Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Two More Sleeps

Dear Lyla,

Only two sleeps until Christmas Day. Your Great-Aunt Debbie arrived last night and your boy cousins are due in a few hours.  Already Aunt Debbie, Grandma and I have consumed several pots of coffee this morning and have reminisced several decades in the span of a few hours. We were decked out in bathrobes and grubby clothes, having laughs and pumping our veins with caffeine; this is the way Christmas break is supposed to be.  When you are surrounded by loved ones, good conversation, tasty food and enough coffee grounds in the pantry to last until New Year’s; you are rich beyond measure. Nothing under the tree this year will last longer or be more important than the memories you will make in the next few days. You will carry them with you forever. I will tell you a secret Little One, they do not fade over time. If anything, they are more vibrant and accessible as you age. Along with the memories will come a sense of comfort, purpose and belonging. Today as you, Daddy, Grandma and Aunt Debbie are out shopping and I wait for the boys, my mind drifts to the Christmases of my past. I realized that it has been 19 Christmases since your Bumpa went to heaven. While you would think my memories of my father may fade with time, the memories  I have of him at Christmastime are so fresh it takes me by surprise. Your Bumpa loved Christmas, everything about it. Hanging up lights and swearing a blue streak when  a bulb would go out, watching us put up the tree, listening to Grandma’s Elvis album (Blue Christmas I think), decorating cookies and the games. I remember the games most of all. We would play cards or board games until we could barely keep our eyes open. What I do not remember were the presents. Oh, there were plenty under the tree but I simply cannot recall what Santa brought us. I have a feeling this will be your legacy as well; memories that are rich and warm, recollections of all of the people both present and past that you will carry with you for many years to come. Only two more sleeps my most beloved child, but until then there is much coffee, conversations and card games to be had.

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lyla micDear Lyla,

Putting you to bed is one of the most special times of the day. I love our snuggle ritual, your pleas to stay up just a bit longer and your most vocal opinion on how nighttime prayers are to be said. Two weeks ago  you admonished me for reciting my part of the prayer in the incorrect order; praying for Mary Beth’s foot to heal comes after our prayer for Laura’s head injury since she got hurt first and could I please try to remember that next time? A few nights ago you instructed me to do an informal poll on all of those included in our prayers to make sure it was actually working, so far the reports have been positive. I suppose I should not be surprised by the lack of solemnity in your prayer habits, you are a straight shooter and have been from the beginning. Perhaps you get your predilection for infusing the secular with the spiritual from Daddy; unlike him, I hope that as you get older the privilege of praying aloud at gatherings will not be revoked. As you know we do not call upon Daddy to give grace any longer in our household; there is good reason for that, a reason I suspect that was concocted by your Daddy to avoid the task entirely. Years before you were born we began the tradition of traveling to Springfield, MO very close to Christmas to spend time with your grandparents, uncles and cousins. One year, before your Uncle Tommy and Aunt Ashley were married, they were to sing in the Christmas Cantata. Uncle Tommy had never sung in a church choir before and we went to the service in order to lend him moral support. Your Uncle Aaron, along with cousins Miranda and Maddie, went with us. I made the mistake of sitting the two girls next to me while Daddy and Aaron sat in the pew behind us muffling giggles, sharing jokes and making snarky comments (neither of them do well unsupervised in a church). At the end of the concert the pastor stood up, thanked us for coming and told us to take Jesus with us as we left; an appropriate and fairly common way to end a service. We found Ashley and Tommy, told them how proud we were of their contribution to the concert and piled into the van to head out to Grandma Atkinson’s farm for lunch; a twenty minute ride on the most curvy roads imaginable. About half way through the trip Daddy slammed on his breaks and shouted “Damn!” My heart started to race and I felt a panic creep over me in response to Daddy’s sudden stop and loud exclamation. When I asked him to tell me what was wrong he simply replied, “We forgot Jesus back at the church.” Your Uncle Aaron hooted and howled and before long we had to pull over to the side of the road because he and Daddy had tears running down their cheeks and were doubled over in fits of uncontrollable laughter. A few weeks later Christmas Day came to our house back in Iowa. Uncle Spuds, Grandma Jo and Dr. Earl were guests at our table. I had not known Dr. Earl all that long but I knew that he was devout in his beliefs and suspected that his approach to prayer was a solemn one. So on that Christmas I asked your Daddy to say grace; perhaps not the best request of someone who is an admitted introvert with a quick wit and a propensity to push boundaries on even the most stoic of occasions. Grace started out beautifully and in my head I was silently praising Daddy who had seemingly risen to the task. We were almost to “Amen” when Daddy suddenly said “…and God please forgive us for leaving your son at the church in Springfield.” We had regaled the others earlier in the day with Daddy’s antics in Springfield and he couldn’t wait to deliver the ultimate punch line. I was mortified and worried that Dr. Earl would be offended. Uncle Spuds, never to miss an opportunity to encourage Daddy but not wanting to irritate me, choked back on his laughter and tried to compose himself. Daddy was looking up at me from under his bowed head trying to determine just how mad I was with him. Grandma Jo raised an eyebrow, not quite knowing how to react. Dr. Earl, bless his heart, laughed out loud, long and heartily. At that moment I knew I had been beaten, Daddy would be given a lifelong reprieve on the task of saying grace at the dinner table. What you must take away from this story Little One, is that everyone must be able to practice faith in their own way. We say prayers at night together because I want to teach you that it is good to think of others and send positive energy their way. When you grow up your belief system may alter or you may encounter others who have different views about life and spirituality, and that is ok;  everyone must take his or her own journey. In the end it doesn’t matter if you call them prayers, good wishes or positive thoughts when you think about the loved ones in your life; the point is that you take the time to consider them in the first place.

