More Christmas Tales
Photos by Lil DeLaat
For the past couple of years we have asked folks from around the community to send in their Christmas memories.We received some great new ones this year and also really liked the ones that came to us last year as well so we decided to blend the two together because even if you might have read them before it is, after all, Christmas and most people have seen It’s A Wonderful Life and/or A Christmas Story multiple times so…
Some are short, some are long, some are in between but we love these stories and hope they will touch a bit of the Christmas spirit in your heart.
You’ll find a bevy of them here and more offerings on our Feature Page
Christmas Tree Adventures
By Megan Wirts
A few years ago my husband, Jeremy, and I decided that we needed a real Christmas tree. Ok, I decided that we needed a real Christmas tree and the small people and I campaigned for it for a few weeks. We won.
It wasn’t just about the tree, it was about the experience. My husband and children had never experienced going out and cutting down their own Christmas tree and I was convinced that they needed this experience in order to live full lives. The only time my husband ever had a real tree as a child was when a friend of his family came for a visit and noticed that there was no tree in the house. He told Jeremy and his family that he would be back in a few minutes and returned with a freshly chopped down real Christmas tree. The details about where he found said tree and if it was totally legal were never discussed, my husband and his siblings were just happy to have a tree that year.
When I was growing up we had a real tree a few times, but then my mom got a fancy schmancy fake tree and that was the end of ever having a real Christmas tree. I’m not bashing on fancy shmancy fake Christmas trees or even non fancy fake Christmas trees. I have had fake trees and I have liked them just fine. They are easy to put up, you don’t have to water them, you don’t have needles all over your house and you can get them pre lit to avoid having to deal with tangled webs of Christmas lights. I see the appeal. I totally get it, but there is just something about having a real tree in the house that I just love. Plus, I wanted the experience.
Oh, the experience! The wagon rides, horse drawn carriages, roasted chestnuts, cocoa and maybe even a Santa sighting. You know, the stuff Hallmark movies are made of. I wanted that perfect happy family moment, with the perfect happy family photo in front the the perfect happy tree that we picked out together. Guess what? Perfect doesn’t exist. Perfect is unattainable and is a lie that social media will have you believe exists. Sure, there are wagon rides, but it’s usually so cold that the air makes your face turn to ice and tears sting your eyes and you just repeat to yourself, “I wanted this, I wanted this, I wanted this”, while trying to remember what it was like to feel your fingertips.
Then you have to find the tree (that you ALL agree on) and cut it down. The first year that we got our real tree, Jeremy vowed to never get one again because cutting it down was not as easy as it looked, especially when using an old dull saw. That first year, I was newly disabled and the small people were much too small to help. It took him so long to get that tree down that we were all certain the entire Christmas season would pass us by before we even left the tree farm. The second year, we were more prepared with a better saw (that belonged to my great grandfather and was freshly sharpened) and promises of the children actually helping. Luckily for Jeremy, our boy has a great affinity for cutting things down and using sharp dangerous objects. It has attributed to the growing amounts of grey hair on the top of my head, but I have to believe that these skills will be of use to him in the future and I can always dye my hair.
This year, we made the long trek to the Christmas tree farm. By long trek, I mean a few hundred feet. We literally live across the street from the tree farm. Which is another reason we really must have a real tree. I mean, they are right there. I can see them from my bedroom window. I felt like they were taunting me all those years we had that fake tree. All those beautiful evergreens just sitting there looking all Christmasy and beautiful, smelling of pine and fresh snow. I needed one in my house dang it! So, anyway, this year we got to the tree farm and decided to forgo the wagon ride (thank goodness!) and drove to where the Fraser Firs were located. (Fraser Firs are by far the superior tree of all Christmas trees. They have the softest needles and they smell so freaking good!) To make it even more of a perfect Hallmark moment we brought along our dog, Bosco, thinking it would be so much fun for him. It was, until he slipped out of his collar and he almost got hit by a tractor. Actually, it was probably fun for him for that brief moment of freedom, but it absolutely was not fun for me and that meant poor Bosco was going to have to wait out the tree finding adventure in the car, where he barked like a crazed maniac at anyone that walked by.
We did find our tree and we did get that family photo that I wanted and nobody really cried this time. At least not until we got home. When we arrived home with the giant 10 foot tall and 5 foot wide tree that takes up more than half of my living room, I did shed a few tears. Not out of frustration, anger or sadness, they were tears of joy and relief. Joy filled my eyes from seeing my perfectly imperfect family be happy together and relief spilled over because that stupidly huge tree mostly fit in the house.
