Follow the Star

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We were sitting on the front steps and he was pointing out different stars to me. He knew several of the constellations; Orion, Ursa Major, also known as the great bear, and Leo, the Lion.

No matter how hard I tried, I could only make out the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper.

The North Star shined the brightest of them all. It points north. Find the Little Dipper and the bright star at the end of its handle. If you ever lose your way, just follow the star.

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I had seen him just the night before outside my bedroom window. It was cold and there were lights in the backyard. It turned out my Dad and another man were putting together a swing set. When I asked him the next morning what he was doing out there he told me that he was just being Santa’s helper.

“Even Santa Claus needs help sometimes,” he told me. Like all things he said at that point in my life, I believed him.

The next spring, sitting by a stream while camping, he told me that if I got lost in the woods, to follow the water downstream. It will always help you find your way back, he said.

Walk downstream and follow the star. In the space of one year, I had learned the very foundation of my life ahead. I didn’t know it then, but the knowledge that you can always find your way back empowers you to take chances and embrace, rather than fear the future.

Christmas was always a time I loved being around my father. My childhood memories of Christmas include finding just the right cedar tree in the woods. We’d bring it home where you always put the “hole in the tree” against the wall. It filled the room with that smell that only a live tree can provide.

He taught me how to shuck oysters and Christmas would always find us with a bag to share with family and friends.

We would hunt during the holidays. I never was as good a shot as he was. He said the same thing about him and his own father. As I got older, a standard gift for me was a case of shotgun shells.

Christmas was always a time I loved being around my mother. She cooked some great goodies. She made things we couldn’t afford to buy. She decorated the house to feel like a home celebrating Christmas.

Perhaps the greatest gift was that as a child and later as an adult, it was my Dad and my Mom that were the glue of the family. Even as a child I could see their love for each other and as their children, we didn’t replace that love; we only supplemented it.

Christmas carols while riding in the car were embraced by all. We all gave gifts to each other, slowly opening the presents to prolong the moment. We shared a meal with everyone’s favorite foods, including the devil’s eggs and the canned cranberry sauce that no one ever seemed to eat.

My parents shared with others and in doing so taught their children to do the same thing. No one was better or worse than us, not at Christmas or at any other time of the year.

The tree was filled with boy stuff for my brother and me and girl stuff for our sister. Every Christmas Day, sometime before dark, the kids would be playing with the boxes, the toys momentarily forgotten.

One Christmas was spent in California, with our aunt’s family. Two weeks in a station wagon with seven people, including my grandparents, was one of my first lessons in compromise and learning to get along.

As I grew up, coming back home was something I looked forward to more than I probably admitted. Even after my parents moved away from my childhood home, there were still the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas that brought the memories flooding back.

Along the way, the primary focus of Christmas shifted to my children. The big meals and gift opening moved to Donalsonville, just as one day it will move to where my grandchildren are most comfortable.

However, the sights and smells and sounds are still the same. We are in the same place mentally regardless of where we are physically. The stories of Christmas past become part of the fabric for Christmas future.

Walk downstream and you’ll never be lost, he said. I have been lost in my life, but have always made my way back.

Follow the star, he said, and you’ll find your way. I look at that star a half century later and know it is the same story I’ll tell my own grandchildren. It is the same star I shared with my Dad.

Today, I also know that the star in the Christmas story tells me the same thing. Follow the star to the Christ child. The birth of that child in a manger allows me to believe that my father lives and gives me a responsibility and desire for my children and grandchildren to know the same thing.

Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. The message of Christmas promises us all these things.

Follow the star and it will take you home.