Once upon a Christmastime

Readers share their most memorable holidays

Posted on Dec 10 2006 in Features

dec2006coverIn September, we began asking readers to submit their favorite memories of this special time of year.

As they did with last year’s Thanksgiving memories, readers did not disappoint. We received 85 letters and e-mails from all over the state. Some of the memories were funny. Some were sweet. And some were sad.

We tried to find a good mix to share. We thank all who submitted memories. And we wish a warm and happy season’s greetings to all! The winner of the $100 prize is Cecil Smith of Plymouth. He’s a consumer of Marshall County REMC. His submission was randomly selected from all those we received. The nine readers who had their submissions printed in the hard copy of Electric Consumer received $50. Check out other submissions that we couldn’t fit in the printed version farther below.

A dreamy memory on Dream Lake

Christmas was always so much more special once we had a child of our own. Before our son could even walk, we would take him everywhere to see the Christmas displays in the area. It was kind of a tradition with us.

One of our special places was at a home at a nearby lake called, “Dream Lake.” And it was a dreamy place, especially at Christmas time, because the people that owned the property put on such a beautiful Christmas display. You would see so many beautiful lights and characters pertaining to Christmas such as Rudolph, with a glowing, red, shiny, nose and all the other reindeer pulling a real life-size sleigh. Also nearby was a large Santa waving at you.

All around you could hear the familiar cheerful, merry songs of Christmas playing through loud speakers.

It was all scattered around a wooded area, and you would follow paths that would lead you around to different sites. Eventually after eyeing everything, one path would lead you to a quiet spot where there were stacked bales of hay in the shape of a manger. Walking slowly toward a glowing star above the manger, we came upon some very realistic looking farm animals and shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.

We stood back in awe. It all seemed like it was actually happening. There we were in Bethlehem, all those years ago. No one else was around on this dark, cold, snowy, December night, just us. We all three were still and no one said a thing. Then our son, who was about 3 years old, very carefully walked up to the baby Jesus and very carefully placed a kiss on His cheek. That was my most wonderful Christmas because I knew then that my son understood the true meaning of what Christmas was really all about.

Cindy R. Stiver, Warsaw, Ind.
Kosciusko REMC consumer

A quiet peaceful Christmas spent with stricken daughter and the Savior

After 10 years of marriage, I finally managed to give birth. We had a daughter, Olivia. Every breath she breathed brought me joy. Then on Dec. 12, 1986, my precious daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 3 1⁄2. My world came crashing down.

She started chemo immediately with a 60 percent chance of being cured. The jammed-packed holiday calendar was removed from the wall and thrown away. No longer did those much anticipated busy events hold any meaning for me. We were able to bring Olivia home from Riley Hospital a couple of days before Christmas, but we couldn’t be in contact with anyone because of her weakened immune system.

The next night, a group of folks from the West Point community came to our home and sang Christmas carols to her outside our window. It brought some joy back into our home as we were reminded how Jesus came for each of us. It was a quiet, peaceful Christmas with no distractions or hurry. I clung to my Savior as He worked through the chemo to destroy her cancer. We were able to laugh as we made a game of gathering the last locks of her waist length, blonde hair as it all fell out and put them in an envelope to remember in times to come.

She was a tough little bugger as she learned to stand up again after the treatments caused her to weaken and fall. She was so strong as she faced spinal taps and bone marrow testing. On occasion, she had trouble going into the treatment room and together we prayed for the strength to do what we knew had to be done. Always our God gave the strength to overcome the hurdle. I’ll never take for granted the gift Christ gave us as he comforted us in those times of uncertainty. Today, Olivia is 23 years old, complete with her waist length hair. To this day she brings me unspeakable joy. I thank God for that very special Christmas.

Vickie Kirby, West Point, Ind.
Tipmont REMC consumer 

The love continues… Family remembers lost tot by giving to other children

peytonLosing my father just before Christmas in November 2004 was hard. But just eight weeks later, my 13-month-old great-grandson, Peyton Matthew Warren, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor.

He fought the good fight but slipped away from us on Aug. 26, 2005. He was only 19 months old. My father had lived many seasons, but Peyton had only one Christmas. We were devastated. I knew I would see him again one day, but even that thought did little to ease the grief.

We all dreaded to see Christmas come. One day Peyton’s mommy, Lindsay, contacted the social worker at Riley Hospital, and requested a child to buy Christmas for, in Peyton’s memory. She knew all too well that when you have a child battling cancer, shopping for Christmas was the last thing on your mind. She was given a wish list, and we began collecting money.

We not only collected enough money to buy for the little boy but also for his entire family. His wish list included a blue silk robe, which my sister-in-law finally found. And, since he loved wrestling, my son-in-law contacted the World Wrestling Federation, which mailed us a box full of wrestling posters, belts, hats, and everything else an 11-year-old boy could wish for. Four of us got together and wrapped the presents. Peyton’s parents took everything to Riley, and the family celebrated early. They were told that the gifts were given in Peyton Warren’s memory.

None of us had the heart to put up a tree last year, but we felt that we had done all that we could do to make a difficult, heartbreaking situation somehow better for another child.

In May of this year, Lindsay got a letter with pictures from the little boy’s mother. She told us the sad news that her son’s leukemia had relapsed, and he had passed away in April. But she also wanted us to know that of all the Christmases in his short life, we’d given him the best Christmas he’d ever had. She thanked us from the bottom of her heart.

