Since it is Christmas, I am going off on a little rabbit trail. A good friend of mine asked me about Christmas stories I remember. Here are a few thoughts about Christmas when I was a youngster. If you have some of your own, please feel free to respond with comments.
The Christmas memories I have as a child were always touched in some way by our little country church. Mt. Hope church was located on a high hill about five miles from our farm. On a clear day, we have no trouble seeing it from our front yard. (And isn't Mt. Hope a beautiful and appropriate name for a church?)
This little white church was surrounded by corn or soybean fields, with a big grass lot that was either used for parking or for sports. We had wonderful times playing with our friends on that field. My brother and I often joined the Pitt boys, the Underwood boys, and of course, the Rodenburg girls (who were both good athletes and the best sports of all), as well as others in softball marathons.
Sometimes we got some adults to join us, too. Otherwise, they were content to visit about crops, the latest news, and the struggles of life. Sometimes they would come out and watch. They cheered good hits by both sides. It was a very affirming environment. I still treasure those times.
But Christmas was always special. Though we may have 50 folks on a typical Sunday, the Christmas eve service was always well-attended. The church was often full, with extra chairs in the back. It gave you a warm feeling, particularly in the darkness of the country, to come upon that church and to hear the sounds of people within. The candlelight part of the service, when we sang Silent Night, was always deep and meaningful.
As young kids, we all had to memorize a verse or poem of some kind, and then we had to “say our piece” (as my father called it). That required quite a lot of rehearsal at home to get it just right. But just in case our memories faded, our teachers had the “piece” available and would coach us. The littlest ones often got coached quite a lot. (Like – repeat after me …) But there was always the precocious little fellows who got it right every time. (Yes, I am sad to admit, I was one of those little SOBs.)
And of course, there was always the chance to dress as a shepherd, wise man, or angel (only girls were angels, though). We had some great costumes. (In fact, I remember in high school my best pal Curtis and I decided to go to a party dressed as wise men, and we used the church costumes. I suppose it was fitting that we were not exactly babe magnets at that party, since we were using church property and all.) And we celebrated the Christmas story in our own way – much like they did on Charlie Brown Christmas.
But the best part came after, when we all adjourned to the church basement for refreshments. Cookies, punch, coffee, and sandwiches were always there, and we ate our fill of many delicacies that only country church women know fully how to make. That was always such fun, and it was always good. But this was still not the best part: Santa Claus would always come. This was a great mystery to us as small children, as we thought it quite fantastic that Santa would stop in to our little church.
Later we figured out that Santa was our neighbor, Stanley Thomas, who milked cows on a farm down the road from us. But that did not detract from the fun one iota. Santa (or Stanley) always had a few jokes to tell, which made the adults laugh. But then he distributed sacks to each kid there. Each sack contained peanuts, candy, and an orange. We loved getting them, and we ate that candy for days afterward. Of course, we had to share some of the stuff with our dad, who liked the peanuts and candy, too. I don’t know who made up those sacks of candy, but they were sure appreciated each year. And it was extra-special having them come directly from Santa. I'm sure the Ladies' Aid put them together, and by now many of those dear women have passed on. But they sure made some kids happy for a time.
Thereafter, we were excited to go home, because at that time we always opened presents and had a surprise visit from Santa. Santa always came to our house while we were at church. When I was a little fellow, that meant my older brother, John, would stay behind and get things out before he went to church. It was great to come home and find presents. Santa never let us down, even if there was no snow. My mom always reassured us that he used a helicopter when there was no snow. I never quite bought it (remember - I was one of those precocious little SOBs), but it was still fun to believe. Mom ultimately explained that Santa was really more like a spirit, and that seemed quite plausible. Something had to explain the nearly simultaneous visits to all these people on one night.
I think my favorite gift I remember was our race car set. My brother Myron and I were only about 6 or 7 at the time, and we were not really ready for this big of a set. However, my dad really had fun with it that year. My older brother had it all set up really cool, just like on the package. It was awesome, though I remember that he and Dad ended up playing with it quite a lot that night, while Myron and I watched. It was still a sweet experience.
I hope each of you can recall some good Christmas memories this year, as well as make some new ones. Thanks for reading. We'll be back to serious stuff on another day.