Each year as I struggle to come up with a Christmas column, I think back on past holidays, searching for some tidbit to share with the readers. And each year I hope that the column is not too boring, self-righteous or gooey sweet for the readers.
After 13 years, I've turned Christmas upside down searching for column ideas. This year was no exception. I had actually written two paragraphs for a column on toys when I decided to go in a different direction. I still love toys, but maybe I'll save that story for next year.
A few days ago my girlfriend asked me what my favorite Christmas memory was. That was a good question. When I was young, we would decorate the house with blinking lights of blue, red and green. Christmas cards would be on display around doorways and posts and a beautiful manger scene would be set on a table for all to see. Our dinning room table would be resplendent with a bowl of mixed nuts waiting for dad to munch on and a bowl of fruit, highlighted by perfect seasonal oranges. But we did not have a tree.
My parents would wait until Belinda, Dave and I were all in bed before Dad went out in search of a Christmas tree. On Christmas morning we would get up, rush downstairs while Mom and Dad were swigging coffee, and see a tree blanketed in lights, tinsel, candy canes and regally topped by a glowing angel, protecting a sea of colored packages. We knew Santa had come and brought the presents, the tree and the assembled bicycles, doll houses (for my sister, of course) and any sundries.
That worked for several years, but that would exhaust even the most dedicated mom, dad and Santa's helper. I later found out that after midnight, the tree lots would discard their unsold trees and Dad would usually get one for free.
I also considered writing about the cake mom baked every Christmas when I was a child. It was just a simple round cake, but a slice was always put outside so the birdies could take pieces up to Jesus. I used to watch the birds fly away with the pieces, glad that Baby Jesus was getting a piece of his birthday cake. I still love that memory.
But the memory that has been one of my favorites for years is about a little red box that fit in the palms of my hands when I was 10. The memory came from a time when my family was having it tough. Dad was out of work after the department where he worked was abolished. After being laid off, Dad had suffered a major heart attack and wasn't able to search for another job.
Those were tough times. That year Mom and Dad were not sure where they were going to get money for food, bills and gas, let alone for Christmas.
Then, as Christmas approached, something miraculous happened.
My family -- aunts, uncles, etc. who can be as close as any Southern clan or at war with each other like people in a mountain feud -- came together for a common cause, my family's Christmas. The family organized a gift-giving project and chipped in to help us have a wonderful Christmas. I don't remember a lot about that Christmas, except that I'll never forget the gift or the aunt who got it for me.
My Aunt Sue Shreve, who was one of my favorite aunts when I was a child, had helped organize the Christmas surprise that year. One of my presents from Aunt Sue was red handheld AM/FM transistor radio. Some readers may not know what a transistor is. Google it.
Those were the days (yikes, I feel so old) when AM stations still ruled the daytime music slots around Akron. The radio operated on a 9-volt battery and came complete with a whitish-tan braided single ear plug.
I can still remember the feel and look of that radio. I loved music. I loved closing my eyes on a summer day and listening to the voice in the radio talking about the latest records, disc jockey (again, Google it) appearances and sport reports.
I don't know what ever happened to that red radio, but to this day, I love the memory and the aunt who got it for me. So many Christmases have passed and so many gifts have been opened and that little red radio from my Aunt Sue is my favorite. I'll always be thankful to and love Aunt Sue for that.
Actually, Aunt Sue has been on my mind a lot, and I've been trying to give her the present she needs the most -- prayer. Aunt Sue was diagnosed earlier this year with pancreatic cancer and has been fighting like a warrior for months. Every time I think of her, I ask God to help her. I really love her a lot.
Aunt Sue knows she is sick but has not given up. I saw a picture of her picking out a new set of wedding rings on her Facebook page a few days ago. She looked intent on her choices. That's bravery.
This Christmas season, if you'd like to help my aunt with a gift, maybe you could whisper a prayer for her.
And just as Aunt Sue was a big part of my favorite past Christmas memory -- I'm hoping she'll be part of my favorite future Christmas memories for a long time to come.
I'm hoping I get up Christmas morning and when I ask my mom how Aunt Sue is, Mom tells me, "I talked to her and she sounded great and had a peaceful night." That would be my favorite Christmas gift this year.
Merry Christmas readers, may your holiday be filled with love, family and peace. And most of all, Merry Christmas, Aunt Sue. I love you and will never forget what you did for us.