Our tree finding adventures may not always go smoothly or be perfect Hallmark moments and the tears shed are not always tears of joy, but it’s something we do together and it’s always memorable. We also always end up with a beautiful Christmas tree to fill our home with that delicious pine smell and lots and lots of needles by the end of the holiday season.
Christmas with a Bang
By Charles Chandler
Louisiana, my birth state is a strange, small, boot shaped affair that should be an icon for cultural diversity. This trend toward diversity began around 2000 BC, when some Mayan traders from the Yucatan in Mexico, paddled across the Gulf, up the Mississippi River and took a left at Bayou Marcon. In a few miles they found some high ground, built some big mounds and develop a far-flung successful trading business that lasted for about 1000 years.
After a bit the French, Spanish, Caribbeans, Creoles, Arcadians, African Americans, British Americans, Germans, Italians, and Mexicans started to drop by. Everyone and everything so to speak went into the Gumbo Pot. Now each Parish, city or village in this small sub-tropical state has a different ethnicity with an associated food and holiday tradition.
In the British American populated piney woods of Winn Parish where I grew up, it was all about Christmas. Residents assuredly agree that "everybody celebrates Christmas but in Louisiana, Christmas is a colorful, diverse and unique celebration." In our part of the Gumbo Pot the secular center of our Christmas holiday was the BIG BANG. Fireworks, loud, colorful and by the bunches. Fireworks may be a national event for Independence Day, but people in Louisiana sell, buy and ignite more fireworks over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays than on July 4th. According to one local Louisiana fire popper vendor “we sell about two-and-a-half times as many fireworks over the Christmas holidays as we do for the Fourth of July.”
As children, our Christmas presents included the practical pairs of socks, and replacement underwear and blue jeans. The big-ticket items for those packs of smelly feral little boys were ammunition for their official Red Rider Daisy BB Guns, a little fishing tackle and strings of Black Cat firecrackers. If our parents had a good year, maybe some prized roman candles, sparklers, buzz bombs, and small rockets. When we reached the age of responsibility, probably around ten, we got the good stuff, cherry bombs, and silver salutes (now illegal). We terrorized the countryside with these mini mortar shells. Half of my generation probably has tinnitus from these small but powerful brain-jarring concussion grenades. We loved these fireworks and I truly owe my very existence to a lady finger the smallest of this collection of pyrotechnics.
As the story goes, my beloved little blue-eyed always smiling Welsh Grandfather, Edward Lewis was fatally smitten by the beauty of my English Grandmother Essie Moore. During that long-ago Christmas holiday, Edward had come calling on Essie at her parents’ home in Jackson Parish. He had driven up in his smart little buggy pulled by the family horse, Prince.
The Moore family were by country farm standards well off in more ways than one. They had a large farm, nice home, good stock and four daughters. On this day there were several young swains visiting the older Moore girls. It was a warm evening and the group was out on the veranda enjoying holiday pastries and beverages. A good time was being had by all until someone broke out the firecrackers. In this case, the poppers were lady fingers, they are about a half inch long and smaller than a pencil. It was acceptable for the women of the day to light them off if they were wearing their gloves, hence the name lady fingers. These lady fingers would produce a petite pop and if held too long would result in nothing more than a bruised finger.
At one point in the party Edward bragged that these little lady fingers were so harmless that he could hold one in his teeth and light it. We will never know what Ed was thinking, maybe he wanted to impress Essie or separate himself from the pack of other suitors, but we do know what he did next.
The crowd called his bluff and he put one of the small lady fingers in his jaw, clamped down and someone stuck a match to the fuse. The short-term results of his stunt were that he was instantly knocked out. He was carried into the house and the local doctor was called. The Doctor arrived in his Tin Lizzy and examined Edward the Brave. Country Doc said that his molar was loose and he probably had a slight concussion and proclaimed him to be a young fool. The long-term results of the explosive event were that Essie married Edward and I became their first and certainly most favored grandson.
And as long as our family gathered at Papa and Mamma Lewis’s home for Christmas Dinner and gifts were exchanged this story was retold. When one of the grandkids would invariably open a package containing a treasure trove of firecrackers that would be our cue to start begging Mama Lewis to tell us about the time Papa Lewis put a firecracker in his mouth and blew his head off.
