Christmas should be a happy time

Published 2:37 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For most of my life, especially childhood, Christmas was a happy time at home with family.
My first Christmas away from home was spent at Fort Warren near Cheyenne, Wyoming. The Air Force had sent me there, and I could not afford to travel the 2,000 miles to Our Area.*
There were only a handful of us left in our squadron when the blizzard of the century hit in 1948. Cattle froze to death standing on the great plains, snow drifted over the roof of our mess hall, and I woke up to snow on the floor of our barracks.
The water in the johns had frozen and broken them apart. I was assigned to revive our barracks’ furnace, which became a full-time job. But I managed, and survived a very lonely Christmas. In more recent times, I have seen companies lay off people just before Christmas and too many of my friends have died in December . . . hard to have a happy Christmas in those homes!
This year is no exception, for Evelyn Pittman Tate and Donald Arledge, friends from our school days, have just passed away as I write this.
Let’s think of those happy Christmases of our childhood. I hope yours were much like mine, a time of anticipation followed by fulfillment beyond our dreams. My Dad would take us kids out into the woods in search of a pretty cedar tree, because its special aroma would follow us into the house and linger with it. Then came the decorations, many of them homemade. We always put the foil icicles on individually so they would hang straight down like the real ones outside. I always wanted to hang one of Dad’s long socks on the mantel because they were bigger than mine.
The pile of wrapped packages under the tree grew mysteriously from day to day. No lifting or shaking was allowed, so we had to do that when no adult was around. There were many surprises, though, because Mother liked to put small things into large boxes. I once put a brick in a package with a wristwatch to fool my brother; the watch was still intact on opening.
The best part of Christmas was the gathering at the grandparents’ big house with all the aunts and uncles and cousins by the dozens. There were even more presents there!
We had to eat in shifts, even though they found extra tables for us kids. We had to present a “clean plate” (the one our dinner was on, of course) for dessert, and there was every kind of pie and cake you ever heard of. Happy times, indeed!
We have already enjoyed two of the many events here that make for a wonderful Christmas season. We could not join the do-it-yourself Messiah because of a conflict, but we did get to the incomparable Tuba Christmas again this year.
There is nothing like hearing the familiar carols intoned by only the lower register brass instruments. There were more than 20 tubas, some euphoniums and a host of baritones assembled by Dr. Stan Howell from all over North Carolina and a few neighboring states. I believe the youngest player was 12, the oldest in his 90s. You should plan now to start your Christmas season next year on the first Saturday in December at the high school. Happiness guaranteed!
We have just enjoyed the Community Chorus Christmas program, also at the high school. Conductor Kennedy remarked that Our Area has “more talent per square inch” than any place he knows of, and this diverse group made his point admirably. They even let us sing, too, as they do at Tuba Christmas. The 100th Psalm is alive and well!

*Our Area (always capitalized) is a “Witty-cism” much used in his Foothills Chronicles by Bob Witty. I have adopted it in loving memory of my friend, who also left us in December, in 2007.

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