Christmas Stories Yet Untold
Come, Little Ones, bring your chairs up closer, and you will hear stories never even whispered before. And now, while the bright-eyed young ones are settling around, you older ones may decide to honor that child you encounter who lives within you, the one inner spirit who refuses to abdicate the throne of wonder, delight, and vulnerability deep inside your soul.
Why is it we want our stories to begin with those magical words, “Once upon a time”? Perhaps that familiar phrase allows us to dare to hope our story might also end with a “happily ever after.” No one, no matter how old, or savvy, or bitter, or broken, can resist the pull of a happy ending for our personal tale.
I have to pause right here and smile. It's hard to explain, but suddenly all my Christmas memories --- stories left to fend for themselves in this busy world of action, romance, and drama --- each of my tales has suddenly popped to attention. “Oh, pick me!” cries the remembered night of caroling and first kisses. “No. It's my turn,” pleads a Christmas Eve of stolen dreams that had to be returned the next morning. “Well, my memory should be the one,” laughs the crystal memory of a teenage Christmas shopping trip that suddenly detoured, then ended with a new collie named Jingles.
But my eyes meet solidly with “the one.” This is my memory solely through repeated re-telling. I know it as my father's favorite childhood Christmas. And yes, I do think it begins with “Once upon a time.”
Laughter, tears, and a tinge of anxiety set the mood for most mornings in the Miller household. It seems as if most families know of that one person who requires extra care, a tiptoeing upon eggshells, a concentration of caution in things said... and unsaid. I gather the father, George, was such a man. I barely knew my grandfather, but I can attest to his humor, to his laughter, and also to his petulance. Although he was a good man and my grandmother Iona loved him with all her heart, he was often a cause for tears, spankings, and unhappiness for my dad. It sounds as if Iona became the go-between, the peacemaker so blessed in the Beatitudes. Iona was indeed named correctly, child of God, and as my grandmother, her home held a happy, busy, and contented feeling. My grandfather loved his family and provided a good amount of excitement and drama in many ways. And so began December 24, 1933, my father's tenth Christmas Eve. He was nine years old.
The bacon twisted and wrinkled inside the confines of the luster-black skillet. Iona gave her cast iron a little shake as she turned and glanced at the anxious faces around her table for breakfast. Her eyes twinkled at the unnecessary worry. She laughed at their fears about Santa and the beginning snowstorm “I am pretty sure a Missouri snow will not faze Santa in the least,” she said, tipping the edge of her skillet to brown the last slice before flipping it onto a white ironstone meat plate etched with the fine brown fire cracklings of many such morning's effort.
Not reassured, Gerald turned to his older sister and asked, “Has it ever been like this before? On Christmas Eve?” Opal and Elizabeth turned to each other and almost as if rehearsed, they nearly shouted, “Oh, yes! We aren't worried at all. He will make it.” Iona twinkled at her older daughters, who were always so good to partner with her, creating a cozy home. Gerald decided to take the issue to the last word in the family, his stern and sometimes quick-tempered father.