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 

Thinking of My Dad

I'm in Utah staying with my daughter.  My granddaughter is downstairs making a Father's Day card for her father.  Since my father is no longer living, I no longer have the opportunity to tell him how important he was to me, or how important he remains in my life.

A Tribute To My Father

A Photo of My Father
A Peace Rose from My Garden

The day I was born, my father had to drive my mother to the hospital and then leave for Denver so he could be processed into the army.  At age thirty, he was drafted.  Uncle Sam still needed men, so despite his age and the fact that he had a wife, a child, and another child on the way, he was called up and shipped out.  He liked to say Hitler gave up when he heard my father had joined the army.  In truth, he never went overseas to fight.  He spent his time stateside working as a clerk.  He missed the first year of my life.  I'm sure I missed a lot not having him there also.  I've always loved this photo taken when my father came home from the service in 1946.

It seems difficult to write a narrative about this man who was my father.  I cannot be objective on the subject because I am his daughter and I adored him.  I thought he was terribly funny.  He was funny.  He had a dry wit and could think of the greatest puns.  He had the greatest sense of humor and told the best stories.  He always made me laugh.

I could listen to his stories forever as he drove through the beautiful mountain passes of Colorado.  He knew so much Colorado history.  He loved his native state of Colorado and taught us to protect her beauty.  We spent many happy hours camped along beautiful clear Colorado streams in the summer.  We were taught to always leave our campsite better than we found it.  We were taught not to leave a trace that we had been there.

My father was a reader.  He loved to read.  I learned to love to read because I wanted to be a member of his club.  Reading was such an important part of his life.  He could never understand people who didn't like to read.  He always had a book at his side.  As he got older and suffered from diabetes, he was so grateful for the lending library in Denver who sent him large print books on a very regular basis.

He also liked to write.  He wrote long letters to his children and his mother.  He wrote family histories.  He compiled family genealogy.   He wrote narratives about his childhood memories in Colorado Springs.  He had a large correspondence that he maintained with family members throughout the country who also worked on family genealogies.  I wonder if he would have written a blog.  I wonder what he would think of mine.  He submitted some of his writing about various topics to be kept in the archives of his alma mater, Colorado College.

Actually, Daddy never graduated from Colorado College.  He quit after marriage during the depression when he only had a few hours left to complete.  I don't know if he ever regretted quitting college with so few hours left to complete.  He went to work for the railroad and worked there his entire life.  He started as a clerk and retired as regional manager.  He was always grateful for the good life the railroad gave him, and the good retirement.  He followed his father's footsteps in working for the railroad.  His father was a telegrapher.  I am a railroader's daughter and have always loved the way my life was intertwined with railroad history and lore.  I love my memories of growing up riding on trains.

My father was a generous man.  He was one to always want to help those who might have a legitimate need.  The day before he died, we were gathered in his room talking to a nurse who was sharing her story of fighting cancer and how hospice was such a Godsend to many.  She told of her struggle to get well and to keep working.  We thought Daddy was not aware of what was being said that night.  When the nurse left the room, he said, "Mother, make sure you write a check as a gift to that nurse.  She needs some help."

Daddy was a strong Christian.  He had been a drinker, had a temper, and swore like a trooper when we were younger.  In his early 60's, he gave his life back to the Lord.  The transformation was obvious to all who knew him.  One of my favorite memories is remembering how mother would read the Bible to him every night before he went to bed in the last years of his life.  When he died, he was ready.  He kept saying he wanted to go and be with the Lord.

He was not a perfect man.  He scared off every boyfriend I ever had, or tried to scare them off.  He had a short fuse.  He was demanding.  I always said his bark was worse than his bite.

He worked hard.  He earned a good living and provided well for us.  He was not overly demonstrative.  He did not express his emotions of tenderness.  He was a product of his generation.  Men went to work and earned the money.  Women stayed home and raised the kids.  He expected good behavior out of us, and I lived in fear of disappointing him and bringing on his wrath.

Some of my most precious memories are of his final days on this earth.  I spent the last days at his bedside.  My sisters and my oldest son were there much of the time.  It was a blessing to be there and try to ease those last days that he spent in a body that had been broken down by diabetes and congestive heart failure.

I held those hands that I had always loved a lot of time.  I tried to memorize how they looked so I would remember all they had done for me throughout my life.  They had dug out a basement below our house.  They had remodeled more than one house that we lived in.  They had painted many walls and pounded many nails.  They had caught many fish.  They had held many books.  They had written many letters, memos, and narratives.  They had typed papers in the army on old fashioned upright typewriters and learned to write on a computer.  They had spanked my bottom on a few occasions.  They had been manicured by me when I was younger.  I loved to give manicures, and he was a willing subject.  I miss holding my daddy's hand.

I long ago forgave him of his shortcomings.  I've tried to live my life in such a way as to make him proud.  When I was working, I always used him as my role model on how to conduct myself in the workplace.

He was my daddy.  I was his Sally Lou.  I remember when he died that I was filled with absolute certainty that he loved me, that he was proud of me, and that seemed to be enough for both of us.
Graduation Day
B.S. in Business Administration
Mother & Daddy at My Side

A Cousin Is A Ready Made Friend for Life

"A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost."
Author: Marion C. Garretty

I spent most of the late morning today on the phone with my cousin Donna.  We hadn't had a long conversation for several months.  She'd been out of state, and I'd been working.  There hasn't been time for lunch or a long chat.  We had a lot to catch up on, and so we did.  I am so reminded of the quote above whenever we are together.  She truly is a little bit of my childhood that can never be lost.

