to eat is peanuts. She would love to receive a jar of roasted peanuts for her evening treats and a bag of peanut butter flavored dog biscuits that she likes as her reward for doing something good. As with Tom, she needs something crunchy to help keep her teeth clean and gums healthy, and the dog biscuits are perfect for this.

Our kids don’t ask for much. There is really nothing that they need, as all three are very thankful for their home and family. Our greatest desire is to see their bright eyes on Christmas morning as they dig into their stockings to see what you have left for them. They all wish you a Merry Christmas, and a big thanks, through their way of purring motors and wagging tails, and hope that you have a happy and healthy New Year.

Thanks, and God Bless,

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Unusual Christmas Angel

From Christmas, 2004. This year I have contributed to a project to supply warm, comfy shoes for the homeless in Atlanta. I often think about my friend at the underpass, and wonder if he is still there. He might be the recipient of a new pair of shoes this Christmas!

The rain is coming down hard, and the wind is whistling up Spring Street from under the I-20 / Spring Street interchange. What is left of Hurricane Jeanne is storming up and down Atlanta streets as I depart the office parking deck to head home for the day. The traffic line is longer than usual for this time of day, as people like me leave work a little early to try to beat the rush hour traffic mess. As I inch along Spring Street, my car tires make waves in the standing water, and I cautiously keep my eye on the vehicles in front of me. I see him ahead, standing under the bridge.

He is one of Atlanta’s homeless, and he has staked a claim on this small piece of downtown real estate. Most afternoons he is there, waving to passersby and crisply saluting the cars of commuters he recognizes. On the first few days of my commute, I notice that every now and then a motorist rolls down a window and passes a dollar bill or a fistful of coins into his hand or paper cup. I also notice his smile and wave and cheerful demeanor. After a week or so, he begins honoring me with his salute. The first time I hand him a dollar bill as I pass by, he flashes a broad yellow-toothed smile, and gives me a “God Bless you.” I mumble “God Bless You, too” back at him. Every day since, he waves to me even before my car is fully in the underpass, and then salutes me as I drive by, even if I don’t slow down to hand him a dollar or a handful of change. On days when he isn’t at his post, I miss him. During the days of Hurricane Frances and Ivan, he isn’t on duty under the bridge, and I find myself worrying about his well-being.

Today, a horrible, rainy, windy afternoon, I see him out there wearing a tattered canary yellow vinyl poncho, which is whipping around him in the wind, his backpack a protruding hump underneath the poncho. I quickly grab my wallet and search for a dollar bill. I slow down as I near him and roll down my window. “It isn’t much,” I say to him as I place the money into his hand. “God Bless you, have a nice day,” he says to me. Then, he honors me with his salute and a grin. “God bless you, too,” I smile as I turn my car onto the interstate entrance ramp in the pouring rain.

Some people may think the homeless people of our city are worthless deadbeats or hopeless addicts. I don’t know anything about my new friend. I only know that I feel blessed everyday as the recipient of his smile and salute, and I believe that an angel is watching me as I follow the cars in front of me onto the interstate to go home.

May you be blessed with your own special angels this Christmas season!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Sixth Happiness

My Christmas letter, 2003....... this is still my wish for my family and friends in 2008.

Not long ago, I awakened in the middle of the night and was unable to get back to sleep. I turned on the television, hoping it would lull me back to dreamland. I paused the remote control at the beginning of the movie, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring Ingrid Bergman. My channel surfing stopped, and I was wide awake, instead of getting sleepy as I had intended.

A Christmas memory flooded my consciousness, and I was 10 years old, sitting in the Decatur theater with my father. It was Christmas afternoon. All the gifts had been opened, Christmas dinner eaten, and dishes done. Daddy had told me to get my coat, we were going to see a matinee together! As I watched the movie this night from the comfort of my middle-of- the-night bed, I remembered the Decatur theater, seeing this movie with Daddy. The smell of buttery popcorn mingled with the musty velvet of the theater curtains and seats, the feel of a silk scarf placed carefully across the back of my seat so that I wouldn’t catch ringworm, the wonderful story unfolding on the large movie screen, the scent of Daddy’s Aqua Velva aftershave, and the special feeling of sharing an afternoon with my father, were as real to me as they had been that long-ago Christmas afternoon.