I have to say that last year was the most memorable Christmas of my life, too. Through our pain and grief we were able to make a child smile and for a little while forget the battle he was facing. It touched us so profoundly that we’ve decided to do it every year in Peyton’s name. It is a tribute to a little guy that we loved so much. God gave us the perfect gift in Jesus, and we, in turn, give our imperfect gifts to those in need, those hurting, to ease their burden if only for a little while. Christmas is the total sum of love, and through Peyton’s memory the love continues.

Mary Jo Fulhart, Columbus, Ind.
Bartholomew County REMC consumer 

Elderly nursing home resident’s gift of a smile was worth a million dollars to caretaker

I’ve had many memorable Christmases, but the Christmas I worked at a nursing home holds a priceless memory. Something I was able to do not only made me feel good inside but also  brought “a very Merry Christmas” to a shut-in.

I helped all the residents, but this one certain lady was very attracted to me because she knew if she’d call me at any given time, I would go to her and spend some time just with her alone. She was in a wheelchair because she was becoming weaker and weaker. I would take her outdoors, weather permitting, sit and give her my undivided attention and take her for strolls down different hallways.

It was coming closer to Christmas. As the residents’ doors and the hallways were beginning to be decorated, I asked her on one of our strolls, “Is Santa coming to see you?”

Her answer to me was, “He hasn’t come to see me for 20 years. I doubt he will come this year.” She had no family. They were all deceased, and she was left alone.

So, after her making this remark, I went and purchased for her some house slippers and a big, pink (her favorite color) coin purse, both of which she mentioned she wished she had. Wrapping them up real pretty and putting bows and tinsel here and there, I wondered what her reaction would be.

When I got to work on Christmas Day, I saw her in front of the TV in the lounge area looking very depressed. With my presents in hand, I went to her, gave them to her and said, “Merry Christmas, Maggie.”

She started crying and cried all the while she was opening the separate packages. She was so excited and surprised to see the packages contained just what she had wished for. She told me over and over, “Thank you, oh, thank you. Nobody has ever thought of me like you just did.” When she made that remark it not only gave me a good feeling about myself, but I had tears in my eyes also. I had made her SMILE.

The next day when I got to work, I found out she had passed away during the night. I felt very depressed myself. Then one of the nursing staff that was on duty at the time of her passing came to me saying, “I just want you to know that when we found her she was wearing the slippers and clutching the pink coin purse you had given her for Christmas.”

Christmas is not just for giving gifts. But when they are given from the heart and make someone SMILE, they are worth a million dollars.

Diana Molter, Goodland, Ind.
Newton County REMC consumer 

A Christmas to remember

It was December 1964. I was in first grade, and I still believed there was a Santa Claus. Some kids told me there was no Santa.

But my parents wouldn’t have lied to me. I didn’t want to believe those kids. They were just so convincing, though, that I went home crying. My parents tried to convince me those kids were just being mean.

Well, on Christmas morning I awoke not believing my eyes. There was a brand new bike under the tree. It couldn’t have been from Santa, could it? My dad had me look outside; there were sled tracks in our yard (we had snow a lot), and hoof prints. There were even tracks on the roof. Well, it wasn’t until a few years later I learned my dad made the tracks so I could believe again.

My dad passed away this year. I will always remember how me made a little girl believe and have faith. I still do.

Sue A. Riley, Royal Center, Ind.

White County REMC consumer

Through children’s eyes

It was early December. I was at a McDonald’s taking an afternoon break from Christmas shopping.

My relaxation was interrupted by a wild-looking man powering through the entrance. He was a big man, and overweight. His unbuttoned red flannel shirt revealed a dingy undershirt. The shirt was tucked into torn jeans held up by suspenders. His black boots were worn. A cap failed to control his long unruly gray hair; an equally unruly gray beard flowed to mid-chest.

I thought, “What a bum!”

A few tables over, a little girl stared transfixed by the stranger. Then she rose and smiled, “Santa!”

Oh, if we could only see the world as children do.

Becca Ritter, Columbus, Ind.
Bartholomew County REMC consumer

A Christmas Lily: ‘The Christmas I will never forget’

kessensThe big event started about a week before Christmas. My mom almost always tells me I’m going to love my present, and that gets my adrenaline running. This Christmas I could tell was going to be different from any of the others  because my mom was actually getting into the spirit. She told me this present would warm my heart, which meant I wasn’t going to make it until Christmas. I would either beg to know what it was, or I would just rip it open when it finally lay beneath the tree. As Christmas got closer my dad told me that I wasn’t allowed at the farm anymore because he had to work on my Christmas present.

Then what was there to do? From then until Christmas, I just helped my mom in the kitchen and got all my homework done. Soon, I noticed an unexpected gift under the tree, but no name appeared on the tag. It was a rather heavy gift. When I asked my mom, she just giggled that this was going to be the best Christmas ever.

On Christmas morning, I woke up with my adrenaline pumping. As I ripped off the paper and opened the box, I pulled out a halter and lead rope. “What the heck is this for,” I wondered.

With a funny look on my face, I looked up at my family sitting around. My dad turned to me with a big smile and said, “Look inside the envelope.” While ripping open the box, I didn’t notice the envelope inside that said, “I’m waiting for you on the farm.”

I then lifted open the envelope. There inside was a picture of a miniature horse. My heart felt like it had leaped out of my chest for joy. I sat there staring and laughing without breath, with my mom and dad so happy to see my expression. My mom asked if I knew what it was at first. I had to admit I had no idea. One odd thing stuck in my mind as I first opened it … maybe my dad thought I wanted to tame a calf for the fair.

After everyone else was done opening their presents, I wanted to go see mine. So my mom, dad and I went down to the farm. When I first got in the stable, my miniature horse was quite wild. But my dad helped me catch her. After a few days of playing with her, she got used to me. Lily is her name, and she will forever be remembered as the best Christmas surprise and present I have ever gotten.

