“The Different Faces of Christmas…”
CHRISTMAS is so many things to so many people-as many different things as there are people to mark the day.
To those with something to remember, Christmas is memories. It's just another day to those with something to forget.
Christmas is carols and snowflakes, dolls that cry mama and guns that go bang. Christmas is abundance, and emptiness ... a day to savor, a time to endure until it should be the day after Christmas and then no more need to pretend a tinsel gaiety.
Christmas is candles and a blessing. Christmas is a knife in the heart, an utter despair. It's a papiermache creche, and a hand held out to a friend.
Christmas is a silence of the soul, a lonely thing each finds for himself. Stripped of its ribbons, shorn of pretense, Christmas is a promise fulfilled. In the midst of emptiness, it is abundance. In the deepest dark, it is light. It is a challenge against which each measures himself. Christmas can be anytime, anywhere.
Christmas is now.
“A Little Girl Meets Santa Face to Face”
THE DAY before Christmas in the year I was 7 ½ , I KNEW positively, wholly, without shadow of doubt that Santa Claus was a jolly round kind of man who jived at the North Pole and delivered gifts on Christmas Eve.
We lived that Christmas (we were "between houses" since my father had just sold our old one and the new one wasn't ready to be moved into yet) in a tiny house on Sherman street, one of a row of rental properties owned by my great-grandfather.
In this neighborhood every Christmas Eve, one of my great-grandfather's employes-who was as round and as jolly as St. Nick himself would don a red velvet suit, black boots and a beard, and become-in everyone's mind-the Counterpart of Santa Claus.
As dusk fell on this exciting Dec. 24 the year I was 7 ½ and turned magically into that wonderful time called "Christmas Eve," I remember how that little house looked. It was filled with an air of expectancy nurtured by lovely aromas coming from the kitchen and the knowledge that there were secrets galore soon to be shared.
Mother was busy somewhere around the house and I sat with a book in my lap, not reading but turning the pages. Father was still at "the office," a grown-up place with desks and an enormous green safe with a big dial on the front and telephones from the two local exchanges - one the Bell phone and the other the Home phone.
"The office" was on Richard, the next street over, the one with the street car tracks. Father always walked with long strides through the laundry driveway and across the alley to our back gate.
My great-grandparents lived in the big white house next to "the office" and one set of grandparents lived another street away, on Richard street, and another set lived on Haynes, a couple doors from the little Baptist church with the side door that said "God Is Love" and had a bell that grandpa told me rang "Bring a dime, bring a dime, bring a dime" every Sunday morning.
As a child I seemed to live always with the knowledge that, within arm's reach, was a grandma or grandpa of one kind or another. But as the hours ticked toward Christmas Eve, they always seemed to disappear on some mysterious errands of their own. They were never in their regular haunts or they were too busy to talk.
To a little girl, time seemed to stand still at this point in the day.
You wanted things to hurry and get to Christmas but the grown-ups always said Christmas came soon enough and hurried away again on something they always described as "Never you mind" ...
I can see it yet-a little girl, all gingham-starched and clean, with her long underwear folded neatly under her long tan stockings and wearing the high-top tan suede shoes that tied with tassels. The book falls open in her lap and she looks up and sighs and wonders when Christmas will really be here ...
Suddenly, from somewhere outside the house come the faint tinkly sounds of little bells gradually growing louder and louder. The little girl's skin tingles with goose pimples. She catches her breath. The bells are jangling now and coming closer. Is that a step on the back porch)
She's up out of the chair, the book falling to the floor, and she's flying to the kitchen to open the back door. Maybe THIS time she will actually catch Santa! Where is everybody? Why aren't they here, too? Don't they know it is Santa Claus-she heard his sleigh bells!
All alone, she threw open the back door as the sleigh bells grew fainter and fainter. No, she'd missed him again. The reindeer were too quick to see-father had been right about that.
She shut the door against the cold air but her heartbeat quickened.
Was it going to be the same again this year ... while she was running to catch Santa at the back door, had he slipped in at the front door again and left her presents and disappeared without her seeing him?
