Editor’s note: Again submissions of Christmas memories to the Nevada Appeal are featured in today’s edition.
Grandma loved Christmas, and I love Christmas. We loved to bake and decorate cookies together. We loved to wrap presents, decorate, and listen to Christmas music. We even had a pie bake-off one year. And just so you know, nobody was brave or crazy enough to declare a winner. I’d like to share an essay I wrote in 2008 when I was a junior in high school, inspired by Grandma.
A Silent Night
It’s Christmas season. The weather is cold, yet beautiful. Everyone is jovial, and the only thing I can think about is the new swashbuckling pirate LEGO set. It is the one toy that every 7-year-old cool kid in the third grade has to have. It has a captain and complete crew, a variety of swords, a buccaneer ship, and comes with an island. My eyes light up with every commercial for the wondrous toy that I see: eye-popping action, victory on the high seas, and fierce ship battles. As the time to get a tree, start decorating, and wrapping presents nears, my parents tell me that for the first time in my life, our family won’t be spending Christmas at home.
Grandma is very sick; at least, that’s what mom says anyway. That’s why we need to spend Christmas this year in Washington with my aunt and uncle. Mom says Uncle Butch is the only doctor that can really help Grandma get better because he is a cancer specialist, whatever that is. We leave home on Dec. 10 because mom says my brother Drew and I need to spend as much time with Grandma as we can. This is no big deal. Nothing can ruin Christmas. I’m sure mom can find those swaggering pirates in Washington, too. Grandma is a tough old lady, and I know she can fight through anything, just like the LEGO pirates …
Christmas isn’t the same this year. We haven’t made cookies, we haven’t watched “Miracle on 34th Street,” and the whole family is acting different. Mom is crying nearly every time I see her, and dad is too exhausted to play air hockey with me. Having so much free time has given me a lot of thinking time on how to write to Santa Claus this year. I haven’t seen Grandpa or Uncle Butch once yet. Mom says tomorrow we get to go see grandma for the first time. Maybe after we see her we can go look for the pirates in a toy store. Pirates are found in Washington too, right?
Grandma looks different. Mom told us that she would, but I didn’t picture her with tubes and machines hooked up to her. The lady that took us all to grandma’s room told us to be very quiet and gentle, so I am just holding Grandma’s hand and singing her “Silent Night” ever so quietly. That was always her favorite Christmas song. Drew is curled up asleep in a chair and mom is talking with the doctors outside Grandma’s room. They mention something about emergency liver surgery and how it’s too late for her to fight a thing called “chemotherapy.” Snow is falling quietly outside the window, and the moon is rising solemnly into the winter sky. I wonder if pirates ever fought “chemotherapy?”
Mom is a wreck. She is eating less and less and whenever the phone rings, she jumps out of her chair and nearly hits her head on the ceiling. Dad is stressed out and says he is falling increasingly behind on his work. Uncle Butch and Grandpa are coming home later and later each day. As Dec. 24 arrives, I check every one of the few presents wrapped under the tree: no LEGO pirates. I examine each package’s weight and shake every one to no avail. Mom says instead of watching Ralphie shoot his eye out, we need to rush to the hospital before Grandma goes in for emergency surgery. Mom says Grandma probably won’t make it. My grandma, a swashbuckling pirate, might not make it to see Christmas Day. As we each take our turn seeing Grandma, I ask mom if I can be a big boy and see her by myself. Once again, I hold her hand and sing “Silent Night” to her. Although she is asleep, I know she can hear me.
It’s Christmas Day. Instead of hurrying downstairs and ransacking my stocking, I am sitting at the Christmas table with mom and dad waiting for a phone call. As early afternoon approaches, we go downstairs to open presents. What was it that I wanted again and why I can’t remember? The colorful wrapping paper and loads of candy don’t take effect on me. I even unwrap my LEGO pirates I have been dreaming about since Thanksgiving, but I want to know how my grandma is doing. How is my swashbuckling grandma?
The phone finally rings. I watch my mother drop the phone after about 15 seconds and cry. Through mom’s heavy sobbing I can make out only three words: She made it. My swashbuckling, buccaneer, pirate of a grandma has made it through emergency surgery alive. Soon, I am crying too. Out of the stereo I hear “Silent Night” playing quietly. Playing with LEGO pirates can wait. Spending time with a real pirate lasts forever.
Submitted by Ruth Moreland
This is my grandmother’s story. She, Dorothy Eloise Hopkins, was born in 1902.
