"" Writer's Wanderings: December 2004

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Christmas Memories 4

John Grisham was not original in his idea of "skipping Christmas". A year or two before his book came out, we looked at our options for gift giving and feasting and found that most of it would be done before the week of the 25th. Our kids were all on their own, some with their own kids now, so we decided to try a warm Christmas vacation.

Bob found a wonderful ship, the Paul Gauguin, in French Polynesia. (Everyone always says "Tahiti" but we were constantly corrected. Tahiti is only one island in French Polynesia.) We arrived two days earlier and stayed at a hotel to give us some time to catch up on the time difference.

Our room was in a thatch roofed bungalow out over the water. Below us in the pristine water was a reef active with a variety of tropical marine life we could observe just by opening a few slats in the walls or stepping out onto the veranda.

Once settled, we donned our bathing suits, found two lounge chairs in the shade and settled in to read and enjoy the beautiful warm breezes that drifted across the water. There were few people around to disturb us and it wasn't long before we fell asleep. We hadn't counted on sleeping long, nor on the sun moving across the sky and changing the position of the protective shade. We awoke just shy of being cooked lobsters but refreshed and ready to explore.

We found a small dive operation with two divemasters who spoke French and little English. Thankfully the hand signals for diving are universal. The dive was not so remarkable but we were able to renew our skills and feel comfortable in the water again, ready to take on some serious diving from the ship's offerings.

The Paul Gauguin was a beautiful but small ship. It was full of families celebrating Christmas away from home. I wondered if I was going to regret our decision when Christmas day came.

Each morning, we found ourselves looking out at lush green tropical forest that covered the sides of volcanic mountains. We explored the islands, sometimes on a shore excursion and other times on our own. At Moorea we rented a crazy little car and drove around the island. Each turn in the road revealed a new breathtaking view. It was amazing how God could cram so much beauty into such a little place.

Christmas morning arrived. I had packed little Christmas stockings filled with hard candies to give to our room steward and our waiters in the dining room. I found our room steward in the hallway and handed her a stocking. Her face lit up and many "thank you"s poured out but the real excitement came when I handed her a second stocking and said she should give it to a friend. She was like a child in her excitement to find her friend--more excited to be able to give than to receive.

As we relaxed on a warm sandy beach under the shade of palm trees rustling in the breeze and watched Santa in red shorts and barefeet as he handed out his treats to the kids, I thought about the meaning of the day. It didn't matter so much where you were, what traditions you followed, or whether it snowed or not. What mattered was the spirit of giving that was realized in that first Christmas gift of a small baby to a world in need.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Christmas Memories 3

The first Christmas after my mother died was a particularly difficult one. In the tradition of her usual pre-Christmas activity, she had begun buying gifts for us sometime in late August. We had a new sailboat and she decided that we would all have to have jackets with our sailboat's name embroidered on them. She died in September.

I knew that gift was coming. Her best friend who had done the embroidery had called to tell me they were done. What should she do with them? "Mom would want us to have them," I told her and went and picked them up.

We invited Dad to go with us to our Christmas Eve service. Normally we would have joined the two of them and my brother and his family at their home after our service. I didn't want him sitting home alone waiting for us. Dad was never a church-goer. Not even for Christmas and Easter. Surprisingly, he agreed to go with us.

I stood between my dad and my husband as we began to sing the familiar Christmas hymns. I suddenly realized my father was singing! Not only was he singing (I only remembered him whistling--never singing) but he knew the melody and the words. He caught me staring at him.
"What?" he said like a teenager caught in the act. "I know these songs." He turned back to the hymnal and continued singing as if he did that every week.

Later there were the tears when we opened the presents and donned our jackets. "Silver Reflections" was embroidered across our backs. It is an appropriate name for our sailboat. It's gray and it's reflection looks silvery in the water. But the memories I have of my dad singing in the Christmas Eve service are "golden reflections".

Friday, December 10, 2004

Christmas Memories 2

That first Christmas with all five kids was very special. The twins were 12 and Andy was 9. Our newest additions, Cheryl, 6, and Don, 5, had arrived at our home permanently in October. The three older boys were still getting used to this "sister stuff". They knew how to relate to Don--he was a boy--but they gave Cheryl space, not ignoring her, just allowing her to do her thing until they could figure out what that "thing" was. I don't know that they ever have.

We had moved Christmas up a day to Saturday. That morning, Andy awoke early as usual (his record time was around 4:30 a.m.). He waited a decent amount of time, opening his stocking gifts while the rest slept, then began the process of getting the rest of the household up by waking Don. It didn't take long for the rest of us to be up and into the family room.

We have an orderly process of unwrapping gifts one at a time starting with the youngest. Don opened his and was immediately enthralled. Cheryl opened hers next and the enthusiasm and excitement has yet to be matched by anything I've ever seen. As they each played with their gift, I looked to the older boys to watch them scurry to the tree for theirs. To my amazement they sat in awe of Cheryl and Don, mesmerized by their expressions of joy over Santa's gifts to them.

I heard a sniffle and turned in the direction of the sound. Ron (one of the twins) wiped his nose on his sleeve. I chose not to correct his behavior. It was better left unnoticed at that age that he had been so touched emotionally. A moment later, composure regained, he observed, "Wow, this really is their first real Christmas."