She ran through the kitchen, through the dining room, excitement nearly bursting through her skin. At the doorway to the front room, right over the grating on the hot-air register, she stopped. IT WAS HE! SANTA CLAUS! RIGHT THERE IN HER FRONT ROOM!
She blinked her eyes. It WAS Santa Claus! In a red velvet suit and white whiskers and sparkling eyes and saying "Ho, ho, ho" and he had a big sack and he was taking out all kinds of white boxes tied with red ribbons and putting them under a Christmas tree!
Her eyes got as big as saucers and she whispered, "SANTA CLAUS'" And then, suddenly, the whole house was filled with grandparents of all kinds and an aunt and a couple of uncles and everybody was laughing and talking and everybody was looking at her and smiling kind of funny and coming up to hug her and then laughing again.
They came out of the bedrooms and out of the kitchen, though it had been empty only a moment before. They came in the front door with father who'd stopped to hide the sleigh bells that were really the bells that great-grand father's old horse used to wear around his ankles when grandpa hitched him to the sleigh.
They came in shaking the snow off their shoulders where it had fallen on them when they'd hidden themselves under the grape arbor. Father shook hands with Santa Claus and everybody was talking at once and great-grandpa compared his snow-white goatee with Santa's flowing whiskers and clapped Santa heartily on the shoulder ...
The little girl had never moved a step from the doorway where she'd stopped in complete surprise. She was still standing on the grating over the hot-air register, the waves of heat that billowed her skirt so intense that one of the grandpas said, "Turn down that stove-it's hotter'n the dickens in here" and got promptly shushed by one of the grandmas ...
In an instant of silence of the kind that falls from time to time on a laughing, talking group, the little girl said to no one in particular, "My, isn't it cold in here."
And you should have heard all the relatives' merry laughter then ... Later that night, when everybody had gone, and the house was quiet, the little girl lay as still as a mouse in her darkened bedroom. Her father and mother were quietly talking in the front room, watching the wax candles as they Bickered alit, one by one, on the Christmas tree.
They thought the little girl was asleep, "Didn't Shorty Kreitzer make a nice Santa Claus?" she heard her mother say.
The little girl let out a big breath and all her cares dropped like magic. She had been so worried. She hadn't known what to do, how to let her parents know that she had discovered a big important grownup secret, how to tell them that-in that instant when she had been standing on the grating over the register and the hot air had been stinging her legs even through the long underwear and the stockings -it had been suddenly clear to her.
She had known in that instant that Santa Claus wasn't a faraway creature who lived at the North Pole and moved so quickly nobody ever caught a glimpse of him.
Santa Claus was really Shorty Kreitzer, that laughing round little man who worked for Great-Grandpa Snyder!
But how was she ever going to break the news to her mother and father who believed so strongly in that man at the North Pole? She couldn't go to sleep, she was so worried.
When the little girl heard her father reply to her mother out in the front room by the Christmas tree: "Yes, Shorty does all right," she forgot all her worries.
She patted her new doll named Virginia Lee to let her know everything was all right and then they both fell fast asleep.
“Christmas Customs Cherished”
WHEN THERE ARE CAROLS in the air and merry Christmas cards in the mail, then comes soon the special time of remembering ...
The spirit of Christmases past comes rushing forward like the tide to engulf the preparations of Christmas present and even to splash a bit on the plans for Christmases future.
Gone forever are some customs that seemed so much a part of my life once ... the exciting evenings at grandma's house, sitting at the dining room table under the drop-light made of colored art glass panels. The warmth from the base-burner with the red isinglass window in the door-the turkey-red tablecloth-the aroma of grandpa's pipe-it is all etched in my memory. Grandma would thread a big needle for me and show me how to thread bright red cranberries in a long, even row. Sometimes there would be a droplet of juice and, quick as a wink, you could touch your tongue to it and then make a face at the unexpected tart flavor.
