Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 17, 2010

Sharing Christmas stories

This time of year naturally brings to mind thoughts of decorations, gift giving, special foods and reuniting with family and friends. But for me, sharing special holiday stories is also an important part of the season.

For example, husband Art and the rest of his family often talk about their Uncle Art's shrewd business sense. For many years, Uncle Art would come home from his job as president of a paper company, exchange his suit for old clothing, and turn to selling Christmas trees from his yard.

Art's cousin Jeff recently recalled an oft-told story about what happened one year.

"As you know, in the tree business, it was usually feast or famine. Uncle Art would estimate how many trees would be needed for the season, sometimes guessing over or under. One year when trees were scarce, therefore selling at high prices, Art ran out a couple of days before Christmas. Instead of sitting back and enjoying his success, he devised a plan to get some more stock to be sold ...

"They lived close to Goodwill, where there was a special involving Christmas trees. Anyone who bought an item of clothing could get a tree for an additional $5. Art sent everyone in the family over to take advantage of the deal. They cleaned out Goodwill and brought a fresh stock of trees that Art resold for a substantial profit. The funniest part of this story was seeing the pride as Art told it."

Friend Laura celebrated childhood Christmases with her grandparents at their house on Christmas Eve.

"They had great big windows in the upstairs that faced the east ... the direction we were SURE Santa was coming from. So, after we'd eat our evening meal, the adults would send us three kids upstairs to wait for Santa. Each year, we'd hear his bells ring and down the stairs we'd run to see what he'd left us. As my sister and I grew older and our beliefs in Santa changed, my dad would tell us not to run our brother over on the stairs and let him find the gifts first. The year where I was really questioning Santa's existence, I was in the best viewing room upstairs. I saw the brightest red light I'd ever seen. I thought it was Rudolph. Just as it went out of sight, I heard the infamous bells ring downstairs. I got so excited, I wet my pants, ran my brother over, and fell down the stairs. My brother cried, my sister laughed, and I remained wet the rest of the evening!"

Art's cousin Claudia and her husband Karl work side by side on various holiday projects, including making cookies and preparing Christmas cards. In respect to the latter, Claudia usually writes and addresses the cards and then Karl takes over with the stamping and sealing.

"He had almost 3/4 of the 70 or so we usually send stamped and sealed when I went over to where he was working and noticed that he had affixed Christmas seals where the postage stamp should be. He just mistook the seal for the U.S. postage stamp. You can imagine how much work he had to do by carefully steaming the seal off each envelope. Since the cards were already sealed shut, he had to be careful not to let them be ruined by the steam. He did a great job with this and I just stayed out of the way!"

Art's second cousin Arden had her own treasure trove of Christmas stories. One I particularly enjoyed was about her newly-married grandparents. Will was a Lutheran minister who had accepted a post to a rural parish. Just before Christmas, farmers frequently gave their minister a present of a chicken or a duck. Will came home one evening to hear quite a ruckus in the parsonage attic. Wife Lydia, a city-raised young woman, had no idea what to do with the gifts from the parish farmers, so she just put them in the attic.

Arden is also responsible for making me smile due to something she did. Every year she would send some unusual Green Bay Packer ornament or trinket she would find for Art's mother Donna, the world's greatest Packer fan. Among them were shiny green and gold balls and little Packer figurines.

My favorite was a tiny prickly cactus in a cup, complete with Packers helmet on its little "head." While youngest daughter Katie, then 4, sat in Donna's lap and held the "cact-o-Packer," both were grinning from ear to ear as I snapped a picture. That was 14 years ago and I still smile every time I see the photo.

But the holiday season sometimes brings sadness as well. My first husband was fatally stricken with a brain aneurysm the day after Christmas 25 years ago. This year, about two weeks ago, we lost Arden. In her memory, I'd like to share another of her stories. It's neither funny nor set at Christmas time, yet I think it is a good one to close with as it has a lot to do with this time of year.

"When I was 6 or 7 years old we had a very, very poor family move into an empty house next door," she recalled. "Some windows in the house were broken out and there was no electricity or water. The family moved in sometime in spring of around 1938 and the Depression was not over yet. The father tried desperately to get work but with no luck.

"Dorothy was in my grade and Erwin was a year older. They always were in school, but they and their clothes were always dirty, I'm sure due to lack of water. One day my Dad took Dorothy and me to get ice cream. When we got to the ice cream shop my Dad gave Dorothy and me each a nickel to buy a cone. Dorothy wouldn't buy a cone; instead she insisted on buying her family a loaf of bread at a nearby store. Even though I was young, I never forgot that. That July while we were on vacation, the house was condemned, the family moved and the village demolished the house and we never heard from them again. However, I could never forget the loaf of bread. I went on to get a degree in social work and my territory was in the most poverty-stricken area of Chicago. I have always tried to help the poor or unfortunate ever since, especially for the holidays. I will never forget Dorothy. Without knowing it, she influenced my life forever."

Donna, Katie and the cact-o-Packer.

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