Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 22, 2017

Wishing you a not-quite-perfect Christmas

We all have holiday stories that have touched our hearts or tickled our funny bones. I’ve written about several from my own past. "Fire up the Christmas Tree!” was about a “Charlie-Brown” version college roommate Deb and I purchased for our dorm room that did both.

I’ve also described our family’s adventures getting just the right Christmas trees, making peppernuts with husband Art’s mother Donna, and helping daughters Mariya and Katie fashion homemade ornaments.

Others have also shared their stories of holiday fun and fiascos. This year, friend Joan said:

... one that stands out for me is the time my Dad had just put up our nice fresh Christmas tree in the stand. We were beginning to get the lights and ornaments ready when I noticed our little dog sniffing suspiciously at the tree. His back leg went up, but we managed to grab him before the damage was done. Guess the poor little guy thought we’d decided to add indoor facilities for him!

Uncle Stan has often said how much he and his brothers - my Dad Edgar and Uncle Bob - looked forward to Christmas. One year they received walnut shells - and were then so excited to find $1 bills folded inside. Recently, he recalled a time when he was disappointed:

I remember the Christmas when we lived in Redlands [California] for one year. We lived on the street across from the high school. One day when we were gone, there was a quart of milk on the front porch. Some transient came by and stole the milk and came in the back door and took our gifts of socks and handkerchiefs, which was quite a loss in the middle of the Depression.

He also remembered a “gift that kept on giving” long after he quit using it:

In Christmas of ‘42, I got a great sheepskin coat. When I milked, the milk would splatter on the coat. When I left for the Army in February of ‘43, Mom used it when she hung up the wash on cold days, so it got put to good use. I left it when I came to California and Mom continued to put it to good use ...

Some people like to “disguise” gifts so people can’t guess what they are. Friend Jean said her family always did that:

My family used to pride itself on creating packages that truly obscured what the present really was. So one year I bought and refinished a small antique writing desk for my mother. My son and I went to an old warehouse on north Topeka Boulevard and got a box that a washing machine had been delivered in. We refashioned it to fit the desk and wrapped the desk. We then put it in my hatchback little car and tied the lid because the desk was too big for the lid to go shut. We drove from Topeka to Robinson in zero-degree weather with the heater going full blast to stay sort of warm. We put the box beside the Christmas tree and for the next two days everyone was bewildered by what might be in that box. After mother opened it, we all decided it was truly the biggest surprise package ever created in the family.

After Mom died in 2016, I tried to make sure each grandchild received ornaments she had put on her Christmas tree. Mariya chose a family photo ornament that Mom had “doctored.” In a time before PhotoShop, she cut family members’ heads out of other photos and pasted them onto a photo of a group of us at her dinner table. It became a family joke, but it now has a place of prominence on Mariya’s tree:

I love the picture. It’s hilarious because the proportions and lighting are so far off that the peopled pasted in the background seem quite terrifying. But it also clearly represents Grandma’s commitment to family. Even if you weren’t there at the time, she’d make sure you were counted using any creative methods at her disposal.

Art’s second cousin Arden, who has been gone for several years, had some of the best Christmas stories. Ten years ago, she shared the following one with me:

My first father-in-law was a pastor who was a great humanitarian. He was pastor of the Assyrian Congregational Church of Chicago for 47 years. He started it after coming to this country alone as a young man. I loved to listen to his stories from the old country ... The church needed someone to play Santa Claus for the children’s party, but no one could be found. My brother-in-law was a very good jazz piano musician and had many friends in Chicago... He finally was able to get a musician friend named Haig to play Santa. Haig was a little Armenian guy who weighed all of 90 pounds. Haig was in his twenties, relatively emaciated-looking, about 5' 2," but a tremendous saxophone player. The Santa suit hung on him like a blanket, but an oversized pillow fastened tightly with a rope and dozens of safety pins did the trick, and I will say Santa was sort of presentable, in a strange way. Though he was nervous about his role, "Santa Haig" entered the room to the audience of dozens of anxious children giving a mean rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on his sax. Never mind Santa was little, skinny with a few safety pins showing, in the eyes of the kids he was wonderful. He was like the Pied Piper with the kids parading around the room after him. Needless to say, the party was a great success!

These and similar stories make me smile a bit. While we always try to create the picture-perfect holiday, it seems as if the not-so-perfect ones are the ones remembered and retold over the years. So, I hope you all have a merry and not-quite perfect Christmas season.

Left: the Mom Edla-created ornament with (l-r) brother Dave's wife Linda, Dave, Nephew Paul and wife Rachel, Gloria's head on Daughter Katie's shoulder, Edla behind Katie, Nephew Michael, Mariya, Art, and Edgar; right: Mariya with the ornament.

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Other columns from 2017 may be found at: 2017 Index.
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