A Christmas presence

A few weeks before Christmas in 1972, a friend told me a story I've never forgotten. She said that her son, Joe, a Marine, was due to come home from Vietnam in two months. She said that several nights before, she had gone to bed at her usual time. For reasons she couldn't explain, she awoke during the night, went downstairs to the kitchen, and baked an apple pie, her son's favorite. She put it on the table, set out a plate, knife, fork, and napkin, then placed a tall glass of milk near it, and went back to bed.

When she awoke the next morning, she had no memory of awaking during the night. She showered, dressed, and went downstairs.

As she entered the kitchen, she saw half of a pie and an empty glass on the table. She was stunned. She thought she was dreaming. It was then she remembered baking a pie during the night.

Suddenly, it hit her.

She stumbled wildly up the stairs and ran to her son's bedroom. There he was. He was sleeping like a baby, still in his uniform. He awoke and they cried and laughed, hugging each other warmly. He told her that he had been rotated two months early, that he had been discharged only two days before, and that he had gotten home during the night. He said he hadn't phoned because he wanted to surprise her.

I've always thought there was more than coincidence to that happening.

William J. Swety

Schwenksville

Defying

gravity

Every year on the coldest day of December, I'd help my dad hang the Christmas lights. Before the lights, my father wrapped the outside of the windows with a woven weed called laurel.

To get the laurel to the upstairs windows, Dad would drop a piece of rope for me to tie around the laurel. I'd then run upstairs and hold my father's legs while he dangled his torso outside of the window and secured the weed to cup hooks that were screwed into the window's frame.

My father, an engineer by trade, believed it perfectly safe to have my 95 pounds hold down his 245- pound body. But, in all those years of hanging our lights, we never fell. The air conditioner fell from our dinning room window once, but that's another story.

David W. Cava

Marlton

Grandmother's

first love

The turkey was roasting in the oven; to say that it was well done is an understatement. The sounds of Christmas music were already blasting through the speakers of my dad's record player. Since when does Christmas start in November?

Sitting by the fire was my grandmother, gazing into the flames. To say that these flames tell a story would be typical. But to say they told a love story, that was exactly the case. I've heard the story of her first love many times, so many times that I can recite it by heart. But this time was different; she could no longer look into the kitchen and see him looking back at her.

Her first love, my grandfather, died four years ago, around Thanksgiving time. So every Thanksgiving we celebrate his life, and the love he gave to everyone he knew.

Taylor Sylvester

Burlington

A time to

live for today

Holidays are special, warm times of the year, especially when we spend time with my grandmother.

On Thanksgiving, we would laugh at the immature jokes that she would tell and talk about the happiness we found this year. My grandmother would make a special dish that doesn't even go along with the Thanksgiving theme, but is different every Thanksgiving. I'm still pondering what dish she will provide this year.

Nothing matters on Thanksgiving but the time my grandmother and I share. Thanksgiving is the time to give thanks with each other for the times we shared and the memories that we cherish. It's a special time of the year where we put aside everything and just remember the day we live today.

Justin Won

Voorhees

Father's

first gift

My father, an orphan, was raised by his elderly grandparents. They did not celebrate birthdays or holidays. Christmas was just another day for Dad until he was 9 years old and a neighbor took him to the Christmas Eve service at their church. At the end of the program, each child received an orange as a gift.

This was the first gift my father had ever received. That night he made a vow that when he had children, he would make sure that they experienced the joy he felt when he got that orange. Through the years, my brother and I knew that my dad would make good on his promise. Long before December he would be planning the gifts that he would make for us. One year he made me a dollhouse.

On Christmas morning, our home was filled with love and joy as we opened our surprise gift. But when we got to the bottom of the stocking, we knew what we would find. It would be an orange.

Elaine Mankin Rafetto

West Grove

Precious

treasures

During this holiday I reflect back on Christmases past. In 1963, my mother warned me, my sister, and two brothers that Santa was not doing so well and we should not expect our usual haul of gifts. Of course, the truth was that my father, a contractor in the construction trades, did not have work that winter.

