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Holiday memories

Each ornament holds a memory

Sonja Fischer

Each year, as I begin to decorate our Christmas tree, I’m struck by a flood of memories going back over many decades. I’m taken back to the time when each ornament was given to a member of our family. Some of the ornaments were store-bought and others home made, but many of them are a reminder of the wonderful people we were blessed to know throughout the years.

One of these ornaments that I place on the tree is a little handmade white cotton dove with eyes of gold sequins, given to us by our former warmhearted neighbors when we lived in the Bay Area. Our son was in elementary school then and in those days everyone knew each other in the neighborhood. I remember each year exchanging a plate of cheerfully decorated cookies with many of our good neighbors. It was kinder time and children played gleefully in the yard or our neighborhood park.

As I place a small pink and white plastic bobble on an upper branch, I’m reminded of the decorated trees of my youth and how much my mother loved the color pink. Also, upon a higher bough, I put a little glittery blue and silver cardboard drum from my husband’s childhood. His mother saved this trinket and gave to him when we first were married. It’s a special remembrance of his youth.

Many years ago, our son painted a bright green and yellow balsa wood Wise Man for his grandfather as a gift. After his grandfather died, we now display it proudly on our tree.

There’s a little red and white yarn Santa on the tree branch. Our son received it from a friend when he was a teenager. I remember the day well. Our house was full of over a dozen energetic teens. They were from our church youth group and our son was one of them. They were having a little Christmas party in our living room. The house was bulging with laughter. My husband and I were in the kitchen quietly listening to the spirited youngsters play games, sing and exchange gifts. It was a joyful day.

Along with the twinkling lights on our tree, there are many other bright and beautiful ornaments. Some of them are in memory of our beloved pets and several are adornments from family and friends. But every year, at the top of the tree, in a place of honor stands a large golden star with a tiny white cherub in the center. This timeless angel star has been on every Christmas tree we’ve had, since my husband and I were married. It is over 40 years old. It completes our tree.

After decorating the tree this year, I seem to be cherishing it more than ever. Perhaps because we’ve had some challenges and health issues this past year, I’m just grateful to be sharing the holiday with my family.

Whatever the reason, whenever I look at the decorations on our Christmas tree, I know all the people who are represented by an ornament will never be forgotten and this Christmas is the best one ever.

Remembering Grandma’s kitchen

By donna batis-wungnema

The magic of Christmas is upon us. As I sit here remembering my Grandma (Laura Batis), she made the magic happen. She would always be baking during the holiday season.

As soon as you reach for the doorknob, you can smell the sweet essence of vanilla and butter in the air. You know right away that Grandma is baking sugar cookies. As you open the door, Grandma looks up at you. Her white hair glistens in the morning light and her eyes have a certain sparkle to them.

As soon as the first batch of sugar cookies is cooled off, you get to taste. The flavor is rich and buttery. So rich it just melts in your mouth.

After Grandma finishes baking the cookies, she starts on making the caramel apples.

Grandma picks the finest apples. She uses Granny Smith for its tartness and the Golden Delicious for its sweetness.

She uses the best caramel. The aroma in the air gives you a good feeling inside. This feeling touches your heart and soul.

As you leave Grandma’s kitchen and close the door, the sweet fragrance lingers in the corner of your mind. The memory is etched with “LOVE” from Grandma’s kitchen.

Blessed Christmas of ’42

By INGA SILVER

My most memorable Christmas will always be 1942 in New York City. Our family was finally reunited after four years. In 1938, my parents sent my two brothers (ages 8 and 6)and I (age 3) to Germany for a stay with our grandmother. Her home was in a small village in Bavaria where everyone looked out for each other. We were so happy! That, however, changed when the Nazis took over. It wasn’t long before older people were put into nursing homes and their property confiscated. Our grandmother died (before her going to a home) early December 1940. Within days we were placed in an orphanage, never to see our home again. That Christmas will always be the saddest, loneliest time in my life.