While grandma and I threaded long, long lines of cranberries, taking the perfect berries from the granite basin and curling the finished chains carefully across the table-top, grandpa would go out to the kitchen and close the door. He always popped the corn for the strings of popcorn that we'd make after the cranberries were threaded-but he didn't want anybody watching him. So he'd always close the door and then grandma would wink at me as we'd hear him get out the big cast-iron skillet and then smell the good fresh lard as it melted over the fire.
Grandpa always popped the biggest, most perfectly formed kernels -and he'd never tell his secret. But we knew he'd clap a big tin lid over the skillet of corn and then we'd hear the sound of the iron skillet being pushed back and forth over the big old black coal stove. First a tentative pop, pop and then a single pop and then an explosion of pop, pop, pop, pop, pop--and the most heavenly fragrance floated Out from that closed kitchen door.
In a minute or two grandpa would bring in a big bowl brimming with popped corn, perfect and white and tender, and admonish us that this corn was for stringing! We'd agree-and then swipe an extra big kernel to pop in our mouths and when grandpa would catch us, we'd say we HAD to eat that one because it broke when we tried to string it.
While grandma and I finished the popcorn strings and the cranberry garlands-soon to be draped artistically red and white around the Christmas tree, grandpa would patiently fold pages of newspapers into narrow, long strips, each one pressed firmly down its length.
In the bitter cold days of winter before central heating and storm windows, grandpa would be ready when grandma opened the front parlor for the holidays. He'd fit the long strips of newspapers in the cracks around the parlor door and the front-room door, both of which led out onto the big front and side porches. It was good, homemade and effective weather-stripping, and took patience and skill to seal the cracks without leaving unsightly wads showing in the house. Grandpa was as proud of his precisely-folded weather-stripping as grandma and I were of our cranberry stringing.
And what a commotion would occur when visitors would stomp up on the front porch and knock at one of the front doors. Old friends and neighbors always came around to the back, in winter, knowing that the kitchen door was the one most used. It was only the once-a-year visitors who knocked at the parlor door. Grandma would frown and whisper loudly, "Why don't they come around back!" and grandpa would shake his head at her while he tugged at the door stuck tight -and then whoosh open came the door and the newspaper strips crackled down like icicles, making any entrance most dramatic.
Gone, now, and forever ...
So, too, the Christmases of the miniature farm under the tree when half the living room carpet was covered with a painstakingly collected farm-yard with animals and outbuildings, fields of cornshocks, woodpiles with the kindling no more than an inch long, a tiny cat asleep on a windowsill, the line of geese stepping across the miniature lane, an authentically recreated Chic Sales with a Sears Roebuck catalog a half-inch big ...
The whole world in miniature is still carefully packed away, in specially constructed boxes, in my small storage attic. Sometimes I think I ought to give it away, to let someone else set up the backdrops of hills and valleys, unroll the cotton batting for the snowswept landscape, set out the miniature squirrels and colts, the chicks and the lambs all so tiny they need a delicate touch to place properly ... but I cannot bring myself to abandon such warm memories that spring unbidden to the mind when December snows flurry and carols fill the air.
Gone, too, the years of the Christmas-card list that mushroomed in the four and five hundreds with ever-changing names of newly marrieds, erased and written-over addresses of friends moving about the land ... the list that included neighbors from years past, children of children of elderly friends of the family whose connection with the present has evaporated, the bosom friends of college days whose last names can't be recalled, business acquaintances whose paths crossed briefly but whose names clung like leeches to the list.
There were years when I stubbornly clung to the old list, vainly trying to keep alive old memories that were better laid aside, trying to remember the post office warning to mail early and never quite being able to and then struggling to free myself from a sense of guilt, and a crushing burden of fatigue brought on by outside pressures to keep up the old customs ...
How much better is the feeling now when I can wish friends a merry Christmas and truly mean it-personally from me to them-and how joyous is the inner feeling when I can stop to pen a few lines to a friend across the miles, savoring in that moment of writing a closeness never possible when the Christmas card list was a top-heavy burden never quite lifted ...