I remembered the movie and the beautiful Ingrid Bergman. As I watched, the story I had viewed as a child unfolded and I became caught up in the drama of the young missionary woman who traveled to China, believing that God was leading her there for a special purpose. She faced one obstacle after another, but she never faltered in her faith, and she wouldn’t let anyone stop her from pursuing the mission she believed to be her calling from God. It was a tale of adventure, a story of unconditional love, a saga of a woman accomplishing what no man of her day believed she could. But most of all, it was an unveiling of the Sixth Happiness in her life as she ministered to the people of China during an era of great change and challenging times. Tears filled my eyes, both from the emotional story and from the warm memory of that Christmas afternoon with Daddy.

And so it is, in the spirit of Christmas and with respect for the ancient Chinese blessing of Five Happinesses, I have adapted them for my Holiday greeting to my family and friends. As we celebrate Christmas, my gift to you is my desire and prayer for:
Long Life
Good Fortune
Benevolence and Tranquility
Good Health
Most of all, may you discover the Sixth Happiness, which is unique to you and your life. Whatever it is that gives you passion for living and makes your life whole is your personal Sixth Happiness. Embrace it!

May the love of family and friends, the warmth of home, and the promises of each new day be with you this Christmas and in the New Year!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Christmas Doll

As Christmas gets nearer, I am going to post some of my Christmas writings from the past few years. For some who know me, these may sound familiar to you, as you received them from me in the form of my Christmas letter. Here is the one from 2001.

I was five years old and Christmas was getting close. My mother told me that I needed to think about what I wanted Santa Claus to bring me, and that we would go downtown to sit on Santa’s lap once I decided what I would tell him. It didn’t take much thinking for me. All I wanted was a doll that could walk and talk. Nothing else interested me.

Mama dressed me up in my Sunday dress and shoes, and we walked to the trolley stop to ride the bus to Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta. Once there, we easily found the line of children waiting to talk to Santa, and took our place with them. My turn came, and I pranced right up to Santa, climbing onto his lap. When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him- a doll that walks and talks. Is there anything else you want Santa to bring you? No, thank you, just a doll that walks and talks.

From Santa’s lap, we made our way to Rich’s toy department. Mama and I began looking at dolls to see if we could find the one I wanted. A pretty saleslady approached us and offered to help. I told her what I wanted. She smiled and said, “Well, young lady, I’m not sure we have a doll that walks and talks, but I have lots of dolls that I can show you.” The first one she took off the shelf was a doll that could walk. She showed me how to hold onto its middle and move my hands to propel one leg and then the other forward. The doll was pretty, but she was stiff and couldn’t really walk. She wasn’t the one I wanted. The next doll was one that could talk. But her lips were painted onto her face, and I had to turn her completely upside down to make her chirp a whiny “Ma-ma” from somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach. That wasn’t talking. This doll wasn’t the one I wanted, either. I wanted a doll that could walk and talk. The saleslady showed me doll after doll, demonstrating what each one could do, but none was the doll I had asked Santa for. Finally, in desperation, she said she had one more, but she didn’t think this doll was right for me, either. Into my arms she placed a big soft baby doll, dressed in pink, with light brown painted hair and blue eyes with real hair eyelashes and eyelids that blinked open and shut as I moved her head. She was soft and plump, and the size of a real baby. She was beautiful! But she doesn’t walk or talk, both my mother and the saleslady reminded me. Thoughts of walking, talking dolls momentarily flew out of my mind as I held this wonderful baby doll. I gently handed her back to the saleslady, and she placed her back on the toy shelf. I had told Santa that I wanted a doll that walks and talks. I knew his elves could make a doll for me that walked and talked. As Mama and I left Rich’s, I counted on Santa to bring me what I really wanted for Christmas.

On Christmas morning, I was awake early to see what Santa had brought me. To my surprise, he had not left a doll that walks or talks under our tree, but the baby doll I had held so tenderly at Rich’s. I gently picked her up and carried her to Daddy’s rocking chair to rock and love until the rest of the family woke up to see what Santa had left at our house. I don’t remember wishing for a doll that walks and talks ever again!

My Christmas doll wasn’t the one I thought I wanted, but she was the one I needed, and she needed me. She couldn’t walk or talk, but that didn’t matter to me. I named her Cathy and loved and cared for her for many years, while she loved me back by simply being soft and huggable, and by gazing at me with those crystal blue blinking eyes.

My wish for us all this Christmas is that we remember that it isn’t getting what we think we want that makes our lives complete. What makes life wonderful is discovering the “baby dolls” we meet along our way who need our love. And it is in our response to them that we become more caring, giving, and compassionate human beings.