Months later my aunt was allowed to take me to live with her. My brothers were not as fortunate. They had to remain at the orphanage until the Red Cross located us and returned us to our parents in America. We arrived in New York City on June 1, 1942. Two weeks later our sister was born. We had so very much to be thankful for that happy, joyful, blessed Christmas in 1942.

Celebrating the challenges

by ann besnarski

‘Tis the season of joy and giving…

A time to celebrate the challenges of living.

For many in these trying times, these things are difficult to do.

And, therein is where friends and family are there to help you.

I ponder this year, 2011, my great losses, tempered with times happy and sad.

I thank God for new friends and events; there were more goods than bads.

Me, I loved and laughed, dreamed and schemed about the direction of my path

Cried too and felt lonely a lot, but quashed those feelings with a warm bath,

and things that brought me a hearty, healthy laugh.

As my favorite character, the Grinch and I agree forever more…

Christmas does not come from a store.

It comes from within us in ways unique to our own style.

This said, I hope you feel my hug enclosed with a warm, loving smile.

The Prince of Peace is the One we celebrate today.

Keep Him, as I do, in your mind and heart every day.

It’s the best way to wish you a very, very Merry Christmas!

True spirit of Christmas is to lift others’ spirits

Ken Beaton

A couple of years ago several of us were discussing past Christmases. Someone asked, “OK, what was your worst Christmas?” Immediately, I responded, “Christmas 1957.” As a 16-year-old, 1957 was my worst Christmas, hands down.

Our family attended the 9 a.m. Christmas service and returned home to open Santa’s presents. The glow from opening our presents was still on our faces when Uncle Don knocked on the back door. The sky darkened as Mom opened the door for her youngest brother. He asked, “Irene, do you have a drink?” Mom’s first mistake was pouring him a double shot from an unopened fifth of Canadian Club whiskey. Her other mistakes were pouring him another and another. By the time the bottle was empty, Uncle Don was an obnoxious drunk, slurring his words. Every second with Uncle Don seemed like an eternity. I asked myself, “When will he leave?” Finally, Dad told him, “Don, it’s time to leave – go visit your lady friend, Doris.” Dad helped him to his feet and escorted him out the back door. We watch him stagger down the street toward Doris’ house a mile away. He had to cross Buchanan Bridge before her house. At that moment I did not care if he fell from the bridge and drowned in the dark murky water. Having an alcoholic relative was a major embarrassment.

On Sept. 3, 1925, Don became the fifth of six children, three boys and three girls. Growing up, he became close to his older brother Richard. The two brothers had discussed becoming partners in their own business after the war. Two months after his 17th birthday, November 1942, Don enlisted in the U.S. Navy, becoming an aircraft mechanic maintaining PBY engines, a two-engine sea plane, in the South Pacific.

About Dec. 22, 1943, Don was informed by his commanding officer, “Your brother Richard was killed in action on Dec. 3, 1943.” He located his older brother Bill, a Navy corpsman, and shared the tragic news about Richard. Don’s world was shattered at age 18.

Uncle Don was discharged from the Navy in October 1946. From 1946 to 1948, he became a confirmed alcoholic, wrecking three cars, blowing $10,000, and losing his driver’s license. As an alcoholic, he was one of the nonphysical casualties of the war.

After I married and became a parent, I learned about alcoholism and letting go of the past to forgive others including my uncle. I have positive memories of Uncle Don teaching me to make model airplanes and taking me blueberry picking as a preteen.

The true spirit of Christmas is to make Christmas better for others. When a person opens a gift from you and a tear of joy begins to slide down one cheek, the true spirit of Christmas is in that room.

Santa: To believe or not to believe?

Ken Beaton

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year with family traditions and the world becomes a better place for a few days. One of our Christmas Eve traditions was to leave a chocolate chip cookie and a glass of milk with a note for Santa. Besides our Christmas stocking presents and presents under the tree, Santa would write a sentence thanking us for the cookie and milk.