And how much more real meaning is possible behind this printed "Merry Christmas, Everyone" when it goes forth to the readers whom I cherish yet know not their names ...
Cherished customs in their times make wonderful memories. Yet this December I keep going back to Tennyson's Idylls of the King, in that canto called The Passing of Arthur: "And slowly answered Arthur from the barge, 'The old order changeth, yielding place to new, and God fulfills himself in many ways .. .' "
Perhaps-can it be so?-that just as the cranberry and popcorn days yielded to the miniature farmyard so shall the days of the lists yield to something as yet unknown but, in its way, as full of luster ...
“What Does It Mean?
WHAT DOES Christmas mean to me?
Mostly it means remembering. Remembering that brings the quick sting of tears, the faint flush of shared pleasures. And the echo of laughter and quiet happiness down through the years from the time I was a little girl ...
Christmas didn't start then until after Rike's had its Thanksgiving Day parade. Nowadays when I mention the parade with nostalgia, the men and women who had the doing of it, who struggled through the year of planning and the frantic upheaval that accompanied its lavalike flow down Main street to Second-ah, those adults now groan and writhe and enjoy tearing their hair in remembrance.
Those who watched the parade knew not the work behind it, only the sight and the sound and the excitement of it ... the floats, the bands, the horses, the marchers, the clowns, the living toys, the storybook characters, the calliope, the world of magic coming to life on our own Main street for only the smallest part of only one day in the whole year, magic that only a child can know.
And at the very last, Santa Claus-fat, whiskered, beautifully costumed, who waved and nodded and basked in the cheers that rose from the throats of those who lined the sidewalks, child and grownup alike.
When Santa looked at you-and he looked at every child, even the little tyke held high above the crowd in his father's arms who, at the last blinding moment, buried his face in his father's overcoat-when Santa looked at you, you KNEW' You KNEW he was real and that he knew you had tried to be good all year and you KNEW there would be something under your tree on Christmas morning.
Santa's sleigh stopped in front of Rike's Main street doors and the happy little man climbed a long ladder to the store roof and then disappeared down a chimney. Once he was out of sight, there were long sighs. The kids sighed because the happy before-Christmas season - with its whisperings and surprises and bright eyes and scribbled notes and good smells from the kitchen-that season could now begin. Rike's employes, dog-tired under costumes and make-up, sighed, too---that the old gentleman had made it, albeit shakily, up that fire department ladder without mishap.
The Parade of the Roses on New Year's Day, the Philadelphia Mummers' parade, even Macy's big holiday parade-nothing ever could compare to that Thanksgiving Day parade we used to have in our town long years ago ...
Christmas means, too, writing a letter to Santa. At our house, you mailed the letter in the oven. You opened the door, laid the letter on the wire shelf, closed the door carefully. Then you left the kitchen and under no circumstances could you peek. After a "reasonable" length of time, it was fair to go back and look. That letter was always gone. Listen as hard as you would, you could NEVER hear that squeaky oven door open and close. It was the mystery of the ages how Santa ever got that note out of that oven without your knowing it.
Christmas means the Oz books, every year another one, and every year read from cover to cover before the day was out. "Child, you'll have nothing to read after Christmas," Grandma always said. "Why don't you put one of your books away to read later?" But books were made to be read, and right away, past the second and unto the third urgent call to dinner.
Christmas means remembering the big family cat who liked sleeping on the thick, lower branches of the Christmas tree and who always broke at least one fragile ornament getting in and out. "Mark my words, that cat will knock over that whole tree, now you just wait," my father would storm every single time. Once or twice the tree did come close to tottering sidewise but somebody always rushed forward to catch it and NObody tattled to father.
Christmas means remembering the candlelight Christmas Eve services at church where, if you went with your best beau, there was a special happiness beyond and above the old familiar Bible story and the wonderful carols that linked the past with the present with the future.
On one such Christmas Eve, I wore what I considered to be in my ancient youth the most romantic costume ever devised-a black velvet skirt and a white satin blouse with bishop sleeves. I wore it then on every other occasion after that when I wanted to make a particularly romantic impression, believing that some of the Christmas aura lent it additional beauty.