In 1913, her grandfather Hopkins died. That Christmas, she awoke to nothing but a stocking — no tree, no decorations, anything. She was crushed! About 11 a.m., her mother called for her to come up to the third floor, and to her surprise, there was a Christmas tree, presents and a new bicycle.
As she told me later when she looked back on it, the family was in mourning for her grandfather so couldn’t celebrate downstairs where neighbors could see. On the third floor in the attic, there were no windows.
Her parents loved to tease her anyway, and how they laughed and smiled when they saw her. She was an only child, and I loved her dearly.
Jennifer Lee Schnabel
My favorite time of day to talk on the phone was always after school. My mom and dad weren’t home from work yet. I was in charge. I would talk for hours. Then when my dad came, I quickly got off the phone.
It was if he didn’t know I was on the phone. He knew. My dad had a sixth sense about me being on the phone. I think my dad had little antennas in his head with an extra radar system because as soon as he walked in the front door, he would give me a “you just got off the phone” look.
Christmas was just around the corner, and I really wanted a Princess phone for my bedroom. I put my order to Santa and hoped my wish would come true.
As the days passed by, I would mark off each day with an “X.” As I looked at the calendar, it was getting closer and closer to Christmas. Finally, it was Christmas Eve. I was bubbling over with excitement. I couldn’t sleep too well because all I could think of was talking on my Princess phone.
In my mind’s eye, I could see the Princess phone. It had a light built into it. When you picked up the receiver, the light was just enough to see the rotary dial. I would be lying on my bed talking away into the wee hours of the night. I would be laughing, but not too loud so my dad wouldn’t hear me.
All of a sudden, I woke to sounds of my brother and sister running down the hall yelling, “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!” I quickly jumped out of bed and ran to the front room. There, sitting under the tree, was a medium-sized box wrapped in red foil with a green bow with my name on it. As I ripped the paper off, I saw the name on the box: Princess phone — color: pink.
As the years have passed, I have never forgotten all the good times that I had talking on my Princess phone. That Christmas in 1960 was magical. It was a year of expressing yourself.
Christmas Eve 1949 in upstate New York — I was five years old and the youngest child in a family of six children. My parents were hosting a family Christmas party. My brothers and sisters were there, an aunt and uncle or two, a couple of older cousins, even a few neighbors had stopped by, all there to share a cup of holiday cheer together. Myself, being the only five-year-old among all the crowd, to put it mildly, I was a pest! My mother had the solution!
I was set on a chair next to the kitchen window, a makeshift table held a plate of Christmas cookies and mug of hot cocoa.
My mother handed me a pair of children’s binoculars. “Keep a look out for Santa,” she instructed. “Let us know when you see him.”
Safely out of the way, I spent the next couple of hours searching the cold winter sky looking for the old boy. Try as I might, I could see no sign of sleigh or reindeer! The excitement of the evening and hot cocoa took their toll; I fell asleep, my head held in folded arms resting on the window sill. My dad walked over to me and gently picked me up, carried me upstairs and tucked me into my bed.
I awoke Christmas morning with a start! I knew I was in my bed, but didn’t remember how I had gotten there. ‘Christmas morning,’ I thought. I tiptoed past my mom and dad’s bedroom, down the stairs to the living room. On an end table, next to the Christmas tree, sat a plate of half-eaten cookies, a glass of half-drunk milk. Under the Christmas tree were brightly wrapped presents that were not there the night before. Santa had come, and Santa had gone, and I, for all my efforts, had missed seeing him!
That Christmas Eve happened many years ago (too many years ago). My hair is thinning, my beard is graying, and my eye site — not so keen. But on every Christmas Eve since that one, I steal a glimpse of the night winter sky with the hopes of seeing sight the Jolly Old Elf … maybe this year?
I was stationed at Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam from June, 1969 to June, 1970 as a munitions specialist. A few months prior to Christmas, my mom asked in a letter what I might like to have for Christmas. I told her that it would be nice to have some Tootsie Pops that I could share with my buddies. Imagine my surprise when a shoebox full of Tootsie Pops showed up in time for Christmas. A simple gift you might say, but to guys who were 10,000 miles away from home and wondering if they would even see the next sunrise, it was very well received and enjoyed by all.
“If Mary Had Said No”
By Mary Santomauro
(Published in Congressional record on Oct. 7, 1988
She was a young Israeli girl
Living with her mother, Anne,
Thrilled that Joseph, House of David,
Sought her daughter’s hand.