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Lyla in ChairDear Lyla,

Often when you hear talk of the Trinity it is in reference to religion; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When Daddy speaks of the holy triumvirate he is referring to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones. This is not to say that Daddy has no faith life, he does; it’s just that his approach to a spiritual walk usually involves a dose of dystopian narrative mixed with special effects and computer generated imagery. Daddy frequently articulates the Christ themes in many of the films and novels that have enjoyed longevity among the populous; it is the fact that these fictional creations can offer a moral examination of one’s own existence that most likely drew Daddy to English education. However, sometimes Daddy goes a bit too far in his effort to streamline the secular and the spiritual; usually at Mommy’s expense. When we lived in Columbia, MO the Star Wars films were being re-released in the theatres. Daddy had seen those films multiple times over when he was a kid. I, on the other hand, had only seen Star Wars as a rental on our television and so Daddy was determined that we would see them together on the big screen. It was a wonderful experience viewing the film with true Lucas fans; their energy and enthusiasm while watching familiar elements unfold was amazing. These Yoda devotees would shout endless warnings to the heroes and reprimands to the villains all the while knowing how the story would end. That Christmas, as a nod to Daddy’s obsession, I purchased three Christopher Radko ornaments for our tree; Darth Vader, C3PO and a Storm Trooper. Daddy was afraid they would get broken on the tree and so a special ornament stand was purchased for these treasures; to this day removing them from their padded storage boxes causes us to hold our breath until they are safely secured to their posts. As you know little one, I take holiday decorating very seriously; that year was no exception. I had decked the halls, trimmed the tree, hung the stockings with care and had displayed the nativity crèche that your Daddy gave me the year prior lovingly on the top of the roll top desk in our entry way. I was so proud of that nativity scene and it was so beautiful; all of the pieces were made out of off-white porcelain with gold painted accents. Almost everyone who saw it commented on how pretty it was and you couldn’t miss seeing the display, it was the first thing you encountered when you stepped into our living area. That season I decorated early and we had many parties and celebrations between Thanksgiving and Christmas, lots of visitors to our home. I began to notice something peculiar; when I would walk from the living room into the kitchen or from the kitchen back into the living room your Daddy and quite a few of our friends would quip “May the Force be with you Baby Jesus.” At first I thought it was quirky musings from a bunch of adults reliving their adolescence; but the frequency with which the phrase was uttered began to intensify. Just a few days before Christmas I had heard that phrase so many times I finally got fed up and shouted at your Daddy “What is wrong with you?” He laughed so hard that he cried; his response fueled my anger. Taking pity on me, or perhaps out of a sense of self preservation, he said “Turn around.” Behind me was my beautiful crèche, but for the life of me I couldn’t see what was so funny about a porcelain nativity scene; and then I saw it. Nestled between Mary and Joseph was a small plastic Yoda almost the same hue of the porcelain peering over Baby Jesus. From the peels of renewed laughter behind me, it had clearly been there a long time. Through his laughter I heard one last “May the Force be with you Baby Jesus” escape your Daddy’s lips. What other response was there from me but to laugh right along with him? Beyond the fact that your Daddy likes to aggravate and tease me any time the opportunity arises, I think he was trying to teach me a lesson. I was so caught up in the trappings of the season (baking, decorating and shopping) that I forgot to enjoy it and this was his subtle way of telling Mommy to chill out. I will admit little one that sometimes I do still get caught up in the busyness of the holidays, but when you came into our lives and as we get older it is easier to focus on the importance of embracing the love that comes with all of the laughter in our home. May the Force be with you Lyla.