It must have been 15 years later when I finally learned that my beau simply loathed white satin blouses, particularly with bishop sleeves, and that he managed to like me, on every white-satin, black-velvet occasion after that, in SPITE of my outfit. So that memory, too, is a part of my unforgettable Christmases.
And, of course, Christmas means the shopping and the crowds and the mistletoe and the bundles of Christmas trees in every vacant lot strung with lights, and the Salvation Army kettles and the goodwill that seems to permeate everybody anew on those last few days before the 25th, especially if the weather accommodates the season with a few picturesque flakes and holds off the slush until January.
All of this is Christmas to me, a remembering and a looking forward.
And the bits and pieces of all my Christmases come into focus on that one cold, clear night that seems to come every December. When something impels me outdoors and the sky is so vast and so like deep velvet and die stars so everlasting. Then there are no doubts, no questions, only truth.
That's what Christmas means to me.
THERE IS JUST no two ways about it-wrapping gifts is not my forte and I may as well admit it and forget it. Come to think of it, I have already done that. It's the other people, the ones who receive the gifts, who won't let me forget it.
Already, the experts on gift-wrapping are giving their demonstrations and instructions on how to wrap square, oblong, round, odd-shaped packages neatly and artistically. I listen. Every year, I listen.
I take home the primed instructions, so I can follow them step by step. I buy the tapes and the ribbons, the non-slip paper and the fancy doodads-and it is always the same.
My packages look like something Buff has tossed around the house before abandoning them behind the davenport.
Non-slip paper skids. Sticky tape sticks to itself or my fingers and, sometimes, the paper-but never at the point of contact-always some other place that tears when I try to lift it and put it where it belongs. The doodads come un-doodaded.
None of this is the fault of the manufacturers of the paper, tape or doodads. It is I, all-thumbs Marj, who is responsible.
When I go out of town, and bring back presents, I get around the fancy wrapping by bringing each gift home in the sack in which I bought it. "Couldn't get gift-wrapping in my suitcase-takes up too much room," I always say. And, sometimes, I get away with it.
Truth of the matter is, I can't wrap packages. This is advance notice to all and sundry that, this Christmas I won't even attempt to be clever, or fancy, or even neat. You're going to be lucky if the price tags are erased!
“Department Store Santa”
I'M TOO OLD to sit on Santa's lap and tell him what I want for Christmas-in a department store, that is.
But if you saw me hanging around Santa Clauses in their natural habitats this week, that wasn't exactly what I had in mind. I was trying to look at the whole rigamarole of "taking the kids to see Santa" with clear, adult eyes.
And, sometimes, it's a mess.
It starts our with groans and complaints 'way in advance of the season: "It's your turn to take 'em this year. I went through it last year."
"Good grief, all that pushing and crying again-it gets on my nerves.
I'm glad they stuck the old geezer back there our of the way-makes it too hard to wait on the customers with all them kids around."
It continues into the season: "Well, he ain't here is all. He's out to lunch. Santa's got to eat, too, you know. No, we can't come back tomorrow, we're just our of luck is all.”
"Ho, ho, ho, what have we got here? Ho, ho. Look right out that way, honey, so the camera can take your picture. Take your finger our of your mouth, A doll? Well, you be good and we'll see. Get back our of the way, there, boy, wait for your turn. Take your finger out of your mouth. Here, give this to your mother and take it to that counter over there if you want the picture. One at a time, please, ho, ho, ho."
"Well, will you look at that! It's all so commercial-he don't even care what the kids are saying."
"Selma, come here, Selma. No, Selma, mama doesn't want you to run around like that. Come here, Selma, and wait for the Santy Claus. See the Santy Claus up there? Now, Selma, you come right here, or I'll tell Santy what a bad girl you've been."
"We're GOING to see Santa, how many times do I have to tell you?
