This is an excerpt from a book a wrote for family and friends. It tells a few stories from childhood and how the Christmas season became so precious to me. I hope you enjoy it. Take the time to read it. I have a feeling most of you have memories that are just as special.
I love Christmas. I’d like to be able to tell you it is a purely spiritual thing, but it isn’t. Oh, the fact that we celebrate the birth of our Lord during this time adds to the experience, but that isn’t the reason I love it so much. It is one of those things that are hard to put your finger on, for some reason the logic escapes me. Maybe it is escape after all. Maybe it’s simply the sights and the sounds. Maybe it is the prospect of good tidings and good will. I’m really not sure.
When we were kids, my brother would long for summertime with its long days free of schoolwork and responsibility. I, on the other hand, with the end of each yuletide season would begin to long for the next. I still do.
In the movie Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest P. Worrell proclaims, “You know, I don’t tell many people this, but Christmas is just about my favorite time. Ever since I was a little kid, I always felt like it was my own personal holiday.”
Now, that is about as close as I can come to explaining how I feel about Christmas. All I know is some of my happiest moments in life have centered on this time of year.
The first Christmas I really remember vividly, I was five years old. We would never wait until daylight to get up on Christmas morning. The moment we thought Santa had finished his chores; we would be wide awake and asking if we could please check the living room. This particular Christmas morning Santa had outdone himself. There was a record player, the kind that looked like a cardboard box. It was accompanied by the two latest recordings of a controversial character called Elvis. My brother received a bike so large my dad had to get Santa to arrange an exchange at Western Auto.
As my mind drifts back I’m five again. I smell the cedar tree. I see the light reflect from the mirrors on the bike of all bikes. I hear my mother’s voice, silent now for years and it comes to me. It wasn’t the gifts. It wasn’t Santa Claus. It was a feeling. It was closeness. As well spoken as I am to explain it completely still eludes me. I’ll give it a try. Maybe it is that God puts into each one of us a special season of the year to give our soul a pat on the head.
My dad would always take several days of vacation just before Christmas. I think, deep down, he loved it as much as I did. A couple of days before Christmas in 1962, Daddy came through the door with the most amazing device we had ever seen. It was a reel to reel tape recorder. Today our kids only know them from a museum, but in 1962 it was a wonder. Suddenly, we were recording stars and newsmen. Whenever someone entered the room, they were interviewed or recorded anonymously for later review.
Allow me to step aside for a second. In my younger days, I didn’t attach much importance to capturing memories. Maybe you are the same way. But, you would change your mind, if you could have seen my dad when he heard his mother’s voice on those old recordings. He had to leave the room. Storing away memories is important, they ground us to reality, and they remind us of who we are and where we came from.
My favorite Christmas memory came from that same year of 1962. There is a truth in that memory that should shake us all to our core, especially when we view it in the light of the materialistic binge that accompanies the holiday season today. You see, my favorite memory didn’t cost a dime.
Mama always cooked the holiday ham on Christmas Eve. We were having an early sampling for lunch, when, with an air of little interest, my dad said, “Boys, it’s snowing.” Now, white Christmases don’t happen very often in Middle Tennessee, but this time it opened up for a good one. After he had waited for the roads to become slick and treacherous, Daddy told my mom, “I think I’ll take the boys and go pick up the boiled custard your mama made.”
It took me years and kids of my own to realize boiled custard wasn’t the important thing, it was spending that time creating a memory that would last a lifetime.
As I sit and write these words, I wipe away the tears. It’s not just because of that special memory, it’s because I realize how many I’ve missed. I realize how many times I’ve failed as a dad and a husband. But, you know what? Christmas is right around the corner. I can almost see the snowflakes and taste homemade boiled custard.