Anne was happy for she felt
She had not long to live.
Joseph would be good to her,
A happy life to Mary give.
The betrothal was announced
To family and all friends
The preparations had been made
Soon wedding vows would blend.
But then a strange thing happened
One day as Mary prayed.
Gabriel stood by her and spoke,
“Hail, full of grace,” he said.
Then, “… the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women.”
And he told her even more,
She would bear a son, this omen.
She wondered at his greeting words.
She knew no man. How could this be?
“The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee;”
“… the Power … Most High … overshadow thee….”
This young Israeli girl then spoke,
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”
She accepted what God had asked,
“…be it done … according to Thy word.”
We all know as a direct result
A Blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon a blessed morn.
For thirty-odd years, Emmanuel,
Then we put Him to scorn,
Crucified Him on a cross
And all man’s sins were borne
By One Who could repair
The wrongs that man had done
And once again restore to each,
Adopted daughter, son.
Since that time, more have died
Willingly for His Name.
In every age, from every land,
Sprung from martyrs, they came.
Christians, they have long been called,
Followers of the Holy One,
Living what He taught and lived
That triumph over death be won.
Many people since that time
Fought great evils to live as He
Carrying the flame of Eternal Truth,
Heads bowed, on bended knee.
But what if Mary had said, “No!”?
Suppose that she had then
Told God, “It’s not convenient.”
“Can’t afford the stipend.”
She might have said, “There’s no way!
Everyone will talk!”
“I don’t want to have a child!”
Today, would any blame her balk?
But if she had, chances are
The world would long be gone
And none of us would be here
To choose the right or wrong.
Long before we even arrived
The world would have become
A more sophisticated people,
Fewer, hedonistic, every one.
There would be no call to peace,
No inalienable rights assumed.
The mighty would gobble up the weak,
No intercessions for the doomed.
Entire nations would disappear,
Progeny ripped asunder
For within their very bodies
Sprang no new lives to encumber.
Pretty soon God would call off the world
Knowing we would never change.
Why put up with us any more,
This people of such evil-arrange?
One thing though, we’d have no need
To make decisions we now do …
To kill each other, do as we want,
Live our life and abort any new!
But Mary didn’t do that.
Not a wail of complaint was wrung.
“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.”
For this, Jesus Christ was sprung!
Is there a child today who hasn’t wondered what it was like to live without the convenience of electric lights? I think we have all tried to imagine life without our modern comforts. To my daughter, Erin, curiosity came on Christmas Eve when she was about six. She asked, “Mom, can we try to spend the evening with no lights, just candles, like people had in the old days?”
We agreed to try, but we cautioned her to be very careful with candle flame and informed her that many fires were started by a candle in days before electric lights. It wasn’t long before she and her sister headed down the hall carefully carrying candles to light their way to the bathroom. I listened carefully and heard a small shriek when little Erin’s candle was carried too close to her face and she sniffed a little flame up her nose.
Soon we settled down close to the Christmas tree as we took turns reading from “The Christmas Story” by candlelight. All was going well until I happened to glance in the direction of the kitchen, and there I saw an unusual glow and flicker reflected off the cabinets that immediately filled me with alarm. We rushed to the kitchen to find that a small plastic wreath surrounding a candle had caught fire and was sending flames shooting halfway to the ceiling.
But here was the amazing thing: our Siamese fighting fish, in a bowl right next to the flame, flitted back and forth, visibly terrified by the flames. I never felt more empathy for a fish than I did that night!
Flames were doused, fish was saved, candles replaced with our usual lighting, and Erin’s curiosity about living by candlelight was satisfied on that Christmas Eve years ago.
Dec. 1941, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My paternal grandfather’s brother and family arrived in Tonopah from Southern California for our Christmas gathering. Included in our group was my cousin, a young Naval aviator of only 19.
Since our home was small, my cousin had to sleep on our sofa in the living room, right beside our Christmas tree.
I, being only 6 and excited, was the first to wake up and venture out to the tree looking for presents. But I was stopped and amazed by the beautiful look on my cousin’s face. I knelt down by the sofa, studied his face and gently touched it. I thought he looked just like an angel with golden curls.
Little did I know, he would soon become a real angel. Sadly to say, he was the first airplane shot down by a zero Japanese plane shortly after arriving overseas to fight for our country’s freedom.