Now, stand still and quit squirming. I'm just as tired as you are and you don't see ME squirming, do you? No, we can't walk right up there -we have to wait our turn like everybody else. Here, let me comb your hair. If the picture's good, I'll order one for each of your grandmas-for heaven's sake, STAND STILL."
"Now if THAT isn't something! Here we wait in line for 20 minutes and then when you get up there on his lap, you don't say a word. How is he going to know what to bring you if you don't talk? Well, it's all right with me if you don't want to talk-it's all right with me if you don't want anything for Christmas. At home, you can talk. Talk, talk, talk. But will you open your mouth when you're supposed to? No. Here, put your arm in this coat. The OTHER arm. Has the cat got your tongue? So don't talk. It's no skin off my nose. But you just wait until I tell your daddy how you acted here this afternoon."
"Now will you believe in Santa Claus? You saw him, didn't you?" After almost an hour of listening and watching at one particular haunt of a red-suited gentleman surrounded by bright-colored baubles and tinsel, I was beginning to have a bad taste in my mouth.
Was nobody happy about the whole thing?
Salespeople looked like salespeople always look when shopping pressure mounts. They get frown lines. They lose their pencils.
Mothers stood herding their children in front of them with one hand while the other is burdened with a snow suit, cap, pocketbook, two packages. Somebody's nose is running and his mother can't find a handkerchief. Somebody else's mother offers a Kleenex which is gratefully and hastily accepted.
Fathers wish they'd taken off their overcoats before they got involved in holding the kids while their wives try to comb hair on twisting, turning little heads.
Grandmothers clutch their precious ones to their sides, looking as if every other child in the immediate area is a germ carrier and ought to be home in bed where he belongs, the very idea!
In every batch of newcomers to see the whiskered character (whose underwear shows above his oilcloth boots when a youngster's shoe catches in his red trousers) are three or four older brothers and sisters -all bored, all superior to the childish custom, all too interested to leave.
"Ho, ho, ho, look right out there so we can get a good picture of you on old Santa's lap."
"Stand STILL, do you hear me?"
"For crying out loud, look at that line. It's a mile long if it's an inch.
Do you mean to say we gotta stand in that line and wait just so you can talk to Santa Claus? Well, all right, if we have to, come on."
"Ho, ho, ho."
All of a sudden, the tinsel and the baubles and the fidgety children and the tired parents and the exasperated salesclerks got on my nerves, too, and I turned to go.
And that's when I saw him-the next little boy in line. About four.
Shiny and clean and all dressed up in new corduroy pants and a T-shirt. His hair freshly combed, with a cowlick beginning to rise at the crown. His eyes big. His step hesitant until he took one look at his mother, who smiled and nodded him forward, and then he was as confident as all git-out,
It wasn't a man in a velvet suit that was too warm, or a beard that itched. It was Santa Claus.
It wasn't a platform decorated by men in the display department.
The toys weren't out of stock to be marked down after Christmas.
It was Santa Claus surrounded by all the toys that the elves had made in Santa's workshop for good little boys and girls.
And if you don't believe it, ask that four-year-old.
For him the men in the display department worked to set the stage.
For him the tinsel glitters and the baubles bob in the breeze from the electric fan. For him the grown-up man puts on make-up and plays a part for a season.
It isn't such a mess, after all.
“Trees of Christmas”
THE OTHER AFTERNOON seemed made for the pleasant task of putting up the Christmas decorations around the house.
When I reached home at dusk, there were the shopping bags of decorations waiting for me as if, during my absence, the little elves had sensed my desires and put them in readiness.
(It wasn't a little elf at all-it was a big elf, because I'd left a note for my father on the breakfast bar and conned him into getting out the stepladder and reaching up into the tiny attic for the same shopping bags he'd lifted into the attic only last April-that's when I had last year's Christmas party, the Sunday after Easter.)
The wreaths for the windows high and low at the back door were fresh and bright-and had so unnerved the florist on Good Friday last April when I placed my order in the midst of all the lilies and hyacinths and tulips.