On Christmas morning we woke to more gifts than ever under the tree. There were stuffed toys, clothing for our dolls, and "dress-up" outfits for my sister and me. That was the end of Santa for me. I recognized the materials and knew that my mother and grandmother had spent countless hours to make our holiday special. This year my mother is no longer oriented to time and place and will get little enjoyment from the holidays. I only hope that she knows how much this Christmas and all of those in the past have meant to me because of her loving generosity.

Diane A. Menio

Cheltenham

Two trees,

one memory

My parents were 19 and 23 years of age with a newborn in 1930. The Depression was in full tilt, and Dad could not find work. The young family lived in a third-floor flat belonging to Dad's parents.

Christmas was coming, and although they were able to buy a toy for the baby, a tree was out of the question. On Christmas Eve, Dad and his younger brother quietly left the house. They walked to the corner where a man selling trees was closing up shop. Dad asked the man what would become of the few stragglers that were left. "They'll be thrown out," the man said. Not one of them made a good tree, so Daddy asked if he could have two. The man agreed.

So it was that the two cast-off trees were tied together and became one tree. My brother's first Christmas tree.

Diana Canamucio

Bensalem

Dinners

with family

Growing up with my grandparents in Rhawnhurst, delivering gifts to friends on Christmas Eve with my grandfather while my grandmother prepared the ahead- of-time parts of Christmas dinner, going to midnight Mass at St. Martin of Tours (a tradition in those days even if it wasn't your parish), all I remember is the abundance of red poinsettias.

My grandfather wouldn't allow anyone to open gifts before midnight because it wasn't officially Christmas until then. I remember coming downstairs to more gifts the next morning because my grandparents always held some back for me. I miss that surprise. Much to their and my parents' dismay, I never believed in Santa Claus; it just didn't make sense to me even as a youngster, and I haven't regretted that.

What I do miss, though, are the dinners with my grandparents with everything done right - good dishes, crystal, the correct silverware for whatever dish it went with, wine, and enough vegetables "to feed the Army," as my grandfather would say.

My grandmother always tried to cook everyone's favorite food. Being raised by my grandparents was a gift in itself - special times and special people.

Gail C. Parker

Philadelphia

Popcorn

galore

I cannot see a can of popcorn during the holidays without thinking about "Grandmom Mac," my grandmother who passed away last year at the age of 94. Every Christmas she got it in her mind that she would give all 17 grandchildren, plus numerous other neighbors, a big tin of popcorn for a Christmas gift. I was always selected as the granddaughter to assist her with her Christmas shopping, so we started comparing prices before Thanksgiving. See, growing up in the Depression, she refused to spend more than $4.99 a tin! I would leave the store with a cute little old lady who could not be seen behind a cart of 25 or more tins of popcorn. Of course, we would all complain about how awful it tasted and how we had to vacuum it off the floor after the kids got into it.

This year I would love to get a tin of popcorn from my grandmother just to know she was still with us! (However, with prices rising, she might not have been able to get them for under $6.99 - best price I've seen yet, as I still look!)

Marie Keith

Media

A familiar

voice

I visited Santa once, and it left an impression. Since we are Jewish, Santa was not part of my family's traditions. Once, my mother said I could visit Santa. We walked to the avenue and in front of a store sat Santa.

His "ho ho ho" sounded familiar.

"Dad, is that you in there," I asked. There was no reply, but I knew my father was the Santa. I winked at him, and took a candy cane.

I never told my friends who this Santa was.

Years later, I reflect on this and why my father chose to be Santa. Perhaps he got a chuckle being a Jewish Santa, or he enjoyed making children smile and believe. My father has since passed away, but every December I think of his gift for the holidays.

Nancy Wexler Taylor

Doylestown

New memories,

new friends

Over the years, the faces gracing our festivities have changed, as everyone of my mother's generation has left us.

But we are creating new memories for the next generation, and the love of those who went before us remains.

Marge Kramer

Lansdale