Although I determined to never do it, I have failed repeatedly, and the older I get the more often I do it. I’m talking about reminiscing.( I used to hate hearing the old folks do that and now I’m doing it. Forgive me kids!) One of the things that sets it off is Christmas. My dad died just a few days before Christmas nine years ago, and since that was his favorite time of the year, I can’t help but thinking about my childhood days.
Starting Jr. High was–well I guess you could say a scary experience. Leaving grade school where I knew everybody was a bit unsettling. Suddenly I was in a school where I knew only a handful of kids and none of the teachers. There were a lot of adjustments to be made. Even the “pecking order” had to be re-established. I guess that’s why I got in two fights the first day. It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t the toughest kid in the new school. A big tall red-headed kid named James Minks was the toughest boy in that school and everyone knew it. But, that’s another story.
The new school, named Study, was a couple miles from home–a big difference from the short distance I travelled to York Elementary. However, I usually enjoyed walking to school–it was a new experience, with new sights to see. I say “usually” because there were times when I hated it–winter time! I didn’t mind the rainy days so much, but I hated the cold and snow. I still do! Winters in Missouri can be brutal, but I had to get to school, rain or shine, heat or cold.
But, as bad as I disliked winter, there were two things that I loved inspite of the cold weather–hunting and Christmas. Nearly every year dad and I would get the annual Christmas tree while we were rabbit hunting. Cedar trees were thick in the Ozarks and as we hunted we kept an eye out for what dad figured was the ideal tree, boy could he ever be picky! We would cut it down, bring it home and then start the process of decorating it.
Kids today know nothing or little about the joy of putting up a Christmas tree. Now-a-days, dad digs out one of those plastic trees and sticks it in a corner–a 10 minute process. Back then it was different. We had only a few oraments. Most of the decorations were made of popcorn. Mom would pop a bunch of popcorn and sis and I would string it on a piece of fishing line then wrap it around and around the tree. Mom used the rest of the popcorn to make “popcorn balls” that were hung as ornaments on the tree. Then the final touch–a big white star with a red border rested at the very top of the tree. That’s enough details–let’s get back to the story.
I would like to tell you that I loved Christmas because it celebrates the birth of Christ, but as a child that had nothing to do with my fondness for Christmas. We didn’t attend church and I knew next to nothing about Christ. What I loved about Christmas was the gifts. However, you need to remember that the gifts back then were nothing like they are today. In those days most gifts were clothes, and we were glad to get them. Mom sewed and we never threw anything away–mom just kept adding patches. About the only hope for something new was to out grow what you had. It was a thrill to get a new pair of jeans or a new shirt. In addition to the few clothes there was the Christmas stocking, stuffed with candy, apples, nuts, and oranges. In addition to that we usually got one gift of some sort–nothing expensive, but something personal–like a fishing pole, or a pocket knife. I loved Christmas, but one stands out above all the others. My favorite Christmas of all was the year I started Jr. High school. That’s the year I received a “new” coat. Let me explain.
As I mentioned earlier, the only way to get to school was to walk and on those cold snowy days that was miserable. I didn’t just want a new coat, I needed a coat. The only problem was that dad was short of money that year and there didn’t seem to be any chance of getting a new coat anytime soon. So, you wouldn’t believe the surprise and joy I experienced when I opened my gift that Christmas and found a “new” coat. I’ll never forget it! But now, as Paul Harvey used to say,here’s “the rest of the story”.
My grandpa Loveland, whom I hardly knew, was in the VA hospital in Little Rock, Ark. He was disabled as a result of being “gassed” in W.W.1 and confined to the hospital. In addition to that he was an acholic. Everytime they tried to bring him home he would get drunk and end up in jail. Finally it was decided that the hospital was the best place for him and that’s where he stayed until he died. Now, back to the “new” coat.
Among grandpa’s belongings was an old well-worn, camel colored wool top-coat, that appeared to be good for nothing. But mom thought otherwise. Knowing I needed a coat my mother cut-off that old ankel length top coat, hemmed it up and, somehow, made me a waist length coat that somewhat fit me. She took something that was good for nothing but trash and turned it into a treasure for me. No king in his robe was ever more proud than I was of my “new” coat. I couldn’t wait until school resumed to show-off my “new” coat. I strutted off to school as proud as a peacock. To my young mind, that was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. I thought I was making a fashion statement of the highest sort when I returned to school. Regardless of how it might have looked to others, I could not have been any happier. Up to that point it was my best Christmas ever.
Well I guess I’ve bored you long enough so I’ll wrap this up. Other than the joy I get from reliving that moment in my life, the only reason I share this is because I believe there are some very practical lessons that can be learned from it.
#1 Don’t neglect to do something because you can’t do something “big”. Mom could have concluded that since she couldn’t afford a new coat that I would just have to wait until she could, but she didn’t. She found a way to meet my need. That’s what love does–it always expresses itself! It isn’t deterred by difficulties. If it can’t do one thing it does another. If you can’t give a gift send a card, but do something to express your love.
#2 Don’t waste what you have and then expect God to give you more. We Americans are the most wasteful people on earth. We throw out more each year than what some people possess. Let’s face it–we are spoiled! We have enjoyed the benefits of living in the land of plenty to the point that we feel justified in wasting what God has given us. There is no excuse for it and you can rest assured that God takes note of it.
#3 Simple is often better and more practical than extravagant or useless gifts. If we would all use a little common-sense we would be the better off for it. There are a lot of ways to express love and some of the most meaningful don’t cost a cent.
#4 Appreciate what you receive. I’ll be honest–I doubt that I would appreciate an old second hand coat today as I did back then, but that’s my fault. When someone does the best they can we ought to accept it with great joy. Mark it down, there will be some kids this Christmas who will complain because they didn’t get exactly what they wanted–even though mom and dad gave all they could afford. Anyone with that attitude doesn’t deserve anything.
#5 Today’s activities are tomorrows memories. As time goes by you will be amazed how the “little” in life become of great impotance. Your children will never forget the things you do or don’t do, good or bad. If you don’t have anything else you can have a good attitude–they won’t forget that.
I’m sure there are other things that could be mentioned, but that’s enough for now–I just hope that I might have said something that will make your Christmas a bit better. Give the best you can, be grateful for what you receive, and thank God for everything. Merry Christmas! –Bro. Stone