My favorite Christmas memories of childhood include relatives coming together from near and far in joyous celebration. Family would fill my grandparent’s house nearly to overflowing.
Mother and her four sisters, who always wore their red dresses, greeted each other with laughter and hugs, and they set aside any ill feelings that might have accumulated over the past year.
My uncles stood around and soaked up the good will. They wore proud smiles and shared corny jokes or talked of politics while my cousins and I ran in and out of the back door, playing tag or hide and seek, if the Kentucky weather proved mild enough. And when everyone finally sat down to eat, I feasted on little else but my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings.
Many years later, when my husband and I had children of our own, we began a tradition of including those around our table who would otherwise be alone. One Christmas, we had a row of walkers parked by the backdoor. We had more people who needed assistance than those who didn’t, but somehow we managed. My dinner couldn’t compare to my mother’s cornbread dressing or my grandmother’s chicken and dumpling, but no one seemed to mind.
Years passed on by. Then a Christmas came when the unthinkable happened. No one could come. Mother and Daddy were too frail and ill and even the best-cooked meal had no appeal. That was the same year our children, for one reason or another, told us they couldn’t make the trip to our North Carolina mountain home. Maybe next year.
On Christmas morning my husband and I met some friends, on their way out of town, at Denny’s for breakfast. Then we spent the day with my parents doing all we could to make them as comfortable as possible in their assisted living apartment. We were happy to spend our Christmas with them, but that night, on the way home, a lonesome feeling came over us. We stopped at Bojangles for dinner. While munching on fried chicken and biscuits, my husband said, ”This is the worst Christmas ever!” I could hardly swallow for the lump in my throat.
Throughout the day, we had talked with our son and his wife in Charleston, as well as our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson in California. That night we decided to check up on our west coast family again, but could not reach them by cell or house phone. Where could they be? Perhaps out to eat or to a movie, we reasoned.
We kept calling, but no answer. We finally went to bed, with phone in hand. We were getting more worried by the minute, when our grandson finally answered his mother’s cell phone.
“Where in the world are you?” asked my husband.
“At the airport. We’re on our way to your house.”
We jumped out of bed, full of energy and joy. They had been determined to surprise us and they certainly accomplished their mission. They turned our worst Christmas into one of our best.
Christmas, or any holiday, can be a lonely time. Sweet fellowship can make can make all the difference. Do you know someone who will be alone this Christmas? Reach out to him or her, and if possible, invite them into your home. Share our Savior’s birthday with others and you will be blessed. It might even be your best Christmas ever.
Carol Heilman, a coal miner's daughter, married her high school sweetheart, a farmer's son. She began writing family stories, especially about her dad's Appalachian humor, for newspapers and magazines. One day her mother said, "We don't have any secrets any more!"
Carol's book, Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar, was inspired by her mother's spunky spirit and her dad's gentle one, as well as both parent’s humor.
She lives in the mountains of NC with her husband of fifty-plus years. They love to play cards, go antiquing, hike, and visit grandsons on the east and west coasts.
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Wonderful inspiring story, isn't it!