Monthly Archives: December 2013

Unwrapping Your Christmas Songs

Although we’ve enjoyed singing them for years, have you ever thought about how the various Christmas songs came about? Christmas carols that you may have thought went back several hundred years are relatively new. Still others have fascinating stories surrounding their origins.

Christmas carols go back to the time of Christ. It is believed that the Apostles sang songs of praise based on the Psalms. One of the very earliest Christmas songs appeared in the fourth century. The carols St. Francis of Assisi introduced into church services in the 12th century tended to be somber.

In the 1400s during the Renaissance, the lighter, more upbeat songs began to emerge. The earliest known English carol appeared in 1410. The Gutenberg Press, famous for the magnificent bibles, also made for the wide distribution of carols to the masses during the period.

In the mid 1400s, Christmas celebrations were strongly suppressed by the Puritans. Actually, Christmas didn’t become a widely celebrated holiday until the 1800s. As a result, most of the Christmas carols we love today were composed then.

In England between 1649 and 1660, Oliver Cromwell, who believed Christmas should be a solemn day, banned the singing of carols. The Protestants, however, with the urging of Martin Luther, embraced the practice. Many worshipers fled Europe for other parts of the world taking the music with them. John de Brebeur wrote the first American Christmas carol in 1649 called “Jesus is Born.”

Dr. Edmund Spears, a Unitarian minister, wrote a poem in 1849. A year later, Richard Storrs Willis, an editor and critic for the New York Tribune wrote a melody called “Carol” inspired by the poem, creating “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

Although no one is completely certain, some research indicates that cowboy singer Montana Slim wrote “Jolly Old St. Nicholas.”

The tune “Greensleeves” goes back to the time of the original Queen Elizabeth. By 1850, lyrics were added that were neither religious nor respectable, but in 1865 William Chatterton Dix wrote “The Manger Throne”—three of those verses became “What Child is This.”

“We Three Kings of Orient Are,” usually thought to be older than it is, was written in America in 1857 for a Christmas pageant in New York City.

An old Welsh melody is at the root of “Deck the Halls.” Although Mozart used the tune in a piano and violin piece in the 1700s, the words written in America would not come for almost another hundred years.

The first two verses of “Away in a Manger” were originally published in 1885 in a Lutheran schoolbook. James Murray published it in 1887 under the title of “Luther’s Cradle Hymn” leaving some people to think that Luther had written it. No one is certain who wrote the music, but it, too, is believed to be American.

There is a bit of controversy surrounding one of our most famous classics. Who among us has not heard the story of “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht)? Folklore has the song being hurriedly composed on Christmas Eve in 1818 after it was discovered that hungry mice ruined the baffles of the church organ. Joseph Mohr, the assistant minister, supposedly quickly wrote the words, and Franz Gruber composed the melody in time for the midnight service. That may only be folklore. Some evidence indicates that an old manuscript, which has recently been discovered, shows Gruber wrote the music two to four years after Mohr had written the words. No matter—it has remained a favorite for nearly 200 years.

“Silent Night is such a powerful song that it actually stopped a war for a while. During World War I, the Germans, Americans, British and French troops actually put down their arms and held an unofficial truce on Christmas Eve and serenaded and harmonized with each other with the haunting melody.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” was the result of Bishop Phillips Brooks being so impressed with seeing Bethlehem at night from the hills of Palestine. He wrote the words in Philadelphia two years later in 1868. His organist, Louis Radner wrote the music for the Sunday school children’s choir.

“Jingle Bells” was written for a Thanksgiving program. It was so popular that the children begged to sing it at Christmas. It’s been a holiday fixture ever since. There is some controversy about this song, too. The composer, John Pierpont, is said to have written the song in Medford, Mass., sometime in the 1850s. He moved to Savannah, Ga., where he received the copyright in 1857. The controversy stems from where he actually wrote it. Although he certainly wrote about his memories of growing up in New England, some factions in Savannah have provided a good case to show he was in Savannah when he wrote it. Either way, there are markers in each city commemorating the site where each believes the little ditty was written.

One of the more interesting stories surrounds the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” When you listen, it may strike you as light and nonsensical. Nothing could be further from the truth. From 1558 to 1829, Catholics in England were forbidden to practice their religion. It was law. If you were caught, it meant automatic imprisonment and perhaps hanging or you could end up a head shorter. The song was written as a memory aid for children to learn their catechism. Each strange gift in the song held a serious meaning.