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Koel and LylaDear Lyla,

If I could choose the shape of the family tree on Mommy’s side it would be a Christmas tree. Like you, I love all of the holidays but have special place in my heart for the yuletide. The magic of Christmas has long been an accepted fact for the Pier clan; and the adoption of that particular viewpoint starts at a very young age. Evidence of our love for the season can be seen on the Christmas tree in our front room, there are ornaments on that tree that I made in preschool; lovingly preserved for me by Grandma Jo and passed down to me at an age when I was old enough to understand the value in such rudimentary handiwork made by tiny hands. You and I watch the same Christmas specials that have been around for over 40 years; yet the cadence and timbre of Boris Karloff’s voice as he narrates “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” resonates with each new generation. As I grew older I began to appreciate and relish how children envision the season; how they make sense of the impossibility of a large jolly man stuffing himself down every chimney in one short night.  The sweetness of the revelation that, for those who believe, the night represents that birth of a baby that would be a light to the world; a gift of sacrifice. Long before you came into our lives Daddy and I had the pleasure of watching our nieces and nephews experience the awe of the season. Your cousin Kaila was the first of the grandchildren to be born to Bumpa and Grandma Jo; overboard does not even begin to describe the spoils the little urchin gathered on that first Christmas.  It was a good many years before Kaila had any competition around the Christmas tree and then Koel was born. Daddy and I lived very far away from Kaila and Koel when they were little and we did not get to see them very often. However, there was one Christmas when Koel was about a year younger than you are now that we traveled up to the lake to see everyone. How excited the children were for Christmas to finally arrive; they counted the days and nights with the solemnity that belongs only to children waiting for Santa can express at this time of year. Koel was finally at the age where he could identify and recount for any adult who would listen all of the trappings of Christmas. So enamored was he with Santa that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, pronounced “Roo Doo,”  became his best friend and constant companion. The adults in the room would receive frequent admonishments because of our rude behavior; we were forever stepping on poor Roo Doo’s toes or blocking his path.  Afraid of another tongue lashing from our wee nephew we would ask as to Roo Doo’s whereabouts before entering; often  Koel would tell us that his friend was outside having a snowball snack or taking a snooze on his bed,  the coast was clear. Koel’s conviction and faith in the symbols of Christmas was so strong that he inserted himself into that holiday narrative. At sixteen Koel no longer carries on conversations with his childhood friend Roo Doo, but I do believe he still believes in the magic of Christmas. How blessed you are little one to have such colorful ornamentation decorating your family tree. I hope my little cherub that you and I never reach the age when we no longer believe.

