Digging into my memories of Christmas past

Published 5:08 pm Tuesday, December 22, 2015

As much as I love having two grandsons, and four nephews, there is something that tugs at a man’s heart when he has daughters. In my case, I was blessed with two daughters and never for a single day in my entire life have I regret having only girls. In the trying days of their early childhood, Mary Lou and I used to say that two girls equaled four boys.

Having only daughters meant that I got to experience some things that I never would have imagined as I was growing up around a brother, boy cousins and boyhood friends. One of those was learning to love both the books and television series, Little House on the Prairie. I should have come to love them, as I read and listened to them at least three hundred times with my girls.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, the famous author of the series had a quote about Christmas that I think best explains the way I look back on the Christmas as I get older. She said, “Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time”.

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I must admit that I do become a child again this time of year. When else would a person of such an impatient nature as I am, stand for hours looking at fishing poles and tackle boxes, just to make sure my grandson has just the right one.

I watch the little girls with curls tugging at their Daddy’s hand while looking at dolls and dresses with frills and remember the times when I would hear “Daddy, I want that one” over and over during a short stroll down the mall.

Were my eyes ever as bright with wonder as those I see in my grandchildren and remember in my children? I expect they were.

I may have gray hair and a few aching bones, but I remember looking out the window at five years old and wondering who that man was helping my Dad put together a swing set in the back yard in the middle of the night. A generation later, Bob Dutton, my next door neighbor for many years, came over with a flashlight and some sympathy near midnight as I struggled to finish putting together a swing set for my own children.

I can still smell the scent of the Christmas trees I helped my Dad cut down, even though we have long used an artificial tree.

Some things change even though the memories linger. It wasn’t Christmas unless my brother and I received hundreds of firecrackers. One Christmas, we blew up my baby sister’s new toy canister set in our sandbox. She still doesn’t know what happened unless she happens to read my column this week.

As Laura Ingalls Wilder said, it isn’t just about childhood memories, no matter how dear and precious they are. It is about the love of kin, that occasion of spending time with those in our family that share many of the same memories, though not always in the same way.

This Christmas 21 people will sit down to dinner at our house in a dining room meant for 10. It isn’t an inconvenience; it is a joy when we have to spread the table out into the foyer and the living room.

The meal we eat will be filled with its own memories, with some dishes having been prepared for decades, served on silver going back generations. The stories will be old and new, hopefully interesting to both the young and old in a crowd that will span over 80 years and four generations.

There will be two new people sitting at our family table this year. We hope not to overwhelm them with family tales and traditions, but we probably will anyway. At the same time, we want to hear about how they grew up, their own traditions, and how they view Christmas.

Laura Ingalls Wilder died 58 years ago, after living 90 years, but her words ring as true today as when she wrote them. I hope you are surrounded by kin, family and friends. Most of all, I hope that your coming year will be better for you having, if just for a moment, become a child again this Christmas.