The Year Santa Found Us

I’ve often shared my favorite Christmas memory, when at the age of 6, I received a refurbished doll cradle. That story can be found here. But there’s another Christmas that often comes to mind. One spent in different circumstances, far away from the sunny winters in San Diego.

My grandmother and step-grandfather (we called him Clarence) were tenant farmers in West Tennessee. I guess you could say they were poor. They lived in a house some might describe as a shack with no running water. Grandma used to say they had running water, but outside. No indoor plumbing. The house was drafty and cold in the winter, but Clarence kept it warm. Sometimes almost too warm. When you got out of bed in the morning, the linoleum-covered floors felt like walking barefoot on an ice rink. “Sure ‘nuf cold,” Grandma said.

Most years, they barely made it through. Grandma kept a vegetable garden and put up all the excess so they could eat all winter. They kept hens for the eggs and an occasional Sunday fried chicken. Christmas was just another day for them. There was no Christmas tree and usually no gifts for Grandma.

One year when I was around eight years old, we’d gone to visit Grandma on Christmas Eve. When we got ready to leave, Grandma and Clarence begged us to stay the night, spend Christmas with them. I can imagine my mother’s panic when Dad agreed. These days, I know how Mom felt about Grandma’s house.

My older brother and I went to bed in the big four-poster in the back bedroom and snuggled down beneath the numerous quilts, me wondering if Santa would find us way out in the country. Big brother already disbelieved in Santa, but he tolerated my wide-eyed innocence.

“They don’t even have a tree,” I whispered. “Where will Santa put the presents?”

“Maybe there won’t be any,” Mike said.

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to go to sleep as misery churned in my belly.

Grandma’s grandfather clock struck the hour, every hour, throughout that dark night. I tossed and turned and worried and fretted. Finally, I heard Clarence up stirring the fire. It was almost time. I poked Mike in the side. “It’s morning! Let’s go see if Santa found us.”

Mike moaned and snuggled deeper into the covers. I turned over and waited a few more minutes. When I heard Grandma in the kitchen starting breakfast, I crawled out of the covers and hopped around on the cold floor, pulling my clothes on before dashing out to the warmth of the fire.

My eyes bulged at the sight of a Christmas tree in the front room and beneath it, toys and gifts. I immediately ran back to the bedroom and woke Mike. By now, Mom was up with little brother then Dad wandered out and we were allowed to open our gifts.

As the fire in the old pot-bellied stove roared and its heat filled the room, my brothers and I played with our new toys. Nothing else mattered to me, beyond the joy in my heart. Santa had found us and had somehow managed to slip into the house, bringing everything we needed for our Christmas celebration.

I now know Mom and Dad made a late-night trip back to our house and gathered up Christmas, including the Christmas tree and whatever Mom had planned for Christmas dinner. I can well imagine what she said to my dad on the way. I have been privy to many similar discussions over the years. And I can’t say that I blame her. But looking back, I remember the joy shining from Grandma’s face as she was able to watch her grandchildren open their Christmas gifts—a rare treat for her—a Christmas present like no other.

That sacrifice made by my parents, putting aside their plans in order to spend Christmas with Grandma and give her something they knew she’d love, stuck with me all my life. I never forgot it. To this day, when I hear the chime of a grandfather clock, my mind spins back to that cold, dark Christmas Eve. And then I remember a glow of warmth that came not from the old stove, but from the general region of my heart. Grandma didn’t have gifts for us, but she gave lots of warm hugs and kisses.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. I hope you enjoyed the story and if you did, I hope you’ll take a moment to let me know. Leave a comment below and share one of your cherished Christmas memories.

Merry Christmas!

Guest Post: That’s Home by Matt Owens

Six years of memories. I’ll just need one last look at the yard, at the tree I’d planted, at the landscaping I’d done, at the small place in the corner of the yard where the grass grows a little richer because that’s where we’d buried the cat. Inside the house, I’ll revisit the kitchen I’d remodeled, listen to the sounds of the creaking floorboards, and take a glimpse once more of our first child’s room we’d worked so hard to make his own. And climbing into the truck to haul away everything we consider ours, I’ll watch the house grow smaller in the side mirror until I turn the corner, and it will be gone.

As the season has changed and the trees have begun to glow with red and orange fire in the light of the autumn sun, it’s become apparent that not just six years have passed, but a portion of my life filled with bittersweet memories. It seems as though the more recent years were the sweet ones, though, as I’d grown so much closer to my wife, and it was in those years that we’d welcomed two beautiful boys into our family. At the new house, we’ll have a lot of work, but each busy moment will add time towards years spent in our new home.

These thoughts have made me realize that a house is just a feature of our family. It’s certainly part of us, and we make it ever more so the longer we live in it. We grow to love it, become comfortable in it, make it look and smell and feel like our home. We fill it with treasures, with special things, with fond memories.

My sons will spend their days there growing into young men. They’ll be fascinated by bugs. They’ll catch or kill them and present them to their mom as both a discovery and a gift. She’ll shriek in panic. The boys will rub the insect between their fingers, getting the icky goo stained on their skin, and probably wipe it on their clothes. Or they’ll hold it loosely, and it’ll leap out of their small hands to find refuge in some small dark place hidden from curious eyes. And then she’ll make them wash their hands, and she’ll make me catch it and set it outside preferably unharmed.

But we’ll always remember these things. That’s part of what home is – the memories of how we grew together, grew to love each other, grew to know life and experience joy, pain, laughter, tears. Growing together in such a way that our roots are beyond untangling and fed from the same soil; and our trunks intertwine, our branches sway together in the wind, our leaves make each other appear ever greener. When it ends, when autumn comes and our leaves change and fall, and winter rules our bodies, the real home was the memorial that we made together, four lives grown side by side such that no man can separate them. That will never change. That’s home.