Patricia Murphy Weaver
When I was a little girl growing up in rural Illinois, some of my earliest memories of Christmas were centered around our little one-room country schoolhouse. We always had a Christmas play about the birth of Jesus. And we sang lots of Christmas carols. Santa Claus visited and gave every child a little brown bag containing an apple, an orange, some peanuts and candy. My father read from the Bible to us every night. I believed in God, but it wasn’t until about 30 years later that I realized the full meaning of Christmas.
After I finished high school, I started nursing training. Not all sick people are suddenly cured just because it is Christmas, so I worked most Christmas days. In the fall of 1968, I joined the Army Nurse Corps and my life changed very drastically forever. The next three Christmases were very different and unusual.
I finished my basic training on Dec. 20. The training was in San Antonio. I had to report to St. Louis, Wash., on Dec. 27. This did not give me enough time to spend the holidays with my family, so I traveled to California with a friend, spent two days with her family and then flew up to Washington. Even though everyone tried their best to make me feel a part of things, for the first time in my life, I was homesick and just wanted to cry. Besides that, it felt weird being in California in December since this was my first time being west of the Mississippi. Here I was in Los Angeles without any snow!
I spent five months at St. Louis and my life changed even more. I met my future husband and planned for our future together. I went to Vietnam in May, 1969 and learned to survive by taking one day at a time, but that’s another story. I was assigned to the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon.
Many English words sound alike, especially if you are communicating by radio or field phone and there is a bad connection, so to try and avoid mistakes, the military used a special communication system very similar to the one used by law enforcement and emergency personnel. Every letter is represented by a word — for instance, alpha for “A,” bravo for “B,” etc. Since Vietnamese names can be difficult to pronounce, the hospital used a word from this alphabet and added a number to identify Vietnamese patients. We never addressed the patients with this “special” name, but we did use it for records. We actually called them “Mama-San,” “Papa-San,” etc.
I don’t remember being told in my basic training about children being victims of war, but I was very idealistic, so maybe I didn’t want to “hear” that part. Or maybe they thought we should already know that.
One evening in November, I came on duty and discovered that we had a new Vietnamese patient. She was a beautiful little 8-year-old girl who was very ill. She had been caught in a crossfire. A 50 caliber bullet had entered through her lower abdominal area. Her initial surgery was done at a civilian hospital. It was a very good hospital, but their doctors were not as experienced with trauma as our military doctors were. She had a colostomy, which was not functioning properly, as well as a shattered left leg. Despite her condition, she greeted everyone with a big smile on her face and quickly won our hearts, as all of the other children did.
God and our wonderful surgeons fixed the colostomy, and she improved and was even able to walk after a lot of physical therapy and tender loving care.
As we all know, American servicemen love children. Sometimes this gets them into trouble since some of our enemies used it against them. The children at our hospitals became very spoiled if they spent much time there. There was an endless supply of cakes and candy provided by the guys on ward.
Our beautiful little girl was given the ridiculous name of “Whiskey No. 50!” We called her “Girl-San.” She was very resourceful. For instance, she had pierced ears, but no earrings. So she took tiny pieces of paper and rolled them very thin. She inserted the paper where the earrings should be. The next day, someone gave her real earrings.
Christmas was approaching and gifts, decorations and Christmas trees arrived. I don’t know where they came from; you learned to not ask questions when things appeared. The Catholic priests always gave out rosaries, and I took one, even though I wasn’t Catholic. The cross was a comfort for me, and I still have it after all these years.
I tried to think of something special to help celebrate Christmas. Something that might take our thoughts off the situation for a while. I decided that little “Whiskey” was my answer. I ordered a bright red dress from a catalogue. The dress came with a matching doll. I remember actually praying that it would arrive in time for Christmas, and it did. My wedding dress didn’t arrive until two months after the wedding, but the little red dress arrived on time.
I can still remember the look on our little girl’s face when she saw it. After John and I were married, I transferred to another hospital. I lost contact with my little girl, but I still think of her every Christmas season, and I wonder what happened to her. After the Americans left, there would be no one to provide the medical care she needed. But I have tried to believe that she became independent and lived a happy life. An interesting thing is that she might have been Buddhist and wondered what our Christmas celebration was about. That occurred to me years later.