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Good Grief

Dear Lyla,

The holiday season is in full bloom! There are many ways to tell that we are in the midst of the hustle and bustle of this festive time of year. Animated talk of victories to be won come from our friends who are fans of the pigskin games: they are eagerly awaiting Turkey Day and the promise of gridiron action following a ritual gorging of turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. Light poles on the main street of our hometown have been festooned with garland, bows and merrily twinkling lights. Shopkeepers have frosted and bejeweled their windows to entice a look at the wares they offer to those in the throes of holiday shopping. Mommy’s and Daddy’s students start to get a bit more antsy in anticipation of the coming break and we ponder the efficacy of the lecture plans we have prepared in light of the looming hiatus from academe. Even at such a young age your schedule has become filled with pageant rehearsals and notices sent home by your teacher requesting parents to sign up to bring treats for the party you will have on the last day of class before break. While all of these things are hallmarks of the holiday season there is one tradition, for me, that signals its official beginning: the Charlie Brown specials! Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the gang have been my holiday companions for more years than I care to memorialize in print. My old friends return at the end of October starting with Linus’ ill fated night in the pumpkin patch waiting for the appearance of The Great Pumpkin. Linus teaches a lesson in friendship, patience and faith that still resonates with me today. Peppermint Patty and Marcie are favorite sidekicks in the Thanksgiving special where we learn to be thankful for what we have and understand that despite differences we are all creatures deserving of love and dignity. It is Charlie Brown’s Christmas, however, that gives me greatest pause; I have never watched this special without crying just a little. The most bedraggled and unlikely tree becomes the most powerful of symbols in this holiday classic. In a season where sparkles and glitter reign supreme, Charlie Brown sees the potential and beauty in a tree that is overlooked and unwanted. It is because Charlie Brown can appreciate the majesty that lies within the stunted conifer that he is the hero of the Peanuts gang. Charlie Brown’s greatness lies not in his ability to kick a football, play the piano or to be the popular kid in the crowd, but in his capacity for love and caring. I like to hope that there is a little bit of Charlie Brown in all of us; we have our “good grief” days and the days where the most ordinary of folks have the capacity to care for each other in extraordinary ways. So this holiday season little one, I look forward to sharing some of my dearest childhood friends with you, in the hopes that they will become yours as well.

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Dear Lyla,

Yesterday was November 11, and it was Veteran’s Day. On this day we take time to remember all of those who served our nation in the armed forces; it is a way of saying thank you to those in the military who are called upon to make sacrifices in order to protect our freedoms. There are many in our family who have served in the military.  Grandma Jo’s mommy and daddy were both in the Army during World War II; and your Bumpa was named  after his Uncle EuGene who was also serving in World War II at the time and wanted a namesake should he not return from the battlefield.  For many to serve one’s country is a calling and I think your Bumpa felt an obligation to serve when he was a young man. But for Bumpa it was not to be; according to family lore, he did not pass his hearing test on the day of his physical exam and was excluded from joining up. We never talked about the military much as I was growing up, except for the summer that Grandpa Henwood came to stay and he would swap war stories with an old man named Pappy Yokum that lived up the road. Although it was not a common topic of conversation, my sister and I did understand that those who served our country deserved our deference and respect.  It came to pass one Christmas that this idea of reverence for those in uniform manifested itself on a road trip to Missouri. I must have been ten or eleven the year that Grandma Jo and Bumpa decided that we would spend Christmas with their friends Charles and Norma in Missouri. We set out for Missouri a few days before Christmas as it took well over twelve hours to get there from Minnesota. I remember that the weather was horrible; it was either sleeting or snowing during the entire trip. Many times we would have to pull over to a gas station to clear road salt and dirt from the headlamps and to refill the washer fluid. It was during one of these stops that my father engaged in what I considered to be the most peculiar behavior; he picked up a hitchhiker. You have to understand this was completely out of character for Bumpa; never in a million years would I have predicted such an act. As Bumpa and the stranger got closer to the car, I noticed that the young man who was to be our new companion was wearing military fatigues. I must admit that at age ten camouflage of any kind was a bit scary (it wasn’t as commonly integrated into fashion and pop culture as it is now). Bumpa instructed Grandma Jo to get into the back seat with Patti and me. As the snow continued to beat down on our car as we traveled south, the conversation in the front seat was lively and quick. The young man had flown in on leave and was trying to get to his folks before Christmas. His parents were poor and he had no extra money for transportation, he was relying on the kindness of strangers to get him home for the holidays. It was amazing how at ease my father felt with this young solider; how quickly they fell into comfortable conversation. After a few hours it was time for the young man to change direction again and so my father pulled off at a truck stop that would get him on the interstate that would lead him home. Bumpa gave the young gentleman money for food (I am not sure if grandma was aware of that but I saw my father reach for his wallet when we stopped) and made sure that there was a trucker willing to give him a lift most of the way home.  As we got back on the road, Grandma Jo at the wheel and Bumpa in the passenger’s seat, she asked him what possessed him to do such a thing. Bumpa replied that he had overheard the kid talking to an elderly farm couple who had just driven two hours out of their way to help him out so it couldn’t be that dangerous.  Furthermore, he argued,  if there was trouble grandma was sitting behind the solider in the back seat poised to bonk him over the head with her high heeled shoe! Bumpa had a way of teasing and joking his way through questions and situations that forced him to confront his emotions. If truth be told, I think grandpa was touched by the kid’s story; a young man out of basic training, missing his folks something fierce and doing anything it took to get home. I am not sure of the soldier’s fate, whether he made it home in time for Christmas; I want to believe that he did. I like to think that perhaps he is out there somewhere, telling his children or grandchildren on this day of remembrance about the time when he felt the kindred embrace of his fellow Americans and what it meant to him and his family all those years ago.

