Thanks – more than I can say – to all those who have taken the time over the past year to follow the meanderings in these updates. Special thanks to those who occasionally drop a line to comment or commiserate. The feedback is always great – like a warm cup of coffee on a cold morning – and it is most appreciated.
Well, here’s the deal with this month’s newsletter: After lengthy research and reflection (and having just listened to the latest newscast), I have come to a deeply held conviction that there is entirely too much anger, back-biting, and nastiness ricocheting around out there. So … it is time to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. Wait a minute, has that line been used before? Regardless, this month’s update is devoted to a quieter, gentler story that seems befitting to this special time of year. Perhaps it will take us to a calmer place even if only for a short time.
The story is about a unique tradition that has special significance within my family. What you will read below is the core portion of the story. Longer versions have appeared in various publications over the years. In September 2003, the story, titled “Christmas on the Prairie,” appeared in Christmas in the Country. In December 2013, “The Second Visit at Christmas” was published in Needle in a Haystack. The Christmas in the Country rendition is organized a bit differently and has a little more family-related information. The Needle in a Haystack version is the longest and has more detail on the homestead, the buildings, and the family. Both stories were printed by Midwestern companies who graciously published them in small, book length anthologies. I hope you will enjoy it.
The Second Gift
It is empty now; just pasture land on the place where a homestead once stood. Long before they disappeared, the buildings had been abandoned, standing alone, stark and desolate on the prairie. Even today, it is far from the nearest neighbors and miles from the nearest town. It remains a special place, though, one with very special memories.
My mother was born there and grew up in the house that sheltered her and her six sisters and two brothers. My grandfather was known for adding a tiny room each time there was a new addition to the family. Eventually, two graceful wings extended along the sides of the small, one-story frame house. The family celebrated Christmas together in that house – and each Christmas season I am reminded of my mother’s memory of a special event that was part of her Christmases in that home.
In her family’s celebration, Santa Claus came twice each Christmas, first on Christmas Eve and then again with a single gift on the evening of New Year's Day. My mother did not know what prompted her parents to celebrate in that fashion and neither she nor I have heard of that tradition in other families. Perhaps they conceived of it as a way to get the New Year off to a warm and positive start, or they were trying to put a lid on the rambunctiousness of nine very active children and even if only for a few days make the long Midwestern winter seem a little shorter. Or, they may have seen it as a "reward" for the hard work each of the children had to do in helping run the farm while sharing in each other's care.
Quite possibly, it was a combination of all those things. I suspect though, given my mother's example, that sharing and responsibility were important reasons. However, I've come to wonder in recent years if perhaps there was another essential ingredient as well. The timing of Santa's second visit – New Year's Day – has always intrigued me. Did the family intend it as one more small illustration that no matter what happened in the lives of the children over the next year, they would always be cherished by the people inside that home? That whatever events befell them, they would always find warmth and love there ... and that would always be the case; Santa would always return, just for them, on New Year's Day?
It is easy to over-analyze an idea that may have simply bubbled up from the hearts of two caring parents. Clearly though, it was a signal to the children that they were loved in a special way. Surely the example must have been obvious to the nine of them. Even one small "extra" gift from Santa's second visit could not have been easy for the family to sustain during difficult times. It was a lesson about the true value of things, taught in a gentle and marvelous way.
In my mind, I still picture that house and, especially at Christmas, I envision my mother there as a young girl. She is with her family in the small parlor, bright with excitement, waiting for Santa to make his second, special, visit on New Year's Day. She would have waited for him in the glow of the fire from the Franklin stove, toasty warm close to the firebox, a little cooler at the edge of the room. Just the family was there, depending on one another, cherishing one another, in the small house set in a snowy and frozen landscape in the midst of an immense horizon.
We absolutely cannot close the year without a bit of humor. Here is a sample from a years ago David Letterman Top Ten List -- Top Ten Elf Pickup Lines:
I can get you off the naughty list.
I have certain needs that can’t be satisfied by working on toys.
Just because I’ve got bells on my shoes doesn’t mean I’m a sissy.
Best wishes to all for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Nita and I hope the days ahead will bring good health, good times, and good memories shared with those who mean the most in your life.