First, the “true love” refers to God, not an earthy suitor. The “me” represents every baptized person. The “partridge in the pear tree” was Jesus Christ. Christ was portrayed as a mother partridge feigning injury to protect her nesting young. Here’s what the other gifts mean: two turtle doves– the Old and New Testaments; three french hens– faith, hope and charity; four calling birds– the four Gospels or Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; five golden rings– the first five books of the Old Testament or the Pentateuch; six geese-a-laying– the six days of creation; seven swans-a-swimming– the seven sacraments; eight maids-a-milking– the eight Beatitudes; nine ladies dancing– the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit; 10 lords-a-leaping– the Ten Commandments; 11 pipers piping– the 11 faithful Apostles; and 12 drummers drumming– the 12 points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is an outright invention of 20th century commercialism. He first flew onto the scene in 1939 as a promotional gimmick for Montgomery Wards. They asked one of their young copywriters, Robert May, to come up with a story for their annual Christmas coloring book. The original story was nothing more than an adaptation of “The Tale of the Ugly Duckling.” The first name considered was Rollo, but that was considered to be too cheery for a misfit. Then it was Reginald, but that sounded too British so he settled on Rudolph. He tried the story out on his 4-year-old daughter. She loved it. May’s boss was a tougher sell. He was worried about that red nose. He was concerned that people would think they were endorsing drinking and drunkenness.

May and a staff cartoonist rushed to the Lincoln Park Zoo and drew pictures of deer and colored the noses red. The illustrations were approved and Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was born. The retailer gave away 2.4 million copies that year—6 million by 1946.

After World War II, Rudolph was hugely popular. There were many demands for licensing the character. Because May created it while working for the company, they held the copyright. May found himself hopelessly in debt after the death of his wife from a lengthy illness. He persuaded Sewell Avery, the company president, to turn the rights over to him. He was financially set for the rest of his life. The story was turned into a nine-minute cartoon in1948, but Rudolph hadn’t peaked yet.

May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, was the songwriter. It was Marks who composed the words and music that we sing today. It almost didn’t get recorded. Many recording companies didn’t want to tamper with the Santa Claus legend, so they wouldn’t touch it. Finally, cowboy singer Gene Autry stepped in and recorded it in 1949. It sold 2 million copies that year. It went on to be one of the best selling songs of all time–second only to “White Christmas.” In 1964, Burl Ives narrated the TV classic we see each year.

Then there’s the granddaddy of them all—“White Christmas.” Irving Berlin wrote the song for a 1942 movie called Holiday Inn starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The movie was about an inn that was only opened on holidays. Berlin was commissioned to create songs for each holiday. He later said that writing the Christmas song was the toughest of all. Berlin performed the song for Crosby in 1941, and the crooner assured Berlin that it would be a hit, which proved to be a gross understatement.

First performed for the public on Crosby’s NBC radio show on Christmas night 1941, it went on to become the biggest selling single for 50 years. “White Christmas” was the basis of a 1954 movie of the same name starring Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye. Kaye wasn’t the first choice for the role. Astaire declined after reading the script, and Donald O’Connor turned it down due to a back ailment. It then fell to Kaye, who as it turns out, was a natural for the role.

The song also played a part in the end of the Vietnam War. An evacuation plan was put into motion to get the remaining Americans and loyal Vietnamese to safety. The cue to begin the evacuation was a radio announcement saying it was “105 degrees in Saigon and rising” followed by “White Christmas.” When the song began—the exodus was on.

Each of these songs’ writers felt a deep-rooted passion for the season and the many emotions it brings. This year when you hear these songs, you’ll know how they came to be. From our house to yours, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

 

 

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Candles In The Window

One of my earliest memories of Christmas was from the early 50’s. It was the lights. Our little family didn’t have much money. I think we were one of those “beginner families” starting to get a foothold in the years after WW II. We did have a Christmas tree with those strings of lights that would go out if one light burnt out.  I learned from personal experience those lights would burn your fingers if you touched them.

Even with the array of colors on the tree the thing that made the greatest impression on me were the candle lights in the windows of our house.  Each window facing the street had a plastic base that supported three white columns topped with orange colored lights.  As a child about six, I didn’t understand the significance those candles. I still remember my mother telling me why we put them in the window every year.

