Monday, December 21, 2015

A "Sensible" Christmas...

We've hunted through our bookshelves and pulled our Christmas favorites from it's depths once again. I don't know about anyone else, but our family loves to read. Some more than others, but whether it's reading to yourself or being read to, we do it quite a bit. Every year... it happens. The Christmas stories seem brand new and crisp. Warm and inviting. You always catch something extra special or simply significant that you never noticed or remembered last year....

We want you to enjoy one of our favorites. When we were little, Mom would read aloud before bed or at the lunch table right before we finished eating. These stories aren't too long and are perfect for that extra moment you may have.

The Year We Had a "Sensible" Christmas.

Henry Appers 

FOR AS LONG as I could remember our family had talked about a sensible Christmas. Every year, my mother would limp home from shopping or she would sit beside the kitchen table after hours of baking, close her eyes, catch her breath and say, “This is the last time I’m going to exhaust myself with all this holiday fuss. Next year we’re going to have a sensible Christmas.”
   And always my father, if he was within earshot, would agree. “It’s not worth the time and expense.”
   While we were kids, my sister and I lived in dread that Mom and Dad would go through with their rash vows of a reduced Christmas. But if they ever did, we reasoned, there were several things about Christmas that we, ourselves, would like to amend. And two of these were, namely, my mother’s Uncle Lloyd and his wife, Aunt Amelia.
   Many a time Lizzie and I wondered why families had to have relatives, and especially why it was our fate to inherit Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Amelia. They were a sour and a formal pair who came to us every Christmas, bringing Lizzie and me handkerchiefs as gifts and expecting in return silence, respect, service and for me to surrender my bedroom.
   Lizzie and I had understood early that Great-uncle Lloyd was, indeed, a poor man, and we were sympathetic to this. But we dared to think that even poverty provided no permit for them to be stiff and unwarm and a nuisance in the bargain. Still we accepted Great-uncle Lloyd and Great-aunt Amelia as our lot and they were, for years, as much the tradition of Christmas as mistletoe.
   Then came my first year in college. It must have been some perverse reaction to my being away, but Mom started it. This was to be the year of the sensible Christmas. “By not exhausting ourselves with all the folderol,” she wrote me, “we’ll at last have the energy and the time to appreciate Christmas.”
   Dad, as usual, went along with Mom, but added his own touch. We were not to spend more than a dollar for each of our gifts to one another. “For once,” Dad said, “we’ll worry about the thought behind the gift, and not about it’s price.”
   It was I who suggested that our sensible Christmas be limited to the immediate family, just the four of us. The motion was carried. Mom wrote a gracious letter to Great-uncle Lloyd explaining that what with my being away in school and for one reason and another we weren’t going to do much about Christmas, so maybe they would enjoy it more if they didn’t make their usual great effort to come. Dad enclosed a check, an unexpected boon.
   I arrived home from college that Christmas wondering what to expect. A wreath on the front door provided a fitting nod to the season. There was a Christmas tree in the living room and I must admit that, at first, it made my heart twinge. Artificial, the tree was small and seemed without character when compared to the luxurious, forest-smelling firs of former years. But the more I looked at it, with our brightly wrapped dollar gifts under it, the friendlier it became and I began to think of the mess of real trees, and their fire threat, and how ridiculous, how really unnatural it was to bring a living tree inside a house anyway. Already the idea of a sensible Christmas was getting to me.
   Christmas Eve Mom cooked a good but simple dinner and afterward we all sat together in the living room. “This is nice,” Lizzie purred, a-snuggle in the big cabbage rose chair.
   “Yes,” Dad agreed. “It’s quiet. I’m not tired out. For once, I think I can stay awake until church.”
   “If this were last Christmas,” I reminded Mom, “you’d still be in the kitchen with your hours of ‘last minute’ jobs. More cookies. More fruit cake.” I recalled the compulsive way I used to nibble at Mom’s fruit cake. “But I never really liked it,” I confessed with a laugh.
   “I didn’t know that,” Mom said. She was thoughtful for a moment. Then her face brightened. “But Aunt Amelia—how she adored it!”