Andrea Kessens, Siberia, Ind.
Southern Indiana REC, Inc.

Ooooh, tannenbaum! Tale of a Christmas-tree all-nighter

Thinking of Christmas memories … it was 1961, and we felt we definitely found the perfect Christmas tree.

Our six children, the oldest being 8 years old, were very excited as the holidays approached. Christmas to us was a very special time for awe and mystery and making special memories for the kids. So, Santa always put up our tree while the children were snug in their beds. Their look of wonderment made us feel the long night spent doing our part was well worth the effort.

This night was to be fun. We recently moved into an older home with very high ceilings, and this tree nearly reached the top. It seemed our decorating ideas were just falling into place perfectly: the ornaments so evenly placed; the icicles hanging perfectly from each branch; the manger scene below, serenely beautiful; and, of course, the star shining brightly on top.

Finishing about 3 a.m., exhausted and more than ready for the few hours of sleep we would get that night, we had to take time to admire our handiwork and discuss the fact that we felt this was “THE TREE!” — the prettiest one ever. When suddenly, “the tree” started toppling toward us. In shock, we couldn’t react fast enough to stop it. It fell right in front of us, flat on the floor. Imagine the mess … icicles and ornaments going everywhere and the star hanging off the top.

It was no longer … “THE tree.” It was just “THAT tree.”

We couldn’t disappoint the kids. Santa wouldn’t leave a tree like that. It just took another two hours to get it standing.

We crawled into bed at 5 a.m., disappointed and exhausted from the whole experience. Then WOW! At 5:30 a.m., we heard the patter of little feet coming down the stairs and shrieking with excitement at seeing “that tree,” then running into our bedroom. “Get up!!! Get up!!! … Santa brought the tree last night!!!”

It took some real effort on our part to look excited and admiringly at … “that tree.”

With only 30 minutes of rest that night, I will never forget that Christmas or “that tree,” but the happy look of awe on the faces of six children made it all worthwhile. They had no idea how beautiful that tree once was. They were happy just the way it was and never noticed the string and nail in the wall holding “that tree” upright.

Thomas McKinley, Lexington, Ind.
Clark County REMC

Casey’s Christmas wish

The over-stuffing of catalogs clogged my mailbox and reminded me the holidays were rapidly approaching. Advertisements of all shapes, sizes and gimmicks competed for my hard-earned dollar. The pages promised a memorable event if I would act now to ensure delivery before the big day.

With all the hype, I understood the anxiousness of my 3-year-old son, Casey; as an adult I felt it also. The arrival of the colorful books caused much excitement for him, and we spent hours pouring over the toy section. It was easy to get caught up in the moment and lose sight of the meaning of Christmas. However, I knew this year would be different.

It was hard to imagine facing Christmas without Papaw Neal. The void created by his death was apparent; but his absence from the holidays would be unbearable. Without his presence, this otherwise joyous time felt empty. It wasn’t that he made a big deal about the celebration, but he was a huge part of the big deal we celebrated. As a family, we were blessed with materialistic things, but we cherished the non-materialistic things the most.

You would be hard pressed to find a kinder, gentler, more honest, caring man than Neal Keith. These qualities were never more apparent than when he interacted with his grandchildren. From the moment Casey was born, he captured his grandpa’s heart. A special bond developed between them.

I tried to accept the fact that Casey’s beloved “Papaw” would not be there to watch him open presents Christmas morning. I took the catalog from Casey and attempted an explanation of Christmas a toddler could grasp.

“The true gifts of Christmas cannot be found in this book, Casey.” I searched for the right words. “Christmas is the love you have in your heart for Baby Jesus, your friends and family. Your happiest memories will be about people who love you. That is the real reason we celebrate this day.” That seemed enough for a youngster to ponder, and I hoped at least some of the message had sunk in.

Visiting Santa Claus was a bit scary for my little guy. But when it was his turn, he hopped on Santa’s lap like a trooper and poised himself to recite his answer to the age old question, “What do you want for Christmas this year, young man?”

Expecting a list a mile long, I was shocked by Casey’s reply. “I want Papaw Neal to come back and take a tractor ride with me.”

Swallowing hard and holding back tears, I wondered how the man behind the Santa suit would handle this request. He paused, then said, “Your Papaw Neal is with you always because you love him so much. At this moment, he is looking down on you with even more love than you can imagine.”

“I know,” said Casey. “I feel him in my heart just like Christmas.”

There was no doubt Casey knew the true meaning of Christmas.

Chandra K. Smith, Rising Sun, Ind.
Southeastern Indiana REMC

My most memorable Christmas

My story starts on Aug. 16, 1941. That afternoon I was in an ambulance on my way to the Riley Hospital in Indianapolis. That evening I had surgery on my right femur that was diagnosed as osteomyelitis.

I spent several weeks of recovery in Riley and then was moved bed and all, as my leg was still in traction, across the street to the Rotary Convalescent Center. There I was in a ward with seven other boys who were there for various problems. We developed a close relationship with each other as we were going to be there for several months.

With Christmas time approaching and knowing we would still be in the Rotary building during Christmas the cheerfulness that had been the norm began to be missing. Then a week before Christmas the nurses came in and said they had a surprise for us which were Christmas presents for each of us that had been donated by various people around Indianapolis. There were various presents, so we were to draw a number representing a present. My number represented a performance at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. I said with the pain I had there wasn’t any way I could go. But the nurses insisted they would see that I was taken care of.

