Commentary

Snow: Christmas like the ones we used to know

asnow@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2013 

When I mentioned that it was time to write still another Christmas column, a friend said, “Well, please don’t tell us again about the time Santa didn’t come to your house.”

So I won’t. Instead I’ll unwrap a few other Christmas memories. I imagine that many of you also do this same sort of thing amid the Yuletide revelry whirling around us.

There were times when the children were young that Scrooge arrived early at our house in the form of the “putting up the tree” ritual. Sometimes, what should have been a simple and joyful experience was instead an exercise in frustration.

Our trees seemingly had minds of their own. They would fall, either before we could decorate them or after they’d been adorned, scattering ornaments and spreading dismay.

Finally, our neighbors, the Smiths, who had ceased putting up a tree, gave us their sturdy, fall-proof tree stand that Frank himself had constructed. Peace prevailed thereafter in the Snow household.

During my first Christmas with my future wife’s family, I realized that she had oversold me to at least one family member – her sister Carolyn, six years younger.

When on Christmas morning, she handed me a beautifully wrapped package, I eagerly opened it, only to find an empty burlap bag on which was printed: “For the man who has everything, here’s a bag to put it in.”

My loneliest Christmas? It had to be the one I spent on R&R leave in the town of Mackay, Australia, during World War II.

The Aussies were a hospitable people, grateful that the Yanks had come to their rescue as Japan was preparing to invade.

On Christmas Eve, they organized a street dance for us that included a sing-along. I’ll admit I lost it as we sang “White Christmas,” and I looked up at the star-studded sky, wondering if those same stars were shining down on Surry County, half a world away.

During the war, it took weeks for packages to arrive overseas. And on this particular Mail Call just before Christmas, the mail sergeant handed me a battered package.

My mother had mailed me a pair of street shoes, a welcome relief from our heavy, ugly standard-issue footwear.

The shoes were great, but more exciting were two bottles of Coca-Cola that my mother had tucked inside the shoes.

I was immediately mobbed by my buddies. Although there was no ice to be found, we sipped the warm soda as if it were iced champagne.

Christmas memories include tagging along after an older brother as we searched the woods for the right tree. Afterward, we decorated it with strings of popcorn and “icicles” – long slivers of foil saved from year to year.

Back then, every boy’s Santa list included a Daisy air-rifle. But with tobacco selling for 9 cents a pound, it wasn’t on my father’s shopping list.

A visiting city cousin received a Daisy, and my brother tried it out from the barn loft where we were playing.

Aiming at my sister on the front porch, he scored a bull’s-eye on her backside. She ran into the house, screaming “Mama! Mama! I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!”

Since hunters were in the area, poor Mama almost passed out. Warren soon felt the sting of a switch on his legs.

It’s strange that my memories of those hardscrabble Christmases are among my favorites. I think it’s because my expectations of material gifts were not very high.

Yet the built-up anticipation and the eternal hope that something special would be there on Christmas morning never waned, even when the stocking was stuffed only with fruit, a few nuts and a stick of peppermint.

The incomparable magic of Christmas has always belonged to children, which seems appropriate since the day revolves around the birth of a child.

From the mind’s dim archives comes the memory of two little girls, ages 5 and 3, stealing into our bedroom in the predawn darkness on Christmas morning.

“Mommy, is the big hand on seven yet?” one whispered, hopefully.

I’m a bit sad as I recall poet Elizabeth Akers Allen’s lines:

Backward, turn backward, O Time in thy flight

Make me a child again, just for tonight!

(To my readers: Have I told you lately that I treasure your year-round gift of readership? Well, I’m telling you now.)

Snow: 919-836-5636 or asnow@newsobserver.com

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