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Dear Lyla,

It is now the beginning of November and the air is starting to get crisper as we make our way toward winter. On some mornings as I step on the back porch to let Gigi out I am treated to Jack Frost’s artwork on our arborvitae and the walnut trees. It can be breathtaking, this raw display of nature that the seasons provide for us with indomitable regularity.  It is neither the temperature of the air nor the dance of frost on the foliage that has caught my fancy as we begin to embrace the holiday season; it is the music. I love music of any kind, but I especially love holiday music. Your daddy loves music as well little one; I could not have said “I do” if he didn’t. It is this love of melody and rhythm that is responsible for your eclectic tastes; often daddy and I debate the merits of you being able to sing the lyrics to the song “Sheep Go to Heaven; Goats Go to Hell.” I want to remind you at this point the mantra that we have for songs that may be questionable to your teachers and the parents of your peers; “that song is for home or the car only!” Part of me is secretly pleased as punch that the Red Hot Chili Peppers has been a favorite of yours since you were three; part of me is terrified that we have somehow exposed you to such adult music that you are beyond the point of amendment. Daddy and I both agree on one thing; music will be an important and integral part of your life. We disagree on a few things too. For example, I wanted to get you a keyboard and so he got you a drum set. I think that the xylophone is an acceptable instrument for a young child; he bought you an electric guitar. While these are things that I can overlook, there is one contentious point on which daddy and I will never come to terms; the role of Christmas music in everyday life. If I had my druthers we would listen to Christmas music twelve months out of the year and if daddy had his way it would be twelve hours (preferably during the time when we dream of sugar plums). Every year at the beginning of November I ache to begin the festivities of the Christmas season, but I am reminded by daddy and my students that Thanksgiving must be given its due. To dismiss the holiday entirely because I yearn for the familiar melodies of my youth is to miss out on the unique offerings that this traditional day of thanks has to offer. So little one, I made it my mission to seek out a unique and utterly festive Thanksgiving playlist! It has taken me a little over three years to amass a library of songs that can play for four hours with nary a song repeated. The play list is composed largely of classical music with heavy tones and solid rhythms.  These melodies are in stark contrast to the light and airy selections that are the hallmark of the Christmas season. The rich sounds of thanks provide context, I think, to the hustle and bustle of December. The anthems of Thanksgiving are reflective, they are stable, they are comforting; and like your daddy’s arms they are designed to make you feel safe and secure. Our lives are very busy little one and sometimes we need to slow down a bit and remember to count our blessings.  How marvelous that the gift of music will always be there like an old friend; ready to soothe and calm us when we need it the most.

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