> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
Which Christmas do you remember most? Although I usually fill my stocking with stress during the month of December, my Christmases have been good ones. During my childish years, I made out the list knowing that some years Santa’s production was limited when monetary policy caused an economic recession. I also knew that reindeers occasionally caught the flu, thus restricting the amount of toys they could pull. It was a bit perplexing though, to associate the extent of Santa’s jolliness with my behavior as it related to the good overcoming the evil within me.
Then rather suddenly, I grew from a child to conceiving them. For many years, December was a trying time fathering my four little children, who lost sleep in anticipation of a sleigh landing on our roof. To prove my love for them — more than other parents loved theirs — I stacked presents around our tall tree that reached up to where the angel stood. It takes a lot of love, too, for a father to climb a ladder in blustery-wintry weather to wire a plastic Santa to the chimney. The year my wife said, “His whiskers blew off,” was the year I purchased inflatable farm animals and a flimsy manger to adorn brown grass on our lawn.
When your children have children, Christmas gets worse, because the grandmother thinks the love for your children should double for their children. The grandfather then gives up his life of peace to show his love for the little children, who, when Christmas bells ring, shout and jump up on him. Then when he takes the holly down, the grandfather jumps for joy and shouts along with the bells still ringing in his head.
Which Christmas do I remember most? I think it was my 12th during the peacetime right after World War II. At that age, or thereabouts, it is the time a boy begins to put aside childish things, because of the natural desire to become a man. And at about that age, particularly at Christmas time, a boy begins to realize that it might be better to give than to receive.
Every Christmas, we had a program at our little country church and decorated a tall cedar tree. It stood in a corner away from the big stove in the center of the church where we huddled during freezing times. During the Christmas program, they turned out the lights and lit candles in each windowsill to provide a soft glow. It made you think of the gentle light under the stars where the shepherds tended their flock.
We’d sing a few carols before the preacher read what the Bible said about the birth. And then all the children and we older ones gave a little play up on the platform where the preacher preached. I remember before we went to the church that night my mother said, “Here, open this.” It was a green sweater with white reindeer on it. I put it on and was so proud when I went up there to give my part. I don’t know why, but it made me feel like I was growing up.
At the end, they passed out the treats, which Elmer at his store fixed for all the children in the neighborhood. He put an apple, an orange and a banana in each paper sack, and he put in a handful of peanuts, some candy kisses and a peppermint stick in each one. I remember sitting there holding my treat when we sang “Silent Night” before we left. When we sang, “All is calm, all is bright,” it made me feel that it really was.
We drove home in a cold, clear night. There was snow on the ground, just enough to reflect a soft light from the stars. It was still and silent as we drove into the lane at our house. What made me feel even better was that I had a big paper sack filled with eight other smaller sacks of treats. They were for the kids who lived in the two little houses back on our ridge. They were our tenant farmer’s kids, who didn’t go to church because they didn’t have good clothes, and didn’t feel right being there.
Now they’ll have a little Christmas, too, when I take the treats through the snow to them early Christmas day. Why that Christmas won’t leave my mind is I remember how silent and calm it was that night.
Contact Terry Cummins at TLCTLC@AOL.com