My next Christmas (1970) was spent in Boise, Idaho, with my husband and stepson. When I think how my life changed in those three years, it seems impossible and unreal. I thank God that I know a brave little girl but I wish the circumstances had been different. I now know why I sometimes have tears in my eyes when I see the little Asian girls my friends have adopted and how blessed their lives are and how special their adoptive parents are.
It was right after one of our annual city library Christmas performances (to a packed house), just before my wife, Susan, and I moved from Florida to Carson City more than 10 years ago. My performing staff and I got so many warm and memorable hugs from our appreciative audience members that I was splendidly inspired to bring our Florida-style Santa Claus to life, so I composed “‘Twas the Night We All Hugged St. Nick.”
“Twas the Night We All Hugged St. Nick”
By Thane Cornell
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through our town,
No faces were frozen, no snow wafted down.
No children were nestled all snug in their beds —
From attacking mosquitos, they’d covered their heads.
Two cats lackadaisically lounged ‘round our house,
While Mama was scared by the squeak of a mouse.
Wild holly and mistletoe grew here ‘n’ there,
And the scent of pine needles was strong in the air.
The various flood lights left on until dawn —
Gave a lustre to many a newly-mowed lawn.
And Mama and I had just killed off a jug,
Then ended it all with a big cheery hug!
Grandparents, in glee, at the drop of a pin,
Would boastingly tell you about all their kin.
No sugar plums danced in the heads of any —
Except those of us who’d had one too many!
The half-slumbering children were hoping to see —
Slick surfboards and waterskis under the tree.
They all knew that Santa was fast on his way,
In a posh, white stretch-limo, instead of a sleigh.
He relished the change and was having a ball –
With his limo and driver — hot tub and all!
The tropical moon, so gorgeous and bright,
Illumined the way for Santa this night.
And soon he arrived in our neighborhood —
To visit all those who all year had been good.
He sprang from his limo and went right to work —
Not a moment to linger, not a second to shirk.
Decked out in sport clothes, and each thing a name brand,
He shook from his sandals some Florida sand.
There were no chimneys, but that was no pity,
For Santa had always the key to the city.
At our house he’d planned to stay just a minute,
Decked out in sport clothes and each thing a name brand,
He shook from his sandals some Florida sand.
There were no chimneys, but that was no pity,
For Santa had always the key to the city.
At our house he’d planned to stay just a minute,
To empty his sack of things that were in it.
But he then came across on a dining room shelf,
A present we’d left for that jolly old elf.
We’d wrapped it in foil with a large lustrous bow,
And when Santa first saw it, he said, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
‘Twas a bottle of Schnapps — and the timing was great,
For Santa then ruled he was not going to wait!
Revved up, now, he chanted between chug-a-lugs,
That he was a wee lonely and he needed some hugs …
Not aware anyone was around who could hear,
He spouted his feelings without any fear.
Such longings expressed by that treasured old face,
Lured us out of our hiding behind the bookcase.
We then made a dash in a twinkling to lend,
The best kind of joy to our gift-bearing friend,
As we each took turns “hugging” a startled St. Nick,
He nervously uttered, “I must be off — quick!”
In a flash he was back in his stretch limousine —
He sniffled and cheered — then without further scene,
We heard him cry out as he motored away,
“Cherry Mishmas, my friends, you’ve all made my day!”
The following poem, submitted by Don and Jackie Tatton of Carson City, was written by Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt.
Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone,
In a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney with presents to give
And to see just who in this home did live.
I looked all about a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand,
On the wall hung pictures of far distant lands.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind
A sober thought came through my mind.
For this house was different, so dark and dreary,
I knew I had found the home of a soldier, once I could see clearly.
I heard stories about them, I had to see more
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping silent alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one bedroom home.
His face so gentle, his room in such disorder,
Not how I pictured a United States soldier.
Was this the hero of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?
His head was clean shaven, his weathered face tan,
I soon understood this was more than a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night
Owed their lives to these men who were willing to fight.
Soon ‘round the world, the children would play,
And grown-ups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year,
Because of soldiers like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone
On a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.
The soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice,
“Santa don’t cry, this life is my choice;
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more,
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
With that he rolled over and drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still,
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
And I covered this Soldier from his toes to his head.
And I put on his T-shirt of gray and black,
With an eagle and an Army patch embroidered on back.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
And for a shining moment, I was United States Army deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him on that cold dark night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.
Then the soldier rolled over, whispered with a voice so clean and pure,
“Carry on Santa, it’s Christmas Day, all is secure.”
One look at my watch, and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, and to all a good night!