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James R. Stout

Christmas Eve

             Here it is Christmas Eve again. This is my 63rd Christmas Eve, but I honestly don’t remember half of those. The ones that I do remember were mostly very special and hold fond memories. Especially those spent with family members now passed. When I was growing up, Christmas Eve around our house became more important than Christmas Day. It was on Christmas Eve that we usually had our big family gatherings with grand meals, “White Christmas” on the TV, the family gathered around the piano to sing Christmas Carols, and the barely contained excitement for the opening of the gifts under the Christmas Tree. Sometime around 1968 Mom and Dad decided that sleeping late on Christmas morning was perhaps worth allowing us to open gifts on Christmas Eve instead of the traditional Christmas morning. That was just fine with my sisters and me!

            Christmas Eve was the culmination of about 2 months of anticipation. It all started around the first week of November when we received a few special items in the mail. They were, in order of importance, the Sears Christmas Catalog, the Montgomery Wards Christmas Catalog, and the J.C. Penney’s Christmas Catalog. We all would spend hours over the next several weeks dreaming and wishing while paging through those catalogs. Mom once said that there were more dog ears in those catalogs than at the local dog pound! Just in case the dog ears were not specific enough to leave the necessary hint for my parent’s, I would circle things that I was wanting most. Now, I knew money was tight and only a small fraction of those things would be obtainable by my parents, but I felt it my duty to allow them plenty of choices!

            I remember several certain items in those catalogs. “Santa” would bring me some of them, and some would never make it down our chimney. Well, to tell the truth we didn’t have a chimney or fireplace, but you catch my drift. I never did get that “Fort Apache” playset or a new Sears bike, but I never felt deprived and I always felt loved. In 1966, I got my first transistor radio which brought me the pleasure of listening to my favorite hit songs. In 1968, I got a great little portable record player to play my growing record collection. It was a red plastic mono machine that even ran on batteries if you weren’t near electricity. “Crimson and Clover”, “Time of the Season”, and “Hey Jude” sounded great on my own record player. In 1970, I got something very special. No, it wasn’t very expensive, but it was still very special. It was a brand-new Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar. I had been learning the guitar for about a year by playing my father’s, but I wanted my own guitar. Dad picked it out for me and while it wasn’t a Gibson or Martin or one of those expensive guitars, it played well, and it was mine. I still have it today. In 1973, my mother made sure that I had something to help foster my interest in writing. They went all out that year by giving me a Smith-Corona Portable Electric Typewriter. She encouraged my writing and would ask me to read her my newest poems. She also figured I could use the typewriter when I started college the following fall. But that’s another story.

            The years would fly by as they still do. Ten years later I was the proud father of a baby boy. My wife and I didn’t have much money in those early years, but I had learned from watching my parents that your children come first. By the following year, a baby girl was added to our little family. In the years to come there would be Christmas’s with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo games, new bikes (that I put together in the wee small hours of Christmas morning) for my son and daughter, a play kitchen, dolls and stuffed animals, and many other things that meant so much to my kids at the time. There was a Fender guitar and amplifier for my son one year and an Epiphone acoustic guitar for my daughter (left-handed and special ordered) and portable TV’s with built-in VCR’s one year. My wife and I worked hard all year long and saved money to make those things happen.

            But still the best part of those Christmas’s were the family gatherings like we had when I was growing up. There was the year we all dressed-up and went to a special Christmas program at a big church near our home. Oh, and the driving around looking at Christmas lights was a highlight. We usually ended-up at an IHOP afterward. Those are special memories to me and I hope they are to my children.

            As I stated at the beginning of this, today is my 63rd Christmas Eve. Yesterday I got to spend the day at my daughter’s house with her in-laws and it was a great big gathering. I watched three of my granddaughters as they were opening some presents that I gave them, and I realized that I am a very blessed man. Instead of dwelling on the sadness of my first Christmas without my mother or sister, I choose to dwell on the blessings that I have. My grandchildren are so very special, and the time spent with them will be with me until I join my loved ones in Heaven. I believe that my grandchildren were storing-up some special memories that will be with them for the rest of their lives. Given I had a long drive to get back home and I wanted to try to get home before dark, I decided to leave around 4 o’clock. I was making my rounds saying goodbye and Merry Christmas to people and just as I was leaving, perhaps the best Christmas present I’ve had in a long time came my way. I walked by my granddaughter Sofia’s room and started to tell her goodbye and she jumped up and ran to me shouting “NOOOO!”. Then she gave me a great big hug and without prompting said, “I love you Paw-Paw!” That is more special than anything. To know that my granddaughter loves me and didn’t want me to leave.

            Well, to all of you that take the time to read this blog entry, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. I pray that you are well and that you will get to spend time with your loved ones. Don’t forget to count your blessings and thank God for His Son Jesus – reason for the season.

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