Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 16, 2016

Special Christmas images

“What is the first image that pops into your head when I say ‘Christmas?’” husband Art asked.

It was a scene from when I was a little girl. Mom jingled the bells on her apron while we were around the tree opening gifts. She announced she thought Santa had come, and we raced to the porch to see the gifts he had left. It was magical to think that Santa had come and gone without us hearing him.

“Any others?” Art asked after I had described that memory from my childhood.

I then mentioned an incident from a few years ago when Art had just unloaded our Christmas tree, but couldn’t get the pick-up truck back up the ice-covered driveway. He decided to go around the house to a place where the incline was smaller. As he veered away from the septic tank, he got stuck in a snow drift perilously close to the edge of the steep hill behind our house. He ordered the girls and me into the truck bed to add weight over the wheels. After an hour of maneuvering, the truck was finally liberated. While NOT amused at the time, now it’s among my favorite memories of the holiday.

"So why did you ask?" I added.

He said when he awoke that morning, he had thought about what images come to his mind. While so much of the holiday seems to focus on gifts, the memories that endure rarely seem to be about them.

His answer made me think of the many Christmases we spent in Wisconsin with Art’s Mom Donna. Two scenes from her childhood she’d frequently share came from when she was very young. The first was riding back from her grandparents' farm in a sleigh and simultaneously hating and liking the cold air in her face while she snuggled next to her parents under the large bear-skin rug across their laps. The other was of their small table-top Christmas tree lit with candles on the branches. The stand played music while it turned the tree. But one year the turning prompted a decoration to fall onto one of the candles and lit the tree on fire. Fortunately, her dad was there and he quickly extinguished it.

A stand-out memory I have of Donna had to do with presents. I can still clearly recall her saying, “It wasn’t like now when kids get the sun and the moon and half of creation. Each of us got one gift and some candy. That was it!”

While daughter Mariya mentioned the incident with the truck too, she also thinks about heading to our basement family room where Santa leaves his gifts by the fireplace. Another memory is going into the cold and searching for a live tree every year and later helping Art carry it up our back stairway.

Daughter Katie also thinks about trees - the big live ones that take up a big chunk of space in our living room and the one at her Grandma Vaughan’s. She also remembers Donna’s big box of leftover wrapping paper, the stockings by our fireplace and my nativity collection.

Sister Gaila mentioned Mom’s apron bells too, although neither of us can ascertain that the bells we heard were actually on Mom’s apron. The old-fashioned candy in brown paper bags we always were given after the church Christmas program is something that comes to mind frequently for her.

Her daughters Gabriela and Larisa always go to their home in Bolivia for the holidays. The dancing at midnight to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus is a standout memory for Larisa, and Gabriela remembers playing cards and putting puzzles together in the quiet days following the holiday hubbub.

Since Art was the one who started this, I asked what he recalls.

One image is related to Grandpa selling Christmas trees. One year, I cut a small one for myself in the woods of the farmer where we bought the trees. I also think of the vacant lot next to my grandparents' home where Grandpa sold them. In a few minutes after we'd arrive with the first load, it was transformed into a small evergreen forest in the heart of the city. And I think of trimming Grandma and Grandpa’s tree because everyone else was too busy to do it.

Another of Art’s memories had to do with his Dad’s work hauling the mail between the trains and the post office. As it got closer to Christmas, the mail would grow and soon the overflow packages arrived in town in boxcars rather than in the usual Railway Post Office cars. He said every year at least one box of Avon products was crushed, and the concentrated odor from the leaking perfume in the closed cars made it hard to breathe while unloading.

Nephews Paul and Michael both mentioned the Christmas Eve candlelight service at their church. Paul said he gets chills when he thinks about the congregation singing “Silent Night” a cappella. The $1 bill in a tiny crocheted stocking from their Great-Grandmother Nuss was another memory for Paul. Michael recalls the oranges at the bottom of their stockings.

Paul’s wife Rachel said her mom’s figurines of carolers and the felt Christmas tree advent calendar are among her first Christmas thoughts. Michael’s wife Kristina thinks of the Manischewitz wine in her grandmother’s red Cape Cod glasses and her grandmother’s cheese dip and sugar cookies.

“Notice my memories center around food,” she said.

Friend Pat also mentioned food - especially cheese popcorn.

After thinking about these special memories people had shared, I was struck by the great variety. So I’ll close with one from my friend Linda that is also quite unlike any of the others.

I remember my dad putting shoes on his hands to make footprints in the fireplace so I could believe just a little longer ... the family prayer before breakfast when we circle the table and hold hands ... the ancient nativity scene with the three-legged sheep and the one-eared donkey and telling the kids "Baby Jesus doesn’t care as long as we remember.”

Mariya and Art carrying our tree to the deck stairs.

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