Christmas 1984 was a watershed year. Everything was the same, a thank you from Santa on Christmas morning with presents from Santa.

On Christmas afternoon I was caught off guard when my 7-year-old son, Paul, asked me to write, “Paul, you are a good soccer player.” It seemed like a perfectly innocent request. Little did I know I was standing next to a 7-year-old who had the ability to analyze two or more facts and reach a conclusion better than a number of adults. He reached in his pocket and removed the note from Santa to compare my handwriting with Santa’s. After five seconds of comparing the slant and curve at the end of each word, Paul concluded, “Dad, you wrote the note from Santa! You’re Santa!”

I told Paul, “There are almost 5 billion people in the world (1984) and half of them are Christians. You are right, I wrote the thank you note from Santa. Think of Santa as the CEO, chief executive officer, of Christmas. There is no way he could bring presents to 2.5 billion people in a 24 hours or less. As CEO, Santa has at least 400 million helpers who believe in the spirit of Christmas and distribute gifts to 2.5 billion people on Christmas Eve in his name. I am one of Santa’s worker bees because I believe in love and the spirit of Christmas. If you choose not to believe in the spirit of Christmas, there will be nothing in your stocking or presents from Santa next Christmas.”

Christmas of 1985 was not the same as past Christmases. Despite Paul’s analyzing talents, the excitement of Christmas was missing. The school of hard knocks has the best learning curve.

When December 1986 arrived, Paul was excited about Santa’s arrival on the 25th. His excitement peaked when he told me on Christmas Eve, “Dad, I think I heard reindeer hooves on the roof. I’m going to bed now!” Whatever what your age, nothing can top your excitement as you are opening a gift on Christmas morning that touches your heart.

Leo Buscaglia’s words are true today, “No matter what the question, love is the answer.”

My First White Christmas

By Tish Hart-Fullilove

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where snow could only be found in picture books and Bing Crosby movies. Every year, I dreamed of a white Christmas, only to be disappointed repeatedly.

When I was 8 years old, my parents purchased a little cabin in Long Barn, Calif., about four hours east of home. All through the summer, we took family getaways to the mountains where I wandered along the creek, hiked for hours, and swam at the lodge up the hill. Watching the seasons change was magical, and the anticipation of our first Christmas in the mountains was almost unbearable.

As fall approached, we traveled up the mountain and I would search for signs of snow like a prospector looking for gold, to no avail. Then there was an interminable wait until Christmas break, when we were scheduled to spend an entire week in the mountains, right in the middle of snow season! Imagine my disappointment when we arrived and there was only a patch here and there of “old” snow.

I went to bed that first night a little disappointed, but also excited to be going ice skating for the first time the next day. I was good at roller skating, but had never been on ice before. The outdoor rink at the lodge had been open, lit up for Christmas, and playing music that echoed all the way to the cabin. I could hardly wait.

The next morning, my luck continued to fail me; I woke with a stiff neck. My head leaned to one side and it hurt horribly. I was prepared to spend a miserable day by the fire putting jigsaw puzzles together when my mother suggested that ice skating might actually cure my stiff neck. A couple of asprin later, we were on our way and, it did seem to be a bit colder out.

Mom had been an ice skater and helped me lace my skates up, “nice and tight around the ankles.” Head still leaning, I gingerly stepped out onto the ice and pushed off as I would with roller skates. The first fall was a shock, but not too painful. After a few more spills, I started to get the hang of it and began gliding around the rink to the sound of Diana Ross singing “Stop! In the Name of Love.” The ice was smoother and somehow freer than the old roller rink back home. My stiff neck forgotten, I flew around that rink in complete and utter abandon, occasionally waving to my parents having their hot toddies in the lodge.

As I skated, I felt something cold and wet hit my face and, to my surprise, there were flakes of snow falling from the now-heavy clouds. I threw out my hands and lifted my face to the sky to feel my first white Christmas while gliding over the ice, “Jingle Bell Rock” echoing in my ears, and smiled.