I received this posting about a year ago; I'm not even sure of the mailing
list or newsgroup it came out of. In the bustle and stress of this season,
it helps me to regain perspective; I hope you enjoy it as well.
From: Elisabeth Schafer <email@example.com>
Date: Mon Dec 18, 8:31am -0600
From the time I was 5 years old until just before my 16th birthday, my
father was bishop of the Olympia Ward in western Washington State. Thus,
nearly the entire childhood of my memory was spent as the daughter of a
bishop. My father felt his responsibilities included visiting the poor,
old, and otherwise lonely. These visits became one of my most cherished
In the weeks before Christmas small gifts were readied for those we would
visit. I never knew who arranged for these gifts--my mother or my
father--but the gifts were things like boxes of candy or fancy
handkerchiefs. They were not big gifts, or expensive gifts, or even
particularly useful or needed gifts. They were just excuses to pay a
and a way to say "someone is thinking of you." Each gift was prettily
wrapped. And it was my father who did that. He was an engineer and loved
to do precision work, such as meticulously mitering the corners on the gift
wrap and tying a tight bow in the exact center of the box.
On Christmas Eve we were ready. After a supper that was like all other
suppers during the year (no traditional foods or special table setting),
Laura and I put on our coats and mittens and ran through the kitchen to the
car in the attached garage. We hurried, for we knew that the faster we
all the visits, the sooner we would be home again. And without fail, when
we returned home, we would find that Santa had already visited our house.
We never had to wait until Christmas morning to see what Santa brought.
Because Santa came while we were out visiting instead of sleeping snuggled
in our beds, we saw the gifts arrayed beneath the tree on Christmas Eve
night instead of the next morning. Well, what parents could keep their
children from opening the gifts right then and there. It was only years
later, many years later, that I realized my parents let us open the gifts
the evening so they could sleep late in the morning, undisturbed by eager
In the garage, father was in the driver's seat. Laura and I were on the
back seat, each on our own side, with our own window and our feet primly on
our own side of the hump in the floor. Mother was just sliding into her
seat on the passenger side when she said she heard the telephone ring
the house. Since her side of the car was closer to the door to the
no one ever doubted her word. And since the telephone was always ringing
the bishop's house, we all sighed as we prepared to wait while she answered
and took a message. Finally mother came through the kitchen door again and
checked to see that it was locked behind her. At last we were really on
Laura and I never begrudged the time spent visiting ward members on
Christmas Eve. We lived "in the country," ten miles from the nearest town
and our travels took us through remote, rural areas of western Washington,
for our ward covered a large geographical area, and the poor and lonely
invariably lived in remote places, reached often only by single-lane dirt
roads. We loved riding through the dark northern night, along the narrow
roads lined with tall, straight firs, hemlocks and cedars. We looked out
our steamy side windows to watch for stars and for the occasional Christmas
lights on a lonely homestead.
Some years there had been a skiff of snow a day or two before Christmas,
those years Mother's ability to evoke our imaginations came into greatest
play. All along the whole route, for the full three hours or so we drove
and made visits, Mother and Father talked of Santa's impending visit to the
homes of good children. Surely, Santa would take the opportunity of us
being away from home to make his unseen visit to our house. In the light
snow at the side of the road, Mother always seemed to see sleigh tracks.
course, Laura and I never saw the tracks. We were always just a second too
late, the car having passed on. People in the front seat often saw deer,
skunks crossing the road, and other exciting sights that the back seat
passengers missed by an eyelash. So, although we never actually saw the
sleigh tracks in the snow, we knew that Santa had recently passed by,
perhaps on the way to our house.
I wish now I had paid more attention to those we visited. As a child I
tagged along, letting images and conversations wash over me without
out to capture them and preserve them. I wasn't responsible for anything
other than being well-behaved and patient.
Mary lived alone in a one-room shack on a rutted dirt road a quarter mile
from the run-down farm house where her daughter and son-in-law and their
large family lived. They were all poor in the classic sense with faded,
well-worn clothing; ruddy faces and touseled hair; one creaky, disreputable
vehicle; chickens, dogs and pigs wandering near the house and shack; broken
fences; rusting junk creating a maze through which we had to wend our way
find the house. We didn't visit Denzil and his family, for they were not
poor as they looked and anyway they had each other. But we visited Mary
because she was old, widowed and alone. To me she looked as old as a
could possibly be. She was short and small. Her iron-gray hair was
into a wispy bun on the back of her head. Her knobby hands twisted the
corner of a faded cotton print apron worn over a shapeless, colorless
dress. Even my callous child feelings could sense that the Christmas visit
from the bishop was a highlight of her year. The box of three brand-new,
starched, snow-white handkerchiefs edged in blue or pink or yellow
embroidery was, for her, truly a treasure, a light of beauty and loveliness
in her drab world. Equally life-giving was the visit of the kindly bishop,
his beautiful wife, and two polite little girls. Father talked with her,
perhaps mother did too, but Laura and I just stood quietly looking at the
incredibly old woman and her tiny, strange shack home. We lived in a nice
house with shining floors, neatly painted walls, up-to-date plumbing, and
tidy if not stylish furniture. How could we understand living in a shack
with a rust-colored porcelain sink fed by water from a hand pump on the
counter, shelves for cupboards, without doors or curtains to screen the
meager contents, one lightbulb overhead and no where for visitors to sit.