First she explained to me how Joseph & Mary had travelled so far but still could not find an inn or a place to spend the night. She told me how they ended up staying in a drafty old stable. Then she told me about how their path was guided by a star and how that star directed the shepherds and Magi to the humble little stable so they could find Jesus, the Christ child. She went on to explain to me that was why we put the candles in the window every year; to let the Christ child know that if he saw our lights that he would be welcome in our home. I remember thinking how cool that would be if he would come and visit our house. I secretly waited to hear a knock at the door.

In those days it seemed everyone had those kind of candles in their windows too. Then as the years went on, the light displays got bigger, brighter and gaudier, those candles got relegated to the attic or some other unseen place. As I’ve driven around this year I have seen several homes with the candles in the windows again.  It pleases me to see them coming back. There is a certain understated elegance in the simplicity of those candles. Just looking at them brings me back to a simpler uncomplicated time. The lighted candles were one of our family traditions. I’m still hoping to hear a knock at the door.

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Happy Birthday to My Daughter

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  30 years and a day ago, I was on the road between Peoria, IL and Lawton, OK. I had just taken over a new radio opportunity at WXCL in Peoria. We had not made the move to Peoria yet but I had to start the job. It was getting close to Christmas and the weather forecast was calling for a major blizzard. If I was going to get back to OK for the holiday, I would need to get on the road. There was an additional urgency to get on the road. We were expecting our first child at virtually any moment. Jeri’s due date was the 19th as I recall and here it was the 21st. I checked out of my hotel room at the Red Roof Inn and it the road. It was already beginning to sleet lightly.

   I got caught in a line of slow traffic as I drove toward Springfield, Mo, a car several vehicles ahead of me spun off the road and turned over in the ditch. Several of us got out of our cars and ran to the scene of the accident. Several other drivers got to the accident before I did and safely extracted the driver with just a few bumps & scratches. After about ten minutes the EMS was there and there was no reason for the rest of us to hang around so we returned to our cars to press on. By now, the sleet had changed to snow and it was really coming down hard. It was obvious the visibility was greatly reduced and the going was slow. I haven’t traveled 50 miles in the previous hour and a half. This wasn’t what I was expecting. In those days almost everyone had a CB radio. So did I Good Buddy. 

   Listening to the CB traffic revealed there was a wreck ahead of me on the interstate on my side of the road at the 92 mile marker. That meant that traffic was going to be backed up in this blizzard and I was already at the point that I could no longer see the road or road markers. Visibility was next to zero. I made a decision to get off at the first Springfield exit I could find.

  I found a hotel room across the street from a large hospital, checked in, went downstairs to the restaurant and ordered a big sloppy steak. I knew once I went up to my room I was there until the storm was over. After dinner, I went up to the room and called my wife. We talked briefly. I asked her how she was feeling. She told me she was not feeling all that great. “Oh is it the baby?” I asked excitedly. She said no she didn’t think so but she had just been feeling a little under the weather all day. So with mild disappointment I said goodnight. Turned on CNN so I could watch the weather and promptly fell asleep.

   When I woke up the next morning, the sun was out in full force and it was bone breaking cold. After breakfast, it took about ten minutes to clean the six or eight inches of snow off my car and I was on the road headed for St. Louis. All the bridges were frozen and took extra caution. I did notice the closer I got toward St. Louis the better the driving conditions got. By the time I got there, all the snow was pretty much gone. I glanced down at my watch as I crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River. It was 11:55 in the morning. Fortunately the weather was good. It was really, really cold but at least the roads were dry—at least for now. I traveled the rest of the day down I-44 listening to the Christmas music blaring on the radio.

  As I came into Oklahoma City I needed gas so I pulled in to fill up. Once the gas tank was happy I called the house. No answer. So I called her mom’s house. Jeri’s dad answered. He let me go through this whole diatribe about how I just called the house but she didn’t answer and would he be kind enough to call the house in a few minutes to tell her I was coming home and tell her not to fix dinner because I was going to take her out to dinner. As I finished, he very slowly and in a very deadpanned manner said, “Well. I don’t think she’ll feel up to going to dinner tonight. Y’all had a baby today.”