Donna, my cousin who is and was my ready made friend for life,was born in the same hospital, the old Bethel Hospital in Colorado Springs, just days after I was.  She says that her mother took over the same room my mother had just vacated to take me home when she was born.  Our earliest days were spent together.  We learned to walk, to talk, to ride bikes, to fix our hair, to cook, to do just about everything together.  I barely have a childhood memory that does not have her in it.  Most early photos of me include her in the photo.

We lived within a few blocks from each other.  Our church, our school, our grandmother, the grocery store and the drugstore were all located in that four block sphere of our early existence.

The photo above was taken on our first Easter.  My mother and I are on the left side of the photo.  My brother is in the center.  My Aunt Katherine and my cousin Donna are on the right side.  The photo is taken in the front yard of my grandmother house.  Across the street (you can't see it) is the church where our parents were married and where we went to church.  Next to the church was the school where we attended just as our parents had done before us.

I remember many birthday parties, and family trips to the mountains together.  We picnicked  in the Garden of the Gods together, and scurried up the side of sandstone bluffs together on childhood picnics to Austin Bluffs.  We played for hours in the stream where we built dams when we went camping to our favorite camping spot in the Colorado Mountains.  We called this place, "The Green Spot."  Oh how we loved this idyllic spot where we slept under a beautiful canopy of a sky filled with millions of beautiful stars.  It was here where we tried to pick up the radio station KOMA 101 out of Oklahoma City from the car radio parked at our family camping spot when we were teenagers.

We spent endless summer days playing at our grandparents summer house in Victor, Colorado.  That was a magical place that fed our childhood play acting where we pretended to be pioneers.  All the cousins slept together in the back bedroom where we giggled ourselves to sleep at night.  Or, other times we would try to scare each other with ghost stories.

Other long summer afternoons were spent swinging on the front porch of her house watching the rain come down while we told stories or talked.  Other times, we would go to the library to check our beloved Little House on the Prairie books.  Or, we would play kick the can at night at my house.  Our summer night treats would be homemade root beer that my father would make.  He would bottle his root beer in old beer bottles.  We loved sitting on the front porch drinking from those bottles in hopes we would shock the neighbors!  Or, we would make ourselves wonderful root beer floats and decorate them with olives.  (Yuk!)  We even ate off the same cookie the day before she came down with the chicken pox.  For some reason, I didn't get sick.

When we were in junior high, we walked to school together.  Those were the days when girls wore bouffant skirts.  Our nylon net slips were starched in sugar water and layered under our full skirts.  We suffered for beauty's sake at school.  Those slips were scratchy!  Then, we'd slip them off and carry them home because we couldn't bear walking the long distance in those uncomfortable things.  Perhaps, we only did this once because when our mother's found out, we weren't allowed to do such a thing again.

We experimented with make up, drooled over Seventeen magazine's fashionable clothes, checked the top ten pop tunes every week, or watch American Bandstand together during our early teen years.  We wore our first formals together when we joined Rainbow Girls.

On the way home from junior high, there was a drugstore with an old-fashioned soda fountain.  We'd stop in there to buy a fountain made cherry coke on our home so we could ogle the handsome, soda jerk who had beautiful blue eyes as he prepared our drinks for us.  Later in life, my cousin took me to a pharmacy in town so I could see our childhood crush.  Now, a pharmacist, he was still working in a drug store, but I wondered what we had seen in him back then.

We went to kindergarten through ninth grade together.  We went to college together.  We married and both had five children.  In our early adult years we did not live near each other.  Nearly twenty-five years ago, I returned to Colorado Springs where she was still living.  She found me a house to live in just about a block from her house.  Our Uncle Charles was just a block away.  Our children went to school together.  Then she moved to Phoenix shortly after.

Now, we live near each other again.  We now do such things as talk about how to apply for medicare or adjust to retirement.  I guess you can say we've come full circle.  Only my mother and an aunt remain of the old guard.  All our aunts and uncles and grandparents are gone.  I think at this juncture in life,  we tend to treasure our cousins more than ever because they join us in keeping a part of our childhood alive.

Donna & Sally's First Family Christmas
Donna is held by my Aunt Katherine and her father Uncle Don is holding Aunt K.  My grandmother is is beside my mother who holds me.  My Uncle Charles, home on leave from being a paratrooper in WWII, is holding his wife Betty.  In front are my Aunt Carolyn and Aunt Phyllis.  Phyllis is holding my brother Rell.  My father, serving in the Army and my Uncle Bob serving in the Marines, were not home on leave when the photo was taken.

A few years ago we went to San Diego together for a week.  We had such fun.  I'm so glad we did that.  New memories were made.  Just the two of us were able to have some new adventures and recall the old ones.

Donna and Sally
San Diego
Donna, though technically a cousin, is not just a dear friend, she is like a sister to me.  She is now walking through the difficult task of helping to care for her daughter who is fighting a two-year long battle with melanoma.  She listens to me as I talk about my daughter's death and illness.  We are navigating difficult waters together.  We are in places we never could have imagined in our carefree childhoods, but I am grateful we forged those bonds long ago because they seem even more priceless than ever before as we get older.