The tiny figures of the three carolers and the chubby candle-bearer, no more than two inches high, took their accustomed places on the mantle.
The pink velvet tree made of three inverted funnels of graduated sizes and trimmed with gold beads and shiny butterflies looked right at home again in the pink dressing room.
The new addition this year-a foot-high evergreen tree in a redwood bucket, with six tiny exquisitely detailed Italian-made angels, to decorate it-got a try-out at several locations and may end up on the TV set, unless I put the fat red candle there ...
Decorations in place, I returned to my desk for some homework. But a glitter from outside so distracted my attention that I had to stop my work and look out the window.
There, suddenly, without any planning was the most beautiful Christmas tree of this season.
It was the old twisted red-haw tree that guards the woodpile. Bare of leaves, the beauty of the dark branches was outlined with a new snowfall. How graceful it was-and how quickly the heart beat at the sudden recognition of its ornaments-two bluejays and a startlingly red cardinal. The three birds were perched among the branches as if an artist had chosen those spots for perfect line and color balance.
The glitter that had distracted me from work? A last beam of sunlight from a winter sun had broken through the clouds and struck diamonds from a slender icicle hanging from the roof by the backdoor. The last several drops before the night freezing set in dripped like gleaming jewels down the icicle and then fell in a shower of glitter. Hanging between the tree and me, the icicle appeared to be a part of the tree's decoration ...
The last drop slowly slithered down the column of ice and fell out of sight. For a second or two, nothing moved-not the tree, the birds, the sunbeam or Marj.
It was an incredible gift of beauty to be savored at once and remembered forever. "
Then the bright redbird flipped his tail and made a scarlet streak in the air. A bluejay hopped on a branch and a flutter of snow fell from it. Clouds closed in over the sunbeam.
The spell was broken. But the memory of its magic will be mine for evermore.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, everybody ... to those I love and to those I will never meet and even to those who criticize my hats and see nothing funny in some things that make me smile ... to the bundled-up rosy-nosed men who deliver the newspapers every morning of the year to my back door, and are particularly cheerful on snowy or icy or blizzardy days ... to all the hard workers on the committees who planned all those programs in which I've taken part ... to the little elves behind the scenes at the post offices who fill my lock-box with more merry mail than bills ... to the busy man behind the meat counter who doesn't complain when I ask for a half-pound of boiled ham, shaved so thin you can read through it ...
Merry Christmas, everybody ... to those who send greeting cards and to those who don't and especially to those who understand why I can't, sometimes ... to the patient, cheerful, kind Salvation Army people who are like that every day in the year and- not just seasonally when they're behind the kettles ... to the experienced motorists who know how to drive well on roads described by authorities as "treacherous" and whose glowing taillights guide my own way through the storms ... to Gracie Lehman, whose teachings during my early years formed patterns for which I am grateful now ... to the teenager who told me, when we met for the first time last Saturday, that her jewel box still contains two small stones that she'd "stolen" from my driveway several years ago "when she was a child" ...
Merry Christmas, all ... even the anonymous voice who schedules the traffic in and out of the automatic elevators ... and the man who keeps my fuel oil tank filled without constant reminding ... and to Helen Hagan who said, so many years ago, that yes, I DID have the courage to attempt a career in journalism even in the Dark Ages before World War II when women weren't being hired by newspapers ... and to the waitresses who make substitutions and the waiters who keep coffee cups filled ... to my oldest friends who understand me and my newest friends who do, too ... and to that modest person who brusquely does the kindest favors for me and whose eyes flash with anger if I look as if I might want to say thanks in print ...
Merry Christmas ... to Santa Claus ... to the neighbors who sweep the snow from our lake and make figure-eights on the ice and who appear, from the warm snug harbor which is my little house, to make Currier and Ives prints come to life ... to the motorists who drive carefully around corners so as not to spray slush on defenseless pedestrians on the sidewalk ... to the inventor of those white warm fireside boots that make me feel pampered even when I've just lugged in two armfuls of logs ... to everybody, everywhere, because this is Christmas day!
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