  I was thunderstruck. I had been so intent on getting home, it never dawned on me she might have the baby. It never crossed my mind. Not once. I struggled to find some words. I think I said something like, “Oh great! I’ll be right there.” Benny said, “Now just you wait a minute. Take a breath and talk to me. You need to calm down a minute.” As we chatted about three minutes into the conversation I finally got the presence of mind to ask him, “What did we have?” He said, “You have a little girl.”  I remember just stepping back and thinking, “A little girl. You are the daddy of a little girl.” It was an overwhelming feeling. I was pretty much speechless.

  Now all I want to do is get there. So I quickly told her dad I was on my way. He cautioned me to slow down that there was lots of ice around Lawton and to be watching for it. I jumped in the car and headed the 100 miles left to go.

  As I traveled southward in the moonlight, my mind wandered to places I have never been before. I’m now a father of a daughter. I remember being excited about all the things that she will see and experience that I never will. In almost the same breath I was deeply concerned of all the dangers she will be exposed to her that none of us have ever conceived of. Suddenly I started thinking about life in a different way.

  As I got to the Medicine Park exit on I-44 just north of Lawton-Ft. Sill I noticed there was ice everywhere. As excited as I was to be there, I knew I had to slow way down. It took me nearly a half hour to travel the next 10 miles. As I arrived at the room, the nurse came in and asked if I was the dad. I stuck out my chest and said, “Yes!” She said, “Good. You get to change her first diaper.” Huh? Never saw that coming. She handed me my daughter for the first time as she prepared the surface for me to change the diaper.

   I gazed into my little girl’s eyes for the first time. I looked at her, she looked at me. I fell in love and that little girl OWNED me right there on the spot. She had me wrapped around her little finger; forever. I felt her fingers grasp my finger. I was in love in a way I had never experienced before. I sensed my whole life change. All those things that seemed so important maybe an hour ago didn’t matter anymore. All I wanted to do was be this little girl’s Daddy. It is amazing how your life can change in a heartbeat. Mine did.

  She was born at 11:55 that morning; the very moment as I crossed the bridge over the Mississippi. My life would never be the same. I love my little girl. She was always a good girl and never gave us a moment of trouble. She has a big, warm beautiful heart. Generous to everyone she meets. She has always been a beautiful soul and I am proud she is MY daughter.  All I ever asked God was for her to grow up to be a good person—the kind of person others would want to have as a friend. Thank you God for allowing us to be deserving of this little girl’s love.

  Whitney crossed a milestone today. She is 30 and the mother of two beautiful, wonderful children, McKayla & Lucas. Whit, thank you for your love and the beautiful presence you bring to our lives. I cannot imagine my life without you in it. You were our first; therefore you’ll always have that. Pardon your dad for being a little bit gushy today. Thank you for sharing your life with all of us. I love you now & forever.

 

Dad

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The Fight Is On!

Hi there to all my FB friends and family. Just a short post to update you on my progress and the results of today’s surgery. My doctor feels like he successfully removed the mushroom shaped tumor. It’s been sent off to pathology and we should know in 3 to 5 days about the grade and stage of the tumor.
I don’t remember getting to the operating room. I know I was in there promptly at 6:30. Dr. Phillips was finished and talking to Zee in the waiting room at 7:13. I remember waking up at 7:35. He told her he was confident that he got all of the tumor. Apparently I did cause them an anxious moment or two in the recovery area. They had a tube inserted into my throat to help me breathe. Apparently when they removed it I vomited a bit and they were concerned I got some into my lungs. So they did a chest x-ray and it appeared to be clear.
After I proved to them I really could breathe on my own, they cut me loose about 9:15. Since I didn’t eat since about 9PM, food was the only thing on my mind. Zee had her second cataract surgery yesterday morning, she had her follow up appointment with her eye surgeon scheduled at 11 this morning. So after breakfast it was off to her doctor. Her surgery was a resounding success. Both eyes are now fixed and she’s seeing well.
Now all I want to do is go home and go to sleep. After a stop at Walgreens to pick up the pain meds, it was off to Starbucks. I wanted something cold to drink on my sore throat. To capsulize the whole thing, Zee got me back to the house and all I wanted to do was go to sleep. She made me take a pain pill and I headed off to sleep. I will not get graphic here but the recovery is making some progress. Initially, there was still a good bit of bleeding but that seems to have gotten some better. My throat is still sore and cold water seems to help. The doc tells me it will take a few days before I’m back to normal. So overall, I’m sore and feel like I got kicked in the belly by a horse but I am upbeat and confident that we are on the right track.
I want to close by saying thank you to each and every one of my family & friends who have sent prayers, words of encouragement and good wishes. Zee posted a picture taken at the hospital just before they wheeled me into the operating room. I was taken by the big and heavy response. You guys amaze me. It is humbling to know that many people care to respond. I know that I am not going to have to face this gremlin alone. Thank you for being there.
My friends come from everywhere—former radio colleagues, high school & college classmates, fraternity brothers & people I just met along the way. Still others I met through my heart surgery, through the book & speaking business and right here at Facebook. Yet other close friends come through our shared love of Texas. I know I could not possibly contact each and every one of you individually in a timely manner to say, thank you and to tell you how profoundly each of you touch my life.
This is just another episode that I have to deal with for the time being but I refuse to let it rule my life. As I’ve said before, I have a few bucket lists to fulfill before I kick that bucket. I have a few more books to get out to you too. Today was just one day in the journey. We still have lots more to accomplish together so after I grab some more sleep, let’s get after it. Thanks for keeping an eye on Texas while I was busy earlier today.
God & Texas.