The afternoon of the performance they brought in a white shirt, black tie, jacket, shoe, sock and a pair of trousers. Everything was fine until we tried to put on the trousers; I had a steel brace on my right leg from foot to hip and a bandage around my knee at least 10 inches in diameter. After some thought they found a pair of trousers with what seemed like a 50-inch waist that fit over everything and placed a blanket over my legs. They pushed me in the wheelchair to a waiting limousine and the nurse and I were off to the theater. At the theater I was wheeled down to the front row where I enjoyed the most memorable Christmas of my life.

What a night for a farm boy who had only been to a small town on Saturday night.

Sorry to say I don’t remember the name of the person who donated my evening at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, but I will never forget the Christmas of 1941.

James L. Dawson, Lafayette, Ind.
Tipmont REMC


It was Christmas week 1949, with about four days until Christmas. We were a small struggling family of four. My sister and I had a little girlfriend who lived across the street from us whose daddy disappeared for some unknown reason about a month before Christmas.

One day he just left home and never to this day was seen or heard of again. Now Laverne was very close to her daddy. She adored him, and of course, this just devastated her and especially being at Christmas. Her mother was a nurse’s aide and they had very little money, as was the case with most families in those days. We were poor as a church mouse ourselves.

When my daddy heard of their plight, somehow he gathered up a beautiful Christmas tree, ornaments, lights and presents for Laverne and her mother. There was also fixings for a lovely dinner. To this day I will never know how my daddy managed to do that for this family of two. I know it was a God thing.

Laverne never forgot this wonderful Christmas my dad brought to her and her mother. She stayed friends with my sister and me for all these years. We are still very close. She loved my daddy as though he was her own and when he passed on to be with the Lord, she was right there grieving with the rest of us.

Daddy instilled in me through this precious Christmas gesture, the legacy of giving. It has been a part of my life ever since and that Christmas I was just 8 years old. Laverne was 9. I will always remember that Christmas and every year I think back on it, how blessed we were to have a father figure so kind and giving.

Charlotte A. Claggett, Corydon, Ind.
Harrison REMC

A jolly ‘Harley’ Christmas

One of my most memorable Christmases was Christmas Eve 1999, the year I got engaged!

My now husband (Sid) and I had been friends awhile, and had sort of started actual “dating,” but I had no clue anything special was going to happen.

My family’s tradition is celebrating Christmas Eve together. Sid came with me to my mom’s on Christmas Eve, and all my brothers and their families were there. He gave me a Harley bag and inside was a stuffed Harley Hog. I was excited to even get a gift, but the note attached was the best part! My Harley Hog was holding a sign that said “I LOVE YOU”!

It was so romantic and thoughtful, and I was jumping up and down and screaming. I was so excited!

And then, inside the box, was an engagement ring (even the right size!) with a note that said, “Will you marry me?”

I had known for a long time, that this was the man for me, but then I knew for sure we were meant for each other! Sid knew how important my family was to me, and for him to choose to share this special moment with them all, made it so much more beautiful!

We have been happily married for six and a half years, and I hope we stay that way until we’re both old and gray!

Dea Ann O’Dell, Hutsonville, Ill.
Hoosier Energy REC 

Special Christmas came after fires

One fall day when I was 6 years old, I went to school just as any other normal day. During the middle of the school day, my father came and took me home. This was not normal! He told me my 3-year-old sister had been playing with matches outdoors and caught her dress on fire and was severely burned. She had been taken to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.

My father told me my mother had gotten the flames out by rolling my sister into a mud puddle that had been left from the previous day. My father also told me that my mother had gone to the hospital with my sister. I do not remember what I did the rest of that day, except that my aunt came to stay with me, so that my parents could stay in Indianapolis with my sister. My parents were gone several days, but I went back to school.

I remember the day my parents came back home from the hospital. My mother’s hands were bandaged from being burned trying to roll my sister into the mud to put out the fire. My parents told me my sister would have to stay in the hospital for several months. I remember the lonely feeling I had without my sister to play with. There were many trips made to the hospital, but I was not allowed to see my sister.

Then finally on Christmas Eve day, my sister got to come home for a few days over the holidays. What a wonderful day! The house was decorated for Christmas. There were gifts under the tree. I had a special one just for my sister.

She and I were playing upstairs. I came downstairs leaving her alone. In just a few minutes, she began to scream and cry, and came running down the stairs. She was totally afraid. The upstairs was in flames!

My sister and I were taken to the neighbors. We watched the firemen come with trucks to fight the battle to save our home. We watched as kids, not realizing what all was burning: our pictures, clothes and toys, not to mention our Christmas presents. Then I realized that my sister had come home just for Christmas after being severely burned.

She expected to have a few days to spend with our family and to have a Merry Christmas before going back to the hospital. What a miserable time for her!

I remember a lot of people coming to our neighbor’s house to offer help and condolences to our parents, who were also in a state of shock and needed comfort. What I did not realize was that these people were also bringing gifts for all of us, so we could have a Merry Christmas at our neighbor’s house the next day.

I was so happy to watch my sister open each gift. I do not remember what was in those packages for us, just that it was a Merry Christmas for us after all!

I am now 66 years young, and I still remember this very special Christmas filled with a lot of emotions and thankfulness!

Betty Smith Culp, Macy, Ind. 

Loving family helps erase memories of melted doll

The year was 1951. I was 6 years old, the youngest of eight children. We lived in a small country home in a rural area of Harrison County near Frenchtown. We didn’t have much as my dad was sickly. However, we always had vegetables from our summer garden and meat canned from fall butchering.

Christmas was not celebrated as it is today. We didn’t have gifts, but we celebrated with our traditional Midnight Mass then coming home and having ham and cake. We also had a big cedar tree with very few lights.

