Rosemary M. Wixom: A childhood anchor
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Few childhood memories are as vivid as the memory of gathering at my Grandma and Grandpa Cannon's home on Christmas Eve. Reflecting on that memory is like rereading a good book. Through a child's eyes, each life event is magnified. Nothing is mundane. That's why the Christmas Eve tradition at Grandma and Grandpa's was magnificent!
This annual experience began as we put on our Sunday clothes, bundled up, piled in our old station wagon and drove across the valley singing Christmas carols all the way. As cousins, we could hardly wait to see each other again, but most of all we wanted to be with Grandma and Grandpa in their home. Arriving on the cold, crisp night and coming through the back door made us feel like we belonged there. Each grandchild was greeted with hugs and words of affection. Nothing was pretentious; Grandma and Grandpa's modest home suggested love. The kitchen was cozy and simple. Post cards, from family and friends sent from all over the world, were taped to the light blue kitchen walls. They were Grandma and Grandpa's only way to travel to far-away places. The old farmhouse sink was framed in white painted cabinets and nestled below the window, where one could look out on the walnut trees in the yard. If you looked closely at the corner of one kitchen cabinet you could see where Grandma had written in pencil the title of country music songs she liked best from hearing them on the radio.
Amid warm greetings and chatter, coats were peeled off and everyone gathered in the small living room. Grandpa would be seated at the end of the couch with his hearing aid tucked in his shirt pocket. Grandma would always sit next to him. The Christmas tree nestled in the corner was smothered in icicles. The glass candy bowl on the table was filled with walnuts and hard tack ribbon candy. The children would be snuggled at the feet of their parents or sitting on the arms of the chairs to make room for every family member. On the mantle were framed pictures of Grandma and Grandpa's five sons in their military uniforms. The three oldest had served in the Navy during World War II. One did not return. Next to his picture was a photograph of the destroyer, the SS Johnston. Hugh was a radar man 2nd class when the ship went down in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Grandpa had read about the tragedy in Time magazine before the dreaded letter from the Navy arrived. He had hidden the magazine so Grandma would not see it. Grandpa prayed that his son had somehow survived.
Through my childhood eyes these were stories of courage and devotion. I felt sure I would never have to face life like my grandparents and aunts and uncles did.
The first event of the evening was the family talent show. Each grandchild would stand and perform. Christmas songs were sung, poems recited, trumpets played and there was always a twirling ballerina as part of the program. Everyone clapped and oohed and aahed. As children, we could not have performed at Carnegie Hall and felt more rewarded. The anticipation of the event was surpassed only by the gracious response from the adults. It made you want to perform something bigger and better the next year.
To conclude the evening someone was chosen to read the story of the first Christmas from the book of Luke in the Bible. The room went from talking and laughter to a reverent silence as the story of the birth of the Savior was told. The adults would be visibly moved by the words as they were read. I wondered what they had faced or were facing in their lives that made those words so meaningful. Grandpa would call on someone to give a closing family prayer. Afterward I would look up, and the windows would be frosted with steam as they separated the warmth of the room from the cold of the outside air.
Plates of cookies, loaves of nut bread or homemade hot pads would be exchanged among families, and we would begin the search for our coats and hats on Grandma and Grandpa's bed in the back bedroom.
A generous hug from aunts, uncles and Grandma and Grandpa was the main focus of the departing ritual. Then families would scurry to their individual cars shouting, "Merry Christmas!"
I look back on that childhood Christmas Eve memory with fondness. It was not a profound event in the world, but it was an anchor in my childhood. Now, as an adult, I am facing life, and those words in the book of Luke have become even more meaningful. "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. ... But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:11,19). I love those words. It is because of that monumental event, the birth of Jesus Christ, that I celebrate through the eyes of children the joy of simple Christmas memories.