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Tweed vs. Big C

 

   I was sitting here thinking how I sure would like an egg nog tonight BUT I have surgery in the morning and I figure the doctors will frown on alcohol in my system. I have to get up at 2:30AM so I can take a shower with some special high powered soap. I have to be in the hospital by 4:30. The surgery is at 6:30. So about the time you are waking up, I am going out like a light.

   I dropped in on YouTube today to watch how they do this procedure, Transurethral Resection. I assure you that is not the name of a traveling rock band playing Christmas music. At first blush, this does not look like something I’d choose to do if I really had a choice. That said, I have complete faith in my God & my doctor. It is my understanding they are going to remove the cancer with a marvelous little “U” shaped tool. I watched them use it in the video. I found it fascinating. They’ll send the tumor out to pathology to determine what stage that little gremlin is.  Based on that information, we’ll determine how we are going to proceed with my treatment.

  I admit to being anxious about the outcome. That is the human in me, I’m sure. I have been touched by your overwhelming words of support, your prayers and your humorous jabs. I love y’all. I’ll check back in and give you an update as soon as I can sometime tomorrow. I’m supposed to come home tomorrow morning.  Until, I do, would you do me a favor?  Will you look after  Texas until I get back? Thank you, I know it’s in good hands.

  This is when I’m supposed to try and get some sleep. Yeah right! Just sayin’.

   Tweed

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The Big C

I’ve thought about doing this post for most of the week. I finally decided to go ahead; do it and get on with life.

Last Monday afternoon I was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer. First and foremost, I do NOT want anyone’s sympathy. I’m not feeling sorry for myself so why should anyone else?  I’m telling you this because you may hear some rumors on Facebook about my condition. Enough people know about it now that it would be a matter of time before it was out there anyway. I want to set the record straight about it. So I decided to just put it out there.

To start with my doctor is upbeat about my prognosis. He told me up front that he does not see this as life threatening at this point. He has seen many similar cases and has had a lot of success with them. I have what he calls superficial something or other. (Not exactly a scientific term is it?)

Bladder cancer that is limited to just the inner lining of the bladder is called superficial and is the easiest form of bladder cancer to treat. About 75 percent of all bladder cancers detected at this early stage, and the survival rate is greater than 90 percent. This is apparently my situation.

Considering my recent medical situation, I thought I was past my biggest hurdle. Well, apparently I have one more to face and I will. I had a stent placed in my LAD in 2001. I had a 99% block in the location known as the widow maker. During the following 12 weeks of cardiac rehab, I was diagnosed as diabetic.  That came as a total surprise.  I knew that was a serious disease. I did a lot of research in a short time. There was no denial on my part. I just logically reasoned that I had to deal with this and I took the mindset of “Bring it on. At least I’m here to deal with it.”

I had Aortic Valve replacement & triple bypass just over one year ago and now this. Hearing that you have cancer will take your breath away. I remember my urologist telling after he came back in the room after my cystoscopy, “I have some good news and some bad news.” Honestly, I don’t remember the good news. The bad news was that I have cancer. I don’t remember the next 30 or 40 words he said after that. My mind went blank—as blank as an artist’s canvas or a blank computer screen. I was trying to wrap my mind around that concept. Slowly, I began to recognize the world around me was still going on.