Keeping The Memories Alive
By Julie Burrell
Big fat snowflakes shining bright in the headlights of my Dad’s El Camino… Practicing Christmas songs for hours before family showed up, promising to sing for them all, only to chicken out every single year…pumpkin pie with burnt crust… Granny’s famous potato salad… sledding in the dark with my brothers…Christmas brunch at my grandma’s…snowball fights with my cousins…20 people stuffed into my Granny’s living room opening presents as I pretended to be Santa… These memories of my childhood holidays have turned into Elf on the Shelf…sneaking presents upstairs after the kids go to bed…matching Christmas pajamas for my babies…Drinks with the in-laws on Christmas Eve… Christmas Brunch at my Moms…. Christmas Day at my in-laws…. Savoring the wonder on the faces of my children as they see the tree after Santa came…and a tiny bit of relaxation with my amazingly perfect family of 4.
There’s no place I’d rather be, and no people I’d rather spend the holidays with.
As life evolves and gets busier by the day, it can be so easy to forget the original traditions and those who pass on. For the benefit of our children, tell the stories, keep the traditions, and don’t stop visiting the grandmas, grannys, mimis, and nanas.
By MJ Swendrowski
Let me start by admitting right off the “bat” that Halloween is my favorite holiday. Give me all things spooky, all of the time (like the stuffed crow which I still have on my desk at work in protest of the witching season being complete for thr year). With that being said, there is something wonderfully magical about the days that fall between Thanksgiving and the New Year. The lights, the music, the movies—all classic staples of my childhood. The holiday season always brings with it a deluge of memories, and with this season being my first without all of my grandparents, I am especially grateful for these recollections.
Traditions run deep in my family, and I often have a difficult time with swallowing change. The Christmases of my entire childhood followed the same schedule: Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family, Christmas morning with my parents, and Christmas Day with my dad’s side of the family. Always the same food (lasagna on Christmas Eve, kielbasa and homemade cheesecake on Christmas day), and, for the most part, the same locations. You could always count on my Grandpa Little to wear his infamous Garfield Christmas sweatshirt on Christmas Eve (Garfield in a stocking cap holding lumps of coal saying “There must be some mistake.” Classic grandfather sweater.) My Grandma Little would inevitably give one of us extra plastic bags or another random household gift. On Christmas Day my Grandma Della was always the peacekeeper, and prevented our family from falling apart over an argument over whatever Trivial Pursuit we happened to be playing.
On February 9, 2013, we lost my Grandma Della. There was not a lot of time to prepare for it, and with me living in Florida, it was even more difficult to cope with. The first Christmas without her was strange—it felt like the traditions would never be the same. Instead, our family rallied, and while we still argue over trivia, we now also participate in a family game of BINGO—Grandma’s favorite.
Kielbasa is still served, and my aunt has exceeded expectations at making the famous cheesecake.
On February 8, 2014, we lost my Grandma Little—almost exactly a year apart from my other grandmother. Traditions had already begun changing on that side of the family—with my cousin’s family growing, it was too hard to meet in any of our houses on Christmas Eve, so we had already moved the date and location. We didn’t get plastic bags or boxes of tea that year, but we still had lasagna (her original recipe), and my grandpa still wore his Garfield sweatshirt.
Finally, on August 8, 2018, we lost my Grandpa Little, four years and six months after his sweetheart. This coming Christmas will be the strangest yet, without his re-telling (and re-telling and re-telling) of stories, and the smell of black coffee. We will still have lasagna, though, and I will be wearing that Garfield sweatshirt with a huge smile on my face.
A shift in tradition can be hard during the holiday season, but that’s not necessarily bad (or sad) as this story implies. The change my family has endured has also allowed growth for new traditions, some of which aren’t limited to the holiday season. Changes will always keep coming, but each year we find ways to embrace them and create new memories while treasuring the old ones more and more.
The Million Dollar Man
By Mark Mathis
Clear memories are best formed in times of trauma. Christmas is no exception.
I’ve got lots of great memories of hanging out on Grandma and Grandpa’s farm, playing in the snow with my family, and church services. They all pale in comparison to one unwanted Six Million Dollar Man doll.
The 52 year old me recognizes that Christmas is a time for family, food, and faith. The 8 year old me wasn’t quite on board with all that stuff just yet.
We always ended up traveling to the farm owned by my mom’s parents for Christmas. It was one of those iconic story book farms. Barns for horses, barns for cows, barns for lots of chickens, and a barn for anything else you could think of. I loved the smell of both the machine shop and tobacco being chewed by all the farming uncles. If it was the summer we’d sit on the back porch and listen to Ernie Harwell and the Tigers. If it was winter we’d play on the snow piles around all the barns.
But this was Christmas, I was 8 years old, and the farm meant something else entirely. It was a time for getting. It meant getting some awesome food and three kinds of pie. It meant getting to play with all my cousins. It meant getting a money sized envelope from Grandpa. That little envelope had a little window that old Abe Lincoln himself would stare out from. And it also meant getting a special present from Grandma.