My most memorable Christmas was in 1951. One of my five brothers came in and said he saw Santa up the road from our house and wanted to know what my sister who was 7 years old and I wanted from him. Wanted a doll so bad — I never had one. He was gone just a little while and came back with a doll for me that was unlike any I ever saw. It had a little red rocking chair and a big pretty fat face with yellow hair and a big rim hat.

I received orders from mom and dad to get ready to go someplace to visit. I didn’t want to leave my new doll, but of course I had to go. Before leaving I set my doll in its rocking chair right behind the wood stove. Sitting it by the chimney where it would be good and warm until we got back home.

Later that night when we returned home I ran into the house to get my doll and what an awful sight it was. The face was running down the body. It scared me so bad. I cried and cried. Mom thought maybe one of my brothers beat it up, but later saw where I had set it. All of my family tried to make me feel better, but it didn’t do any good. My first new doll was ruined and I will always remember that Christmas that was so good and turned so bad.

I look back now and realize that I had my family to care and love me making it a wonderful Christmas after all.

Naomi Jacobi, Corydon, Ind.
Harrison REMC 

True meaning of Christmas lies not with what you get but give away

I was born and raised in Kentucky until the age of 7 when we moved to Indiana. I recall the first Christmas that “Santa” came to see me was after we moved to Indiana … (I guess he didn’t know where Kentucky was). My three older brothers had revealed to me there was a “stash” in my mother’s old wardrobe prior to Christmas. They showed me a little brown windup bear that walked a few steps and then roared, in addition to a little black windup dog that walked a few steps, barked and then jumped in the air. After playing with them before mother came home from work, I carefully placed them back in the wardrobe.

My parents took us to my aunt’s house in Kentucky for that Christmas, and I recall sleeping on a pallet on the floor and waking up the next morning to find, of all things, the little bear and dog sitting next to me on the floor along with an orange, an apple and a few candies. (I wish I had been more surprised.)

My cousin Marion, who was a few months older than me, didn’t fare as well. She only received the fruit and candies, but I let her play with my bear and dog. I recall my mother telling me that Marion was sick and it would be a nice thing to do to give her one of the toys. I hugged my toys to my chest, afraid someone was going to tear one of them away from me. I tried to ignore the suggestion and was successful. I was selfishly successful and have never forgotten that I could have given much joy to Marion, but chose to hold on tightly to things that would soon wind up in a trash can, broken and of no value to anyone.

When Marion died a few years later, I still recalled that I had withheld from her a few moments of joyful blessing.

That was 45 years ago and I still remember my selfishness as if it was yesterday and realize the true meaning of Christmas is not what you get and hold on to, but what you give away that counts. “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” God bless us everyone.

Pastor Wanda Carter, Winona Lake, Ind.
Kosciukso REMC consumer

Christmas memories

Today, decorative candles are a favorite gift and easily available.

When I was young this was not the case. So when my uncle who was stationed in Germany sent us a beautiful candle for the Christmas season, we all adored it. It was a common manger scene. At the bottom was a stable. The inside was carved out so that it held a complete tiny waxed Baby Jesus in the manger. The top was a deep blue with the large star above the stable and small stars surrounding it.

My mother thought it would be special to burn it during our Christmas dinner. Grams and I were shocked. Such a beautiful candle should be saved. What would happen to Baby Jesus if we let it burn? Obviously the enjoyment of this gift was viewed differently between my mother and the two generations surrounding her, but we both knew the candle would be lit. So, on Christmas Eve, Grams and I set out to save the baby.

Earlier that year Grams had given me a half of a geode. Instead of crystals, its cavity had a lining resembling smooth white clouds. We decided this would be the baby’s new manger. This Christ Child should lie on a silky white pillow which we cleverly made from a fabric scrap and stuffed it with a cotton ball. We trimmed the pillow with red thread. (Later I would realize the significance of the red thread as it relates to the passion of Christ.) We gently pried the baby from the manger and successfully glued the tiny form onto our pillow and the pillow into the rock.

I don’t remember what gifts I gave or received that Christmas, but I still have my “Rock of Ages.” I will never forget the fun Grams and I had together on this urgent mission. Every Christmas, I display it and find it a joy in sharing the story with those who ask about it.

Janet Bledsoe, West Lafayette, Ind.

My favorite Christmas memory

My favorite Christmas memory came on Christmas morning 2003. I live in Floyd Knobs, and at the time two of my grandchildren lived in Franklin, Tenn. I had previously played Santa for 29 years in my community — going house to house on Christmas Eve. This was the first year I had decided to retire from the practice and spend that time with my grandkids.

I left Floyd Knobs in the early hours of the morning on my three hour trip to Franklin. I arrived around 6 a.m., before the kids were out of bed. I was dressed in my Santa suit and began placing gifts under the Christmas tree. When I was almost finished I heard the children coming down the stairs. Caleb was almost 6 years old and Katie was 3 years old. Their eyes were as big as saucers when they saw that Santa was still there. This was the first year of their young life they had actually seen Santa on Christmas morning.

I told them I was sorry I awakened them, but I was running a little late. They both quickly assured me it was quite all right. I got down on the floor, next to their tree, and we all three opened presents together. Katie would ask Santa to help her and Caleb would thank me for each and everyone that he opened. They were all, just what he wanted, and had asked for. Santa sure does have a knack for that kind of thing.

I was making my exit, when it happened. My grandson and granddaughter, each took my hand and said: “Santa, before you go let us show you what we did last night.” They took me to the kitchen, turned on the lights and said: “Look Santa! We made Jesus a birthday cake.”

