Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Letter From Santa, A Gift From Vietnam: Christmas Memories Part 2

I know that not everyone in this world can look back on life and say that their memories of Christmas's past are happy ones.  So, I'm counting my blessings this year, thankful that the memories tucked away in my heart of this special holiday are ones filled with joy and warmth.

Because Christmas is such a nostalgic holiday, I thought I would ask my parents and Steve's parents to share with our readers a few of their special memories from the past.  They graciously agreed to help me out! Yesterday, I posted Steve's mom, Kathy's, essay (you can read it here) and today, I'm happy to share some treasures from my parents, Ed and Karen.  I hope you enjoy their stories as much as I do!
Homemade Gifts, and a Surprise From Vietnam...
Growing up on a farm with seven siblings, Christmas was always a time we looked forward to celebrating.  We didn't spend weeks preparing for it like many people do today.  In fact, we didn't cut down a tree to decorate or assemble the Nativity set until about a week or so before the big day.  The exception, however, would have been the many days my parents worked "after hours" making gifts to surprise us kids on Christmas morning.  Those were so special and memorable, not store-bought, but made with love in my Dad's unheated shop.....red wooden doll cradles (Mom sewed the little pads, blankets and pillows for those), a red barn with a silver roof for my brother's farm set, and a small red table with four matching red chairs that we all played with for many years.  I still have my red doll cradle.  We lived simply, and most years my parents had little extra money for gifts, but Dad could make just about anything from scrap lumber or barn boards, and he'd usually finish the items with a perfect coat of shiny red paint (it must have been his favorite color!).

I also remember the scents and sound s that filled the air...the freshly cut cedar or fir trees, the hard candy and fruit in their stockings, the aromas from my mother's and grandmother's kitchens as they prepared such wonderful Christmas dinners, the flowers, incense, and candles in the church, or the smell of a new box of crayons Santa left under the tree.  I can't forget the sounds of children singing carols in the school Christmas play or the all-male choir harmonizing at Midnight Mass.  Being together as a family was important to us, and I loved the fun we had playing with cousins, especially those we didn't get to see very often. 

Although not a childhood memory, when December rolls around, I'm always reminded of the Christmas my husband and I celebrated thousands of miles apart from each other.  He was fighting a war in the jungles of Vietnam, and I was home missing him terribly and wondering how we'd ever get through the holidays without each other.  A few days before Christmas, on my way home from work, I stopped at the post office to get the mail, hoping there would be another letter from him.  Instead, there was a copy of a newspaper, to which we didn't subscribe, and I nearly threw it in the trash.  However, for no particular reason, I started looking through it, and inside was a full page Christmas greeting which said, 

Merry Christmas, Karen.
You are the Greatest Wife in the Whole World.
My Love is Yours Forever.

From Vietnam,
A Very Lucky Husband,

It was one of the biggest surprises of my life, and I prayed with tears of joy that God would let us celebrate our next Christmas in each other's arms.

From Disappointment to Discovery
As a child growing up, in my mind, the word Christmas created shivers of excitement!  The days between Christmas from one year to the next moved much more slowly than they do today.  Sometime after Thanksgiving, Dad and I would go into our pasture and find a small cedar tree for our family to decorate.  The year I found a new 4-10 gauge shotgun under the tree was a very happy one for me! However, the Christmas that Santa did not bring me my most hoped for pair of binoculars was the one that I remember the most.

I was probably 7 or 8 years old at the time.  We always went to Mass on Christmas Eve and Santa Clause would come while we were away.  When we arrived home, my excitement level was at a bursting point!  I ran into the house, ran to the tree, and..........no binoculars!! What a disappointment!!  There was however, a note to me from Santa.  The handwriting was shaky, as if written by very cold hands.  He explained that I had been a good boy, but his supply of binoculars ran out and he would try to have a pair for me next year.  That simple note took away all of my disappointment, and instead taught me that I had value as a person, and that sometimes just because something is asked for, and not received, there is a reason why.  

With this note from Santa, my parents helped me understand the true meaning of Christmas.  Being together as a family, sharing our faith, great food, a lot of laughs and being in a warm home secure and safe are much more important than a lot of material things.  Reflecting back to my younger years, my parents being farmers were never assured of financial security.  However, none of us kids every really knew the struggles of our parents.  I treasured that note for many years thereafter.  Our own children received a number of letters from Santa, and hopefully they remember them as fondly as "Santa" experienced writing them.

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