My brother Chris, who would have been five at the time, got his present first. It came in a long box and was wrapped really nice. Not as nice as my mom wraps them, but wrapped nice none-the-less. Chris lives in the moment, so he tore the paper off like he was a T-Rex opening a package of meat. The box contained a brand new Mattel VertiBird.
You probably don’t understand how cool this really was, so let me explain from the perspective of an 8 year old in 1975. It was WAY cool, in a way that no way should a five year old be entrusted with such a fine piece of machinery. This was a styrofoam boat, which contained an attack helicopter. The copter actually flew, and was available for any mission an 8 year old could think of.
Sure, the VertiBird was tethered to the boat. However, it could fly around and pick up weights and broken down cars. I imagined this was exactly like the Coast Guard. Come to think of it the Coast Guard probably used these to train all their new people.
After seeing what a killer present my Grandmother bestowed upon a 5 year old that broke everything he touched, my excitement was overwhelming. What could possibly be in the well wrapped box that just got placed in my lap? Remote control car? Rock-Em Sock-Em Robots? A gun? After all, I was a responsible eight year old.
I peeled back that green paper covered in Santas. Inside was something from the Six Million Dollar Man. I liked the show. Who could resist a tale of a guy that got into a huge military accident and was rebuilt with robot parts? Six million dollars bought a bionic eye, a really powerful arm, and a guy that could run so fast it almost looked like the film got sped up a few times.
So in the box there probably was going to be a bionic eye I would have to swap out for my own eye. I wouldn’t do it now, but at 8 years old I was ready to give up an eye to get that superpower. So I flipped open the lid. Inside was a Steve Austin, the six million dollar man, doll.
Mind you, in 1975 it was’t an action figure — I had never heard of such a thing. It was a doll. Sure, this doll had a bionic grip, a magic eye you could look through, and skin you could peel back to see his robot parts. He even had an engine that he could pick up to prove his six million dollar strength to any naysayers.
So as we got to playing with our new loot, my brother began flying Coast Guard training missions. I looked through the super special bionic eye on my new doll with just a tad bit of jealousy as he went about saving the world.
Steve Austin had one mission the rest of that Christmas. That was to convince my no-good brother that this doll was so much cooler than his VertiBird boat. With great vigor I demonstrated the eye and lifting capacity of my robot/human action play toy. Repeatedly. And then I started all over again. If you know our family you’ll know the hallmark of any Mathis is salesmanship and relentlessness. I used both those skills for the entire day. By late in the day, I might have even offered to toss in my new five dollar bill to sweeten the deal.
Despite a mountain of effort, my five year old brother could not be convinced that trading a piece of official Coast Guard equipment for a doll was a wise move. We played with our respective toys for the months that followed, although I snuck in plenty of copter missions when he wasn’t looking.
Eventually, both toys wound up in the dustbin of our toy history. I see they have both been resurrected on Ebay for a few hundred dollars. However, my doll has been reborn as an action figure.
A special thanks to my parents, who have spent the last 44 years teaching me the TRUE meaning of Christmas. You can give me a doll these days and I don’t mind a bit.
The Annual Argument
By Carmen Faulkner
As the holidays arrive on scene, so must the decorations. For my family this means my parent’s three-story brick building in downtown Newaygo must be transformed into a Christmas Wonderland rivaled only by Santa’s Workshop or a New York Macy’s. There are miles of lights to be unpacked, vines of holly to be hung, a field of poinsettias to nurture.
Most importantly, though, there are a series of hanging decorations in the 14-foot windows that look out over the street. Each of them, four per window, are 12-36 inches long and should hang at varying heights from the ceiling. Why we never record their order or proper hanging length is both a mystery and modern-day tragedy. Without that oversight, though, there would be no Annual Argument, and, perhaps, no story to tell at all.
Several weeks before Christmas we gather, my parents, my partner and I, in the closed down shop on a Sunday. As the light fades, we make a platter of cheese and crackers and open a bottle of wine. We sit, eyeing the empty walls with both anticipation and dread for the hours ahead, and try to summon the Christmas spirit.
Between bites, we begin pulling out the lights. We stand on high ladders, wrapping strands of white around the duct work until the ceiling is aglow. We pull down Fall decorations, replacing them with their winter counterparts. The artwork above the bar is swapped for a snowed in river scene, of spruce tips breathed white with snow. We line the hall with Christmas Trees, wrapping them in tinsel and colorful garland. We unbox ornaments, old and new, and place them patiently among the branches.
Finally, it is time. Out from their summer hiding places come the giant window decorations. We take turns at holiday-Tetris, attempting to decide in which order to hang them.
