The Gift of a Memory

Years have passed since the deaths of my parents and, later, my oldest brother, and I’m slowly losing the nuances that made them unique: their laughs, their intonations, their expressions, their walks. But Christmas helps me remember. As I bake cookies, hang ornaments or listen to the gentle notes of carols, memories of those who shared my early Christmases bring them back in their entirety.

Recently, my sister Carolyn reminded me of a Christmas memory I’d like to share with you. I think of it as “The Dance of the Reindeer.”

On Christmas Eve, we usually drove to our grandmother’s house in Provo. Inside the small, orderly home filled with relatives, warmth, and the smell of baking, we’d tussle with our cousins until told to “settle down or else…” which we did when Grandma’s homemade cookies and candy appeared. Silenced by our chewing, we’d listen to the unfortunate cousins whose parents had convinced them to recite, sing, or play Christmas tunes on their band instruments. When food, talent, and patience had worn thin, Grandma read the story of the first Christmas from the Bible; then we drove home through fields crusted with snow-diamonds under a sky filled with low-hanging stars.

As soon as we arrived, Mom announced bedtime, and with minimal grumbling, we left the warmth of the living room for our unheated bedrooms: Bob and Lawrence in one room and Carolyn, Barbara and me in another.

I don’t know what our brothers did, but we girls partied.

We talked, giggled, climbed in and out of each other’s beds, watched out frost-etched windows for Santa, and took turns trying to sneak into the living room because we needed to go to the bathroom “really, really bad.” When the grandfather clock in the living room chimed, we quieted and counted: Mom had warned us not to get out of bed again until the clock chimed six times.

One year, five-hear-old Barbara listened intently as the clock struck, then said, “Oh, no, I counted eleven. Way past six. Now we have to wait until the big hand makes it to six again. I forgot. How many does it go to before it starts over? A hundred? That’ll take forever.”

But on my eighth Christmas, as we began to doze, Carolyn startled us awake: “Listen, can you hear that? Shh. There’s a noise on the roof. Be quiet!” We sat up in our beds, straining our ears, until we heard a faint clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop on the roof. We held our breath and listened as the clops grew louder and more frequent — a herd of deer tap-danced over our heads until, gradually, the hoedown calmed into silence.

Only then did we squeal with excitement and wonder if we should wake everyone to tell them what they missed. Eventually, we decided rousing the household would be unwise and drifted into sleep.

The next morning, after the chaotic joy of presents, Barbara remembered: “We heard them,” she announced into the general din, “We did.”

Only Lawrence caught her remark. “Who’d you hear?” he asked.

“Rudolph and those other ones.”

“Huh,” Dad said, “ What did they sound like, fellers?”

As we re-produced the sound of the dancing deer we heard in the night, the others exclaimed, questioned and chuckled.

Later, Carolyn, older, more skeptical and not above threatening Bob with physical harm, discovered the truth of our nighttime visitors: Lawrence had saved two deer hooves from his successful hunt that fall. Then, on Christmas Eve, waiting until we lost steam, he climbed onto the roof and clopped until he could clop no more.

In doing so, he gave us a meaningful gift: a Christmas memory of prancing reindeer, laughing parents and an older brother who took the time to create fun for his sisters.

Advertisements

Grant Us the Grace

After I told my mother I didn’t like the dress she made me for Christmas because it was corduroy, not velveteen, she turned and left the room without speaking. Years later, she told me she didn’t respond angrily because she knew a reprimand would allow me to resent her rather than thinking about my own rude and hurtful words.

Dad’s union was on strike, and money was tight, something I usually understood and accepted; but my teenaged self was focused on envy of the fashionable red-velveteen dress Santa had delivered to my best friend.

I saw my mother’s disappointment and hurt before she turned away, but mired in envious misery, I didn’t try to make things right. Later, after sulking in my room, I came to my senses, found her folding laundry, and choked out, “I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” she said. “I’m not sorry that I can’t give you everything you want, because that isn’t how life works, but I am sorry that you can’t see all you have.”

I thought of Mom’s statement a few weeks ago when a television commentator said that rather than pushing Thanksgiving aside in our rush to get started on Christmas, we should savor the simplicity of the November holiday and call on its spirit of gratitude throughout the coming season.

So this year, during the busy buildup to December 25th, I’m going to notice simple pleasures, open myself to them, and remember all I have.

I invite you to join me.

We’ll enjoy the red-cheeked exuberance of small children as they happy-dance in store aisles and gaze in round-eyed wonder at Christmas trees filled with light. We’ll smile at how angelic our young ones look as they perform in holiday concerts, how happy they seem as they race home from school with decorations and cards they created; how thoughtfully they debate the number of cookies to leave for Santa.

We’ll sing carols with messages and melodies that have resonated through the ages, concentrating until their hopeful words envelop us and carry us back to the time when we sang “Silent Night” with all the belief and love of our young hearts.

We’ll read traditional Christmas stories to ourselves and others and respond to the lines we well know: Santa’s exclamation as he drove out of sight, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight,” Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone!” and the simple but compelling words of the Bible, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

If Christmas Eve brings us a calm night when the trees are wrapped in frosty lace, the snow sparkles with frozen crystals, and every star in the heavens is visible, we’ll take the time to bundle up and walk outdoors to search for the Star of the East and listen as the glory of the night whispers our blessings.

My wish is that all of us will be granted the grace to enjoy the Christmas we have —not the ones others are having or the one we wanted to have — the grace to find beauty in the simple, the grace of understanding that the best days are filled with small wonders.