   “Maybe she was just being nice,” Lizzie said undiplomatically.
    Then we fell silent. Gradually we took to reading. Dad did slip off into a short snooze before church.
   Christmas morning we slept late, and once up we breakfasted before advancing to our gifts. And what a time we had with those! We laughed merrily at our own originality and cleverness. I gave Mom a cluster-pin that I had fashioned out of aluminum measuring spoons and had adorned with rhinestones. Mother wore the pin all day or, at least, until we went out to Dempsey’s.
   At Dempsey’s, the best restaurant in town, we had a wonderful, unrushed feast. There was only one awkward moment just after the consomm√© was served. We started to lift our spoons. Then Dad suggested that we say grace and we all started to hold hands around the table as we always do at home, and then we hesitated and drew our hands back, and then in unison we refused to be intimidated by a public eating place and held hands and said grace.
   Nothing much happened the rest of the day. In the evening I wandered into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, poked around for a minute, closed the door and came back to the living room.
   “That’s a joke,” I reported, with no idea at all of the effect my next remark would have. “I went out to pick at the turkey.”
   In tones that had no color, Mother spoke. “I knew that’s what you went out there for. I’ve been waiting for it to happen.”
   No longer could she stay the sobs that now burst forth from her. “Kate!” Dad cried, rushing to her.
   “Forgive me. Forgive me,” Mom kept muttering.
   “For what, dear? Please tell us.”
   “For this terrible, dreadful, sensible Christmas.”
   Each of us knew what she meant. Our Christmas had been as artificial as that Christmas tree; at some point the spirit of the day had just quietly crept away from us. In our efforts at common sense we had lost the reason for Christmas and had forgotten about others; this denied Him whose birthday it was all about. Each of us, we knew full well, had contributed to this selfishness, but Mom was taking the blame.
   As her sobs became sniffles and our assurances began to take effect, Mom addressed us more coherently, in Mom’s own special incoherent way. “I should have been in the kitchen last night instead of wasting my time,” she began, covering up her sentimentality with anger. “So you don’t like my fruit cake, Harry? Too bad. Aunt Amelia really adores it! And Elizabeth, even if she doesn’t, you shouldn’t be disrespectful to the old soul. Do you know who else loves my fruit cake? Mrs. Donegan down the street loves it. And she didn’t get her gift from me this year. Why? Because we’re being sensible.” Then Mom turned on Dad, wagging her finger at him. “We can’t afford to save on Christmas, Lewis! It shuts off the heart.”
   That seemed to sum it up.
   Yet, Lizzie had another way of saying it. She put it in a letter to me at school, a letter as lovely as Lizzie herself. “Mom feels,” Lizzie wrote, “that the strains and stresses are the birth pangs of Christmas. So do I. I’m certain that it is out of our efforts and tiredness and turmoil that some sudden, quiet, shining, priceless thing occurs each year and if all we produce is only a feeling as long as a flicker, it is worth the bother.”
   Just as my family came to call that The Christmas That Never Was, the next one became the Prodigal Christmas. It was the most festive, and the most frazzling time in our family’s history—not because we spent any more money, but because we threw all of ourselves into the joy of Christmas. In the woods at the edge of town we cut the largest tree we’d ever had. Lizzie and I swathed the house in greens. Delicious smells came from the kitchen as Mom baked and baked and baked….We laughed and sang carols and joked.
   Even that dour pair, Great-uncle Lloyd and Great-aunt Amelia, were almost but not quite gay. Still, it was through them that I felt that quick surge of warmth, that glorious “feeling as long as a flicker,” that made Christmas meaningful.
   We had just sat down in our own dining room and had reached out our hands to one another for our circle of grace. When I took Great-aunt Amelia’s hand in mine, it happened. I learned something about her and giving that, without this Christmas, I might never have known.
   The hand that I held was cold. I became aware of how gnarled her fingers were, how years of agonizing arthritis had twisted them. Only then did I think of the handkerchiefs that Lizzie and I had received this year, as in all the years before. For the first time I saw clearly the delicate embroidery, the painstaking needlework—Great-aunt Amelia’s yearly gift of love to, and for, us.

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