There are rules. You cannot place two of the same decorations next to each other. Nor can you do two of similar size, or of similar color. …But they can’t be alternating colors either. We grow irritated with one another, each of us preferring our own arrangement: Red then gold, tall then short, short again, gold again, then green. We agree, finally.
We tie string to their ends and examine the ceiling to ensure hooks still live in the wood to which we will fasten our decorations. But it is not so simple as placement. We require my Dad, for reasons unknown, to stand atop the ladders, balancing our giant ornaments, while we decide on the length he should cut their strings.
“How about this?” He questions, 13 feet up, stretching to the ceiling, glitter falling around his face, clinging to his sweater. “Too low.” My Mom responds. He pulls it up higher. “Too high,” she says.
“There, there, there!” She yells as he loops the string. “That one is perfect.” (It is also at the exact same height it was to begin with).
They seem to be in casual agreement at first… but the music has mysteriously quieted and our small talk diminishes. There’s an electricity at the back of my neck and my baby hairs stand on end. My partner and I sit down, grinning, mentally beckoning the show that has already been set in motion.
Up goes the second ornament. “Scott, it can’t be at the same height as the last one,” she says, voice flattening.
“Great,” he responds with a dry sarcasm, letting out the line. She sits silently, hawk-eyed as he ties it in its final resting place. Then up goes the third. Her face reddens, and I can see her doing mental backflips; the length at which the ornaments hang is of utmost importance. She must make him understand.
“It has to be longer. That looks ridiculous.” A venomous retort. I can see her nails digging into her palms. She is readying herself for battle.
“Rob, it’s fine!” His voice crescendos over us as he looks to the ceiling, glitter infiltrating his lashes, poisoning his disposition.
“No, it is not fine! You can’t see what it looks like from up there. They can’t be the same height like that!”
“Rob, they aren’t the same height, they are totally different heights!”
“Yes, BUT, they are different SIZES and therefore end at the same place.”
“Just tell me what you want!” He bellows, frustrated but offering no alternatives.
…. She is unsure. Lower or higher? Every other? Every third? “What do you guys think?” She turns and looks at us.
“Rob, tell me RIGHT NOW or I’m getting down from here!” He’s straining over the ladder, force buckling his knees in a show of drama, begging for mercy from a sympathetic Father Christmas, that he be released from this cruel insanity.
"Just hold on a second!”
My partner and I sit rigid in our chairs, desperately suppressing laughter, but the creases in our mouths betray us. I quickly google ‘Christmas Decorating Height Suggestions’ and am heartbroken to discover our plight is but a lone island in a sea of Christmas misery. There is no ‘How-To’ Tutorial for this.
I take too long to respond, and Dad scoffs at me, raises the ornament, ties without regard. But now Mom is angry. “It just looks wrong,” she says, turning to ice or stone. We are on decoration 3 of 8, and the Annual Argument always heats up after 3.
As the night drags on in a cacophony of Grinch-like rhetoric, the disagreement over the length at which the decorations should hang grows in passion. My Dad’s concerns get more far-fetched. Maybe the ladder will collapse. The wall speakers are in the way and THIS JUST WON’T WORK. One of the hooks has mysteriously vanished into a thin and vicious air.
My Moms unhappiness with the order grows too. They are too long. They are too short. The colors are wrong. “Why do we even do this?!” She yells, to an unrelenting crowd.
When the last ornament is hung, my Dad jumps off the ladder and heaves it through the doorway out of sight, determined for that to be the last of it. My Mom retreats to the kitchen, banging things, furious that it doesn’t look ‘just right.’
By now the cheese is gone, the wine is gone. My partner and my cheeks burn with ache, our eyes are crusted with the dried tears we try to hide. I am certain I could record this conversation, and next year it would be IDENTICAL. It is identical to last years. It would be identical to the argument ten years prior.
It takes about 20 minutes of silence for them to come around. We vacuum. We pack away the boxes, carrying leftover decor back to storage. We turn on music. We open another bottle of wine. We sit, finally, at the table staring at one another, my parents feigning indifference, us feigning enthusiasm. “It all looks beautiful! Better than last year!”
The minutes tick by, and before long we crack. The glow of lights bounce off the red and cream brick. Jazz does a jig through the air. We sigh first, then giggle. Soon we are all laughing, in this room lit alive by Christmas. My parents steal glances at each other and grab hands. All is not forgiven, they still blame one another for a sub-par job, but there is a twinkle in their eyes and we all agree: we will meet here again next year for the Annual Argument… Though arguably, next year, Ornament #3 should be just a touch lower.
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