It’s funny how the older you get the faster Christmases and the years seem to pass. A six-year-old waits for what seems to be a millennium for Christmas to come while older people look back and wonder how so many have passed so fast.
For some reason there is one Christmas story I will never forget. I was a third-grader in Mrs. Theisen’s class when the old Washington School was still new. A few weeks before Christmas we all drew names for the annual gift exchange party. The gifts were to be small or token; students were told not to spend more than 25 to 35 cents, which was a lot more money back in those days. But it doesn’t take much to excite a third-grader. A handful of football cards was enough for me.
The young girl who drew my name lived down the street from us, part of a large family with plenty of mouths to feed, but they seemed to get by OK. “Marsha,” I will call her, had a slight speech impediment, was extremely timid, only speaking when called upon. She looked a little disheveled at times, but had pretty blue eyes and an underlying sweetness.
As the day before the Christmas party got closer and no gift appeared I knew this was probably an expense the family could not afford. Knowing her embarrassment and humiliation and with daily reminders from the teacher, my heart went out to her.
I actually wrote a letter to Marsha explaining that I understood her situation and wanted to help out. I had planned to put a few coins in the envelope to help make the problem go away. But, I just could not bring myself to do it. The Christmas party eventually passed with no token gift and Marsha was absent the day of the event. Marsha grew up to be a very pretty young lady, coming out of her shell a little bit but still very timid. Like a lot of my old classmates, I have no idea what happened to her. But I hope life has treated her sweet soul well.
Christmas can be a very difficult time and stressful time of year for many people. Family complications, financial stress and time restrictions can be a real hassle. And, I have to admit, without the excitement of young children around, I’m feeling more like a Scrooge than ever before. I even contemplated the idea of buying an artificial tree this year, which I always considered Christmas sacrilegious.
My folks made great sacrifices to provide all of us with great Christmas memories. These fond memories would not include Christmas trees, however. In the early days the old man would wait until the last minute to get what was left in the tree lot, take it home and “trim” it (a/k/a “butcher” it) and the final result was something that looked like it was imported from Chernobyl. Then, the artificial tree back in the early '60s came in vogue for those special "boomer" parents who valued convenience above all else. So, naturally, we had to have one. The early artificial trees were, in a word, ugly.
You could not even put lights on the early artificial trees and most of these were a bright silver. Instead of lights you were supposed to use the revolving “light wheel” that would rotate in a circle while flashing various hues of blue, yellow and red on your “beautiful - natural” silver tree. Thank God no real tree ever did look like these. Rather than a tree, these abominations looked like tacky tinsel sticks shot into an aluminum pole. And, oh so conveniently reusable year after year after year ...
I vowed at that time I would always have a real tree and have ever since. But, next year? Probably not.
Scrooge aside, Christmas really does bring out the best in a lot of people. Acts of untold kindness touch the hearts of many.
May Christmas 2018 bring joy to you and your family. Hopefully, a happy chapter, as Springsteen would say, “in your book of dreams.”
Next week: Linda Holub
A Sioux City resident and local attorney, Al Sturgeon is a former Democratic state representative and senator. He is the father of six children.