I was speechless. Here were two small children, holding on to Santa’s hands, all of their presents under the tree and yet they still knew the true meaning of Christmas. A tear was on each cheek as I gave them each a hug and told them I had to head to the North Pole. I told them that Santa was sure that Jesus would love his cake. That Christmas morning will be in my head and my heart as long as this grandpa lives.

Frank Wiseman Jr., Floyd Knobs, Ind.

Let every heart, prepare Him room

I still hold dear, a Christmas Eve, that happened long ago, when I was a little girl growing up in the beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky. Two nuns taught at our tiny church school. They had planned a very special surprise for us.

It started one morning with a speech from Sister Rosemary. “We’re going to do something different this year,” she said. Then she placed a wooden box on top on the bookcase near her desk. She put a small basket beside the wooden box. Sister reached inside the basket and pulled out a handful of straw. “In the following weeks,” she said, “I want you to think of extra things you can do at home to help your families. I’m talking about other things than the chores your parents have you do every day. Each time you finish doing an extra thing, I want you to put one of these straws into the box. You don’t have to tell me what you’ve done. Just come up and put in your straws before school begins.”

For the next four weeks I was very busy, trying to find ways to help my family. Before going out to play, I helped my little sister put on her socks and shoes. I picked up toys left behind by my brothers and sisters. I swept up messes I found before my Mom could notice them. Instead of playing, I helped make supper for our large family. That was hard to do because I could hear all the others having fun in the next room.

I didn’t know why we were putting straws in the box. But, I made sure to only put in as many as things I had done. Time passed quickly and soon it was Christmas Eve. All the children from our school were at the local hospital. We were going up and down the halls singing carols for people who were sick and couldn’t be home for Christmas.

When we finished singing, the sisters took us outside. That night, the sky was filled with beautiful twinkling stars. The frosty, cold air stung my nose and nearly took my breath away. I remember wondering what we were doing outside and that I felt a growing excitement about what was going to happen next.

We stopped in front of a life size nativity. It was covered with softly glowing lights. The sisters led us in singing “Joy to the World.” I looked down at the infant Jesus in the manger. Pieces of straw lay all around him like a golden blanket. Suddenly, my heart filled with joy! I understood. Those were our pieces of straw from the box at school! All of my special work was helping to keep the baby Jesus warm. I really had prepared room for him in my heart.

Teresa Preflatish Royer, Bristow, Ind.
Southern Indiana REC consumer 

When the fur flies over the fir tree

The ideal Christmas tree has to be the tallest and most extravagant tree on the lot. No reasonable 5-foot tree like our parents had; you have a 7-foot tree or else!

The reason our parents had a smaller tree soon became apparent as you load this monstrous fir tree in your trunk and have to tie it down because it is too large. That’s just the beginning.

Upon arrival home and finally lugging the tree up the steps and through a door that wasn’t nearly wide enough, you see the top of the fir; it brushes against the ceiling obviously needing to be cut. You struggle taking the fir out the too narrow doorway once again to saw off the end of the trunk. While freezing in subzero weather and trying hard not to break branches, the job is finally accomplished. And … you guessed it … you have to go through that doorway one more time. As your mate holds the tree straight, with branches tucked in her hair and face, you realize that your seven-foot tree has become a 6 1/2-foot tree. Never mind, your job isn’t done yet.

As you slip the tree stand onto the trunk, you realize the stand is too small. (Your fur is ruffling!) The tree makes one more trip to the outside to have the trunk trimmed to fit the stand. After returning through the narrow doorway and placing the stand on the trunk, you discover the trunk has been trimmed to look like a sharpened pencil and will not stand erect in the stand. (Your fur is ruffled again.)

Never fear, a trip to the hardware for a larger tree stand is the answer. The end of the tree has to be trimmed again so it will be flat for the stand. Out you go for another saw job on the trunk. Once inside with the new tree stand on the trunk, you ask for the last screw to make it secure. You shake the box — no noise. You even tear open the box — no screw! Well, to the hardware store again! (At this point, the fir, as well as the fur, is going to fly!)

At last, the tree — now 5 1/2 feet tall — is placed. You stand back and say something like, “Hold the tree, dear. I’ll adjust the screws. It seems a little crooked.” Needless to say, the adjusted screws didn’t help. The trunk was shaped like an “S.” One last trip with a saw in one hand and a noticeable twitch I had never seen before, and the tree was sawed off past the crooked part of the trunk. For the last time, it was brought through the too narrow doorway.

There it is … your 4-foot Christmas tree with broken branches, a bare spot on one side you swore wasn’t there when you bought it, propped up with a catalog under one leg of the tree stand!

Doug Moore, Akron, Ind.

The Christmas gift

Most of us remember a particular Christmas because of a special gift we received that year — a long-awaited Barbie doll, a Tonka dump truck, or the keys to our first car. If you are a parent, though, you may recall a gift not because it was expensive or long-awaited, but because of the expression on your child’s face as you opened it.

When our younger son Tim wanted to shop at the annual elementary school Children’s Christmas Sale, my husband, Frank, gave him $3 and then chauffeured him to the school. Tim “oohed” and “aahed” over myriad gifts, but his eyes glowed when he finally saw IT, said Frank. Dad tried gently to dissuade him: “That’s a lot of money to spend. That may not fit Mom.” But Tim was determined that he would purchase IT.

When Tim came home, he requested wrapping paper, tape, and ribbon before closing his bedroom door. A half hour later Tim emerged from his room and announced, “Mom, you’re going to love it!” and then laid his package conspicuously under the tree.

Christmas Day arrived at our home will all the glory and anticipation it musters in children. Tim handed out the gifts as Kevin, our older son, read each name aloud, their usual Christmas Day ritual.