I admit I was pretty bummed out on Monday but I have come to grips with what the reality is. I take the same position on this as I did the Diabetes. “Bring it on. I’m here to deal with it.”

I do not sit around thinking about gloom & doom. There is no pity party going on here or in my head. This is not the end of my life. It is another hurdle but I will face it positively and I will beat this thing. When I turned 65 last year, I realized in the eyes or our government, I officially became an old fart.  I thought about what turning 65 meant. Then I thought all the things I’ve done and all the things I accomplished in my first 65 years. I couldn’t help but smile. My goal then shifted to seeing how much I can accomplish after 65. I have a few bucket lists to complete. And a few books to write too.  My goal is to make sure that my bucket is full before I kick it. I’ve lots to do.  Some of it involves you.

I’ll certainly take all the prayers sent for my healing. I’m certainly not ashamed to ask for them. I know how powerful prayer can be. I had an abundance of prayers last year and I am here today to thank you. I will have a procedure done next Friday to determine what stage the cancer is and to layout my treatment program. I have an abundance of faith in GOD and in prayers. This will all end well.

I’ll close sharing the thought that I am OK. My head is in a good place. My attitude is positive. I have dealt with health issues most of my life; starting with Polio as a child. I have overcome it all. This will be no different. Now having talked about this, it is time to change the subject to something more upbeat. Got any suggestions?

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Christmas In Laconia, NH 1966

    Without a doubt, my favorite two holidays of the year are Christmas and the Fourth of July. The Fourth of July brings out the patriotic side of me. Christmas brings out my reflective side. Even as a boy I’d found myself looking back and reflecting upon Christmases past. I don’t know why. There is just something about this holiday that lends itself to memories. I’d think about all the toys & games I had received and about the Christmas trees past too; however, most of my memories were centered on people – many of which, if not most, who are no longer with me. I grew up in a rather large extended family on my mother’s side. They were known as the Della Porta’s. My mother and her brothers and sisters were raised by an Italian father and a Portuguese mother. As a child, my most vivid memories are of laughter and food. The Della Porta family knew how to cook and eating. I remember eating my first chestnuts roasted over an open fire. Frankly, I wasn’t too fond of the chestnuts but I ate them. I love my aunts and uncles and all my cousins too. The family gatherings at Christmas were always special. Our family was so large, I think I was still sitting at the card table when I was 45 years old.

   As a child just beyond toddler, I remember my great-grandmother, Christina, my grandfather’s mother. I was always told that she was the only one of the family with blue eyes and that I got mine from her. So I’ve always felt a special connection with her. I remember standing there beside her. There is a picture of the two of us in the family album. I was maybe four or so at the time. She died one Christmas Eve. For several years afterwards as joyous as the Christmas season was there was always a bit of a pall over the holiday. For years afterward she would often come up in conversation. But then again, I mostly remember the food. We ate lots of Italian food, turkey & ham. It was a feast every year–more food that you could possibly eat topped off with decadent Italian pastries. I remember being covered in powdered sugar.

    We always had Christmas at our house where Santa would leave lots of booty for me but no Christmas was complete without going to grandma and grandpa’s to see what Santa left me under their tree. I cannot remember a Christmas when I was disappointed. That Santa Claus had to be a rich dude. It wasn’t that I got these wildly extravagant gifts but he always seemed to bring the thing that I wanted most. That Santa guy is all right in my book.

    I spent every one of my first 17 Christmases at home. The first six or seven were in Rhode Island where I was born. The rest were in Laconia, New Hampshire, where I grew up. I have lots of memories of the holidays. The one that comes to mind at the moment was my last Christmas in Laconia. It was supposed to be my first Christmas away from home. I had enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the month of March prior to my graduation from high school in June. And I was supposed to be away at school at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, learning how to be a Parachute Rigger. At the last minute, I was able to swing a pass to go home a couple of days before Christmas. I didn’t tell my folks I was coming. Based upon previous experience with my mom, I didn’t want to deal with trying to explain to her what my plans were. Remind me sometime and I will tell you a very funny story about my mom and getting me home from boot camp. It’s funny—no–it’s hilarious and to this day it’s still downright embarrassing. I’ll just give you the Cliff Notes version here. My mother called the Admiral at Great Lakes to make sure that her little boy got home from boot camp safely. Embarrassing doesn’t begin to explain the emotion I felt when I was called out in front of 700 other sailors and told that I had a phone call from my mother.  Maybe that’s what scarred me for life.