her home there were no Christmas tree or decorations, no fudge or cookies
other luxuries of the season.
We didn't stay long for there were many to visit and miles to drive between
each one. At another family we visited Carl and Edith and their
mentally-deficient son Dean. Whether they were poor or not I never knew.
Their house had a living room with flowered sofa and easy chairs neatly
decorated with crocheted, white doilies on the backs. Thirty-year-old Dean
had a private bedroom opening off the left side of the living room.
Although I wondered what kinds of things a big man with the mind of a child
might have in his room, we never saw behind the curtain that covered the
doorless opening. A doorway in the back wall of the living room lead into
kitchen which, while not as modern as the kitchen my father had built at
house, had running hot and cold water, a gas stove, open-front cupboards, a
crinkly linoleum floor, and a big table with chairs. Perhaps we visited
this family because of Dean and the loneliness and worry felt by aging
parents of a retarded but exceptionally healthy child.
We visited Emma, another widow with gray hair that wouldn't stay in a neat
bun. Emma was once a big woman whose only remnant of statuesque vigor was
her remarkable bosom that sagged below the navel. Like others we visited,
her delight at seeing us was reward indeed. The box of candy was a rare
treat in her tired life.
All over the silent countryside of widely-spaced houses and occasional
fields and clearings in the evergreen forest we drove on Christmas Eve. In
the car mother tried to organize singing of Christmas carols. Father sang
off key. Mother sang with a widely wobbling vibrato, and I couldn't hear a
pitch to join so sang off key more than ever. Only Laura, who was too
little to have much impact, had a clear, sweet voice worthy of the hopeful,
joyous Christmas songs.
At last, after several visits, every box of candy and every box of
handkerchiefs had been delivered and Christmas greetings given and cheer
brought, and we turned toward home. Had Santa arrived? Every year before
he had always reached our house early in his world-wide delivery schedule,
so we felt confident that gifts would be under the tree and in our labeled
stockings when we pulled into the garage.
When I was old enough to understand that Santa was really mother and
I was mystified as to how Santa visited our house when both parents were in
the car with me the whole time. I asked the nearest neighbors, the
Beardsley's a quarter of a mile north of us on Keating Road. No, they
didn't sneak into our house in our absence to lay out the gifts. While
playing with Buddy Beardsley at his house in mid December I searched
thoroughly and was certain that no gifts were being hidden at the
neighbors'. No one else lived close enough to be part of the plot.
Year after year went by and I never solved the puzzle. My four-years
younger sister was the clever one who finally saw the clue and explained
mystery. She suddenly realized that only mother heard the last minute
call when we were all in the car and that no Christmas Eve had ever gone by
without a call interrupting our departure. That was it! Under pretense of
answering the phone, mother efficiently pulled the gifts out of hiding,
placed them under the tree, filled our two stockings in a wink, and was
quickly back in the garage opening the door to the car and explaining who
had called and what they wanted. She was a consummate liar so I was lulled
out of any suspicion.
And that's how Santa came to our house every Christmas Eve. Each year as
opened our gifts, we were fresh from visiting others and taking gifts to
others. Our hearts were rich with the joy of the season. I would be
untruthful to say that I wasn't greedy and eager for my own gifts. But I
know that those wonderful Christmas Eve visits to the poor in spirit, the
neglected, the poverty-stricken and lonely were the best part of Christmas
for me, even then. Still today in my mind's eye I see light come on in the
faces of the discouraged. I see tears zigzagging down the creased faces of
the haggard. And I remember the safe, comfortable feeling of leaning back
against the side in the back seat of a capacious Ford, rolling through a
night dark as only dark can be surrounded by tall trees with only a slit of
starry sky showing overhead, knowing that my parents were in charge and my
sister was with me but respectfully on her own side. I knew the meaning of
peace on earth, good will to all.
And to you, my sisters and brothers, may peace, good will and joy be yours.
May they indeed. ..bruce..
| bruce f. webster |
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| Object Systems Group |