Throbbing with excitement, Tim thrust his lovingly wrapped gift at me. The package, decked in Santa red paper and dribbling strands of green ribbon, had pointed corners that poked out like the tops of tepees. Enough tape covered the package to secure Odysseus to the ship’s mast as he passed the Sirens. Tim assured me that he had wrapped it all by himself (as if there were any doubt). I ripped open the paper and discovered a small white box.

As I peered inside, Tim danced up and down in front of me. “You’re going to love it! You’re going to love it!” He was right; I did love IT, a brass-toned skull and crossbones ring with two piercing green rhinestone eyes, but not for the reason he thought.

Watching me place IT on the ring finger of my right hand, Tim swelled with pride. I wore that ring at home; I wore that ring in public. Even Kevin and Dad didn’t poke fun at Tim’s gift. They understood his motive for giving IT.

We would do well this Christmas to remember Tim. A Christmas gift, be it a child’s or adult’s, had little to do with the gift itself, but has a lot to do with the heart of the giver.

Janice O’Shea, Lafayette, Ind.

Past seasonal disappointments erased by joyful arrival of newborn

As it is for many, Christmas as an adult has often been difficult for me.

The unrealistic expectations, the materialistic hype, and wearing the homemade sweater to the family get-together have often made me wish I could just skip the whole thing! After some consideration, I believe my adult disappointments stem from wishing for a Christmas like the Waltons, or Little House on the Prairie.

When your family is small and scattered from east to west, it is difficult to achieve such a wish.

However, many of my childhood Christmas memories are very happy ones, too many to recall. I clung to the Santa ideal just as long as I could. Eight years old, standing outside my mother’s kitchen door, I finally relented as a neighborhood kid revealed the truth in no uncertain terms. It was a sad day.

The following years brought minor disappointments, such as being the forgotten child at the church gift exchange, TWICE!

One year, I unknowingly wrapped my own present, the extra gift “just in case someone forgets,” my aunt had said. It makes me laugh a little now, but it sure felt strange walking to the front for the gift I wrapped myself!

Then, there was the Christmas I was 16. I just KNEW Dad had bought me the baby blue ’65 Mustang. I woke up starry-eyed. “Is my car out there, Dad?”

He grinned mischievously, gesturing with his thumb toward the door. “It’s out there.”

Fearfully, I peeked out the window. The only car in the drive was the ’84 Caprice Classic my dad drove to work daily. My dad’s low chuckle confirmed the joke.

I drove my faithful Chevy 14 years, only giving it up, tearfully, at my husband’s insistence.

Dec. 25, 2001, God provided the Christmas gift that would change my seasonal attitude forever. Since I had forgotten to be joyful for God’s gift of His Son, the Savior, He gave me my beautiful baby girl, Bethany Rose, to remind me. The soft hush of snowfall followed us to the hospital, but did not keep my family from gathering to share the best Christmas I’ve ever had.

Julie Critchfield, Birdseye, Ind.
Dubois REC, Inc. 

A homemade Christmas

Christmas was really exciting and magical at our house in the late 1940s. We were very poor but we (my sister and I) would always get a few presents at Christmas and birthdays.

My birthday is Christmas Eve, so my gifts for the year were both over quickly, making Christmastime much more to look forward to for me. Most everything was homemade by one of my parents and usually a needed item not always a wanted item. There was some homemade candy and an orange, too.

My Mother always made me a new dress and flannel pajamas for my birthday on Christmas Eve. On Christmas then my sister and I would get a rubber doll — nothing fancy —just a doll to cuddle and play with.

I’m not sure how old I was but one Christmas morning my sister and I rushed to the tree and as always there was my new dolly and Lo and BEHOLD she had on a new dress just like the one my Mother made and gave me for my birthday the day before and also beside the doll was a pair of flannel pajamas just like mine also!

I was amazed that Santa knew to dress my doll in a dress like mine and pajamas too. This definitely made an impression on me “Santa was real and smart, too.”

I am now 64, but that Christmas is as vivid in my memory today as way back then. As I think about those Christmases, it reminds me of a Mother that loved her children and also never wasted anything, not even a scrap of material. She always put everything to good use and in doing so at Christmas that year she made a believer out of a little girl that Santa was real.

I will NEVER FORGET the magic of that Christmas morning so long ago.

Rita F. Neal, Floyd Knobs, Ind.
Harrison REMC

Christmas memories

In 1957, at the age of 12, I wanted a doll for Christmas. Maybe I was a bit too old to ask for one last doll, as I was on the brink of becoming a teenager, but I loved dolls.

In early December, a large package arrived at the post office. The package was addressed to me! The return label read: L.S. Ayres. It was quite a mystery to my family because no one in our family had ever been to the Ayres store.

What excitement I felt as I opened the package and found a beautiful rag doll! God had indeed answered my prayers! At bed time, I snuggled next to my doll and would stare at my wondrous gift until I fell asleep.

As Christmas approached, I was still excited about the upcoming festivities even though I had already received my doll.

Then, on the morning of Christmas Eve, my happiness was shattered when my mother suggested I give the doll to a young couple with three small girls. The girls’ father had lost his job and had not worked for several months. I could not understand how one doll would bring happiness to three children, and after all, the doll was mine. All day long I debated with my mom, my sister and my heart about what I should do. Time was running out. It was Christmas Eve.

Finally, the decision was made. As my sister and I walked in silence to the young couple’s home, I still selfishly thought the doll should be mine to keep. When the young mother opened the door, I reluctantly handed over my doll. As I placed the doll in her arms, she turned away from me and began to cry. On the verge of tears myself, I explained the mystery of the doll’s arrival and that my family wanted her girls to have a doll under the tree on Christmas morning.