For this trip, I figured out that I could get home all by myself. I took a bus to Newark and boarded a plane bound for Boston. From Logan Airport, I took the bus to Laconia.

   When I arrived in Laconia, it was almost like a Christmas postcard. I got there late in the afternoon, it was right at dusk. The lights were on everywhere. All the street light columns were adorned the familiar Christmas decorations. Snow was falling heavily and had been for about an hour so. It crunched under my feet. I was dressed in my dress Navy blues covered by my Navy pea coat. All topped with my white sailors’ hat. The bus depot was at the train station. To get home, I had to walk through downtown. As I strolled down Main St. I passed Greenlaw’s Music, Sawyers Jewelry Store and Woolworth’s. I was thirsty so I decided to stop in and get a Coca-Cola at the soda fountain. My friends Norman and Ray Normandin’s mother worked at the soda fountain. As kids, she would often buy us a Coca-Cola on our way home from school. For me, there was nothing like the taste of a fountain Coca-Cola. It was always sweet and tasty as all get out. As she and I talked about what I was doing in the service and what was happening in Laconia, I realized it was getting late and that I needed to get home before the snow got too bad. I couldn’t wait to surprise my mom.

   I left and headed back down Main Street. I remember crossing the bridge in the snow and stopping at the rail over the Winnisquam River. I had many vivid memories of both crossing and standing on that bridge and watching the river change colors as the Cormier Mill dumped dye directly into the river. I remembered the Sucker fish in the water and the salmon that used to jump the falls at the dam upstream years before. I lingered for a few minutes looking around downtown soaking up the sites and the memories of this place I truly loved. I proceeded to walk down to Baldi’s Corner and turned right on Court Street and angled off onto Academy. As I passed what used to be the Academy Street School where I once attended, I looked to my right and across the street at my friend Larry Howe’s house. I wondered what and how he was doing that day. Little did I know at the time, he was off in the Navy having his own adventure.

The snow was getting deeper and it was about three inches or so by now. It was not doing my highly polished dress shoes any good. I continued down Academy and hung a left at the corner onto Lincoln Street. I pushed my way down the sidewalk past seven or eight houses until I reached the front steps of my house at 69 Lincoln St.  I bounded up the steps onto the porch and knocked on the door. After a moment or two the big heavy door swung open. There stood my mom with her mouth open with a shocked look on her face. Suddenly, that familiar gleam in the eye came across her face and she greeted me with a big smile and her open arms hugged me with all her might. She cried out,” What are you doing here? I thought you weren’t coming home.” I responded with,” Well, the Navy decided they don’t need me for a few days, Merry Christmas mom.” I thought she was going to cry. It made me feel so good to make her feel good.

    My step dad, Hal, I called him “Pop”, didn’t get home till later that evening from working at St. Pierre’s restaurant. He was surprised to see me too. Maybe it was because I was in the service then but we all felt a special closeness that night. There were lots of questions about what the future held for all of us but in that very moment here was genuine love being shared. It was palpable. You could feel it. Later in the evening, we huddled up by the Christmas tree, each of us with a glass of our favorite nog. We spoke of Christmases past and some of our favorite memories. Yes, including that awful Christmas tree from the year before—the one I told you about last year. I smile whenever I remember those tender moments. So many of those people are gone now—my parents, grandparents, some aunts & uncles and too many friends to name. I am grateful every time I think of them for the time they shared with me during their lives.

    What has often struck me the most is how our memories are focused around people and not things. There is something to be learned there.  I have been so blessed to have had many remarkable people pass through my life. Some for only mere moments and still others as lifelong friends. God has blessed me with lots of family and friends. I consider you among them. Thank you for sharing a part of you with me.  As I reflect on this past year I can only feel that I have been blessed beyond measure by the God I believe in and his son. My heart surgery last year was an unqualified success. I’m here to celebrate another Christmas with you. My Christmases are not measured in the gifts I might receive but in the knowledge that I too am loved by my children, all my family & friends. That means more to me than anything. As I reflect on this Christmas of 2013, I wish you & yours joy, happiness and to be loved beyond measure. I ‘m thankful. I am the luckiest man on earth because I have you in my life.  Merry Christmas from my heart to yours.

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