Moments later, paper flew and boxes spilled their contents of goodies as the rest of the treasure was discovered under the tree. But that one moment in time when love became the focus of Christmas will always be treasured in my heart.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Christmas Memories

The first Christmas with Cheryl and Don in our home (see Williamsburg Christmas blog) was an exciting one. Cheryl and Don had been in 7 foster homes within 6 years and we were the third home they came to that year. Cheryl's anxiety level rose as Christmas neared and over and over we heard how Santa never came to see them.

Each Christmas they were returned to their biological home but it was social services that provided a truck and a doll sometime during the season. Cheryl recalled asking to hang stockings one year and being told "Santa doesn't come to this house." That stuck in a six year old's memory.

My reassurances that "Santa always comes to this house," seemed to go unheeded so I decided to enlist a friend who did Santa visits every year for the neighborhood. Christmas was on a Sunday that year so we decided to move our celebration to Saturday morning. We'd be able to attend church without a fuss from the kids and it fit in with our Santa plans as well.

Friday night, Santa rang our doorbell and Cheryl was so ecstatic she couldn't talk--really something for a "motor mouth." After opening the small gift he brought, he told Cheryl and Don, "I know where you are going to be now. This is your 'forever family'. You moved so much before I had trouble finding you. That won't happen again. But you better get to bed 'cause Santa can't work his magic if you're awake."

Of course my husband couldn't let Rich off the hook that easily so he quipped, "Hey, Santa. Who's going to clean up that mess the reindeer leave on the roof?"

Before Rich could give his come-back, Cheryl jumped up and down yelling, "I will! I will!" She didn't want any kinks in this Christmas.

Needless to say, the kids were in bed early--even the older guys--and Santa worked his magic that night.

Williamsburg Christmas 3

Sticking with the traditional, the colors I chose each year to decorate our home were always red and green. We had green and red stockings for each of our three boys thanks to my mother's new found interest in knitting Christmas stockings on her knitting machine. She was using the extra money she made selling them to pad the Christmas account she used for the grandkids.

When Cheryl and Don joined the family, it was time for two new stockings. Don still wasn't speaking well but nodded when Grandma pointed to green for his stocking. Cheryl, never one to lack decisiveness, blurted out her choice immediately. "Purple!"

"Mom," I pleaded, "you can't be serious. Not purple."

"Purple is what she wants. Purple is what she gets." It was spoken with the authority of a grandmother/mother.

For many years Cheryl's stocking was the centerpiece of our mantel hanging amidst all the greenery and fruit and, of course, the red and green stockings of the boys. I was writing an essay about our first Christmas one day and looking for a lesson in it all. It came as God's answers always do, quietly and with great impact.

Purple, Karen, is the color of royalty. Every year you hang that purple stocking, you celebrate the birth of a king.

Monday, December 06, 2004

A Williamsburg Christmas 2

My wonderful husband got into the Williamsburg Christmas decorating craze too. He used the pattern in the Colonial Williamsburg Decorates for Christmas by Libby Hodges Oliver to make a board that fit above the front door for me to cover in fruit and greens. The best way to describe it is to think of an oval cut in half lengthwise, then covered with nail brads every 2-3 inches. You wire the greens flat against the back, stick a pineapple on the nails in the middle and surround it with apples (and sometimes lemons). It looks beautiful when finished and was always a point of conversation when we had guests.

The problem with the beautiful display came during the season that our weather fluctuated between near spring temperatures and freezing wintry days. The fruit took a beating from all the temperature changes. On the night of our Sunday School Christmas party it was a little warmer and as I began to greet guests, I noticed they were wiping something from their heads as they entered. It wasn't raining or snowing, I thought curiously. Then about the fourth set of guests to arriver were closer friends who were willing to admit that they were getting "juiced" waiting for me to answer the door.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

A Williamsburg Christmas

Last night I spoke to a group of Home Economics teachers about creating Williamsburg Christmas decorations with fresh greens, fruit, and dried materials. As I demonstrated, I recounted some of my experiences with my own Williamsburg decorations from years past.

The year we adopted our two youngest children who were five and six at the time, I made my usual arrangement of fresh greens and fruit on the dining room table. The greens formed a gentle S shape radiating from a grouping of candles in the center. Along the greens I had placed apples, pears, oranges, pinecones, and mixed nuts. Halfway through the Christmas season, I would replace the fruit with fresh and use the old in a fruit salad. (We always ate healthy during the Christmas season to keep my decorations looking fresh.)

One night we were expecting guests for dinner. As I began to set the table. I noticed something different about the fruit in my arrangement. I blinked. Sure enough, someone had taken a bite out of each piece and placed it back on the table again. There was no time to replace the fruit so I just turned it over and hoped my guests wouldn't examine it later.

I was pretty sure I knew who the culprits were although there's no telling if my other three boys might have done it to be funny. Whoever did it created a wonderful Christmas memory that makes me smile to this day. Actually, I remember smiling a lot that evening every time I thought about the little teeth marks hidden in the underside of the fruit before me.
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