My sister and I cried as we headed back home that Christmas Eve, not for the loss of my doll, but from the woman’s expression of gratitude and joy.

I learned many valuable lessons about life on that long ago Christmas.

I learned that mothers are usually right about decisions in life.

I learned about sharing with those less fortunate. (A few years later, on another Christmas morning, I learned more about the concept of sharing: Sitting next to the tree was one bicycle for six children to share).

I learned that God always answers our prayers, but sometimes it isn’t the way we want Him to.

I have many beautiful memories of Christmas and the abundance my family shared, but every year my thoughts return to the young couple and three little girls. It was the Christmas I also learned that the most beautiful gifts come from the heart.

Ruth Fishero, Veedersburg, Ind.
Tipmont REMC 

Seeing Christmas through Santa’s eyes

Back in 1985, I had the opportunity to play “Santa Claus” for my local Jaycee chapter. My wife and I had just purchased a new suit, as the one provided was rather tacky.

At 8 a.m. Saturday morning, adorned in my Santa attire, the local volunteer fire department loaded me into their fire engine, and with the siren at full blast, proceeded to drive around the entire town!

Imagine the looks on the children’s faces as they rushed to the windows at all the racket and spied Santa Claus waving to them outside! After the “tour” I took my place at the chapter’s clubhouse to greet the local youngsters, take their last minute Christmas orders and (of course) hand out Santa’s favorite candy, peppermint candy canes. After visiting with over 50 bright eyed youngsters, an obviously “nonbeliever” lad approached me. Appearing to be about 8 years old, he hesitantly asked “Are you the real Santa Claus?” To which I replied, “Of course I am!”

Still in disbelief, the young man said, “I just saw three Santas at the mall, and they weren’t real. They were skinny, and one had a pillow under his coat!”

Being of rather extra large stature, I assured him. I had no pillow under my coat, and invited him to “feel” for himself. He slowly approached, reached out and proceeded to “poke” me several times in the belly. Each time he poked me, his eyes grew wider. Then he quickly withdrew his hand, turned to the other children waiting in line and yelled, “HE IS THE REAL SANTA CLAUS!”

He was so excited, he thanked me and ran out the door! As I began to visit with yet another child, this excited young man threw open the door, ran back up to me and quickly said, “Santa, I have one more question. Is Rudolph real, too!?”

To which I replied, “Of course, he’s real!”

At this new conformation, the young man yelled, “I knew it! I knew he was real! Wait until I tell my Mom!”

Then as quick as a wink he flew out the door once again. A “true” nonbeliever had been successfully converted!

When all the children had presented their wish lists and left for the day, I noticed a young mother standing at the back of the room with a small child in a stroller. I asked if she needed to talk to Santa. The mother said, “No, not really. You see, she is severely handicapped and can’t communicate or understand what is going on.”

I asked her to bring her up to me anyway. I asked if I could hold her. After a slight hesitation, her mother agreed.

Taking her from her stroller, she carefully handed the child to me. I held her tiny crippled body up close to me, and whispered in her ear. Immediately, this sweet little child began to respond! She started moving her little hands and feet, and trying with all her might, frantically tried to make sounds (or talk) to Old Saint Nick!

Her mother started crying, telling others that she had never seen her daughter so excited.

As I handed the child back to her mother, I gave her a kiss on her forehead, and said softly “Santa loves you.”

By this time, I, too, had tears running down my face. The young mother thanked me for what I had done and left. Barely two months later, I learned that this beautiful child had passed away.

In just a few short hours, I had been given the opportunity to experience what the “true” meaning of Christmas is all about. To this day, I still have tears as I tell about “My most memorable Christmas.”

James Walker, Silver Lake, Ind.
Kosciusko REMC

Reasons and seasons: a time for every purpose

So many Christmases have come and gone, with the memories of shiny tinsel, flashing Christmas trees, and the scent of pine mingling with fresh baked cookies and cider, but none more memorable than the two that blended into one — ’92 and ’97. From the pain of labor from one in ’92 to the “rebirth” of tears beginning on the same day five years later. One with loss, and the other with healing pains as I held my newest addition.

You see, in 1992, I gave birth to a baby girl as beautiful as Snow White! She had my jet black hair, sky blue eyes, and skin as white as a Christmas snow, but went home with her adoptive mom and dad on Christmas Eve! I went home that Christmas Eve with only half my heart, a stocking of tears silently shedding, and a life and past to mend. I was a victim of a date rape, with her as the result.

Five years later, after marrying my college sweetheart, I found myself in labor in the same hospital, on the same date, subconsciously resisting, not wanting to give birth!

Just before midnight the doctors gave me a sleeping pill and sent me home to relax. The next morning all I remember was waking up in the hospital with a “carbon copy” of the baby born five years prior, but this time I would keep, hold, hug and love her.

It’s hard to put into words and even harder to relive the pain. Every year when stores begin to set out Christmas displays, my heart trembles like an earthquake and breaks all over again. Yet, it’s amazing to live to see God’s greater plan!

Although the world gets caught up in wrapping paper, a fight over Elmo dolls, and the rush and crunch to buy the perfect gift, our family, now with eight children, celebrates the true meaning of Christmas, aware of our loss and gain every year.

During every Christmas season, I bond with the mother in the manger as we both gave birth knowing that that baby would break our hearts forever!

I now know the perfect gift comes from a balance of the past and present, and holding on during the hard times, with the hope and internal love that can’t be bought or sold.

This is a gift we can give ourselves. In time, and through patience and perseverance — everything happens for a reason, in season!

Charlotte Daron, Crawfordsville, Ind.