|by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
"and it was always said of Ebenezer Scrooge, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"
The words, of course, are from Charles Dickens' masterful "A Christmas Carol" published in 1843, a present the world gratefully rediscovers each and every year. They remind us that Christmas, to be Christmas, must be about magic and memories, remembering both those who are with us and (especially) those who are not.. Christmas this year, as every year, began for me by unpacking my little electrified tree. It is battered now and bears its many bruises proudly if carefully.
All at once, I give way to memories insistent, vivid, one tumbling over another. The box opens and recollections of one year of my life after another pour out. First, I remember the day my grandmother gave me this marvelous present and how she solemnly told me to take good care of it, as she had done.
I agreed to do so, little knowing the significance or the power of what I promised. Now I know, for this year I am older than she was when she gave it to me... and I now ponder who, in due course, I must present this tree to and who will keep the faith of generations with me. You see, I have arrived at the stage of life when Christmas is far more about who I shall give to... rather than who will give to me.
My little tree (circa 1935), just 16 inches tall, literally bubbles with colorful cheer. It is called a bubbler because its bulbs not only light up and glow... but one after another they bubble, except (some days) the one at the very top which, eccentrically,often fails to bubble at all. Moreover, when one bulb goes out.... they all go out which means a patient review of all. However, I wouldn't have it any other way. Age means appreciating even flaws, for they, too, are a part of the whole.
Because I am an historian and like many such have a tendency to collect and keep for a lifetime, I have been designated by my extended family as the "keeper", the one it is safe to leave with the mementoes we all agree are important, but which no one but me wants to take care of. Once the bubbler tree is set up, other boxes must be opened... and they can only be opened when there is sufficient time to pause, remember, reflect, and again and again be seized by their heart-tugging memories. One cannot rush this process for the memories will not be denied. They are forever bittersweet... featuring as they do those loved and gone before. Yes, one must have sufficient time for them for the memories that cascade at this time of the year are always vivid, poignant, rich... with new meanings that come as I age.
I smile, for instance, at a styrofoam bell given to me (as to all class members) by Mrs. Eigenbraugh, my third grade teacher. This ornament, a liberty bell, features my teacher in a stately formal pose. She looks at me as the dedicated prairie teacher she was. The autograph reads simply "Mrs. Eigenbraugh, 1955."
I am older now than Mrs. Eigenbraugh was then... and I clearly see her at her desk dutifully, carefully signing each gift in her copperplate hand. She no doubt paid for these herself... and gave them as a small memento of her and the season... little thinking that I, a half century later, should be so moved at her gift... or her conscientious generosity. Do teachers give as much today?
Just one left
I was born in 1947 to young parents who had, in those post war years, few dollars and sky-high aspirations, with days and energy to spare. Like everyone else in the neighborhood they had a young child, part of that baby boomer wave. For him, they bought a box of colored glass ornaments which I broke one by one by getting in my petal powered red car, pushing it backwards across the living room... then running car into Christmas tree... full speed ahead. No one seemed to mind. We were young, and we all had time and youth to spend without care.
Now I hold that glass ball in my hand, of faded purple hue. It, along with my father and I, are the survivors of this tale. And now this glass ornament, once so little valued that we all laughed every time I, with my running feet and determined glint, scored a direct hit... now this glass, I say, is precious and deeply valued as a memento of youth, both my parents and my own, and of the beautiful dark-haired woman whose carefree laughter and love are as clear in this ornament as if it were a crystal ball. She told me to take good care of this for there could never be another... I have and I will. And in time I shall ask of another what she asked of me: to remember.... and to take good care. For I am entitled to that as well., having well and truly kept the promise.
Remember and reconnect
Each year about this time, I set out to reconnect with someone from my past with whom I have lost touch, the way one does. Sometimes I succeed in this task; sometimes I don't. When I do... I make a point of writing them a memorable letter... about how important they are to me... and how well and what I remember. Such letters in a lifetime are rare to write and rarer still to receive. I am pleased to say they always stimulate a similar letter in response. That letter is always amongst my best Christmas presents. As such I place it carefully among my other treasured gifts and mementos and savor them as, each year, I take them out and let memory hold sway. Thus, with the help of my dearly beloved, I keep Christmas in my heart all year long, like the better, reformed, wiser Ebenezer Scrooge.
And so I say to you: God bless us everyone and every loving memory of yore. They make us what we are and remind us, lovingly, of where we have been and the people who have helped us along the way in so very many ways.