Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Christmas Eve and it's raining outside -- which we've badly needed, so I'm not complaining. We aren't going far afield this Christmas -- mostly home, with a couple of gettogethers with our great neighbors and friends.

But my Christmases past always are with me on this eve, most of them sweet and poignant, some very memorable.

Like the year in Zionsville that I was singing in the choir, and we had not only an early service especially for the kids, but also an 11 p.m. service with a choir concert beginning at 10:30.

My folks were in from their winter place in the Rio Grande Valley, my brother was in from Nashville, and baby, it was cold. Indiana winters are not for the thin of blood.

We'd had our usual Christmas Eve dinner, probably with my friend Julie and her family, and I think we'd gone to the early service with the kids. I headed back to church about 9:45 or so, in time to warm up my voice before the service. I remember it was slippery in patches -- snow on the ground. R was headed to bed, and everyone else decided to stay home too, which was fine.

But they didn't. We were singing the first hymn, probably "O Come All Ye Faithful," and who should I see hurrying down the side aisle but my husband, my brother, and my dad, all grinning like Cheshire cats. They sat in the second or third row -- the church was packed, as usual for Christmas Eve, and they grinned at me (and Julie) for the entire service.

One of the hymns was, of course, "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing," to which my husband had altered the words to be "Hark, the hare-lipped angels sing." Which he was singing.

My rubber face, which shows every emotion, was taxed to the max that night as I struggled to maintain some composure in the choir loft.

It was a sweet night. They'd decided I shouldn't be alone (never mind that the church was full and I was surrounded by choir friends), and lifted their various whiskey tenors in song, probably with whiskey fumes wafting over the nearby pews.

Another Christmas, same church: Julie's dog Oreo had had puppies a few days earlier -- and they were all dead or dying of parvo virus, including Oreo. She, our friends Nancy and Marcia, and I all cried all the way through the service.

I loved the 11 p.m. candlelight services there, and also in my church in Birmingham. There's not a late service to be found here, however -- they're all done by 9 p.m.

My parents are close by every Christmas Eve -- I spent only a few without being with them until their deaths. Most are filled with warm, fuzzy memories, of filling stockings and going to church and singing and watching lights twinkle on the tree. We often had guests at our table -- people who were alone, or traveling, or neighbors, or friends. Sometimes we'd do big dinners, other times it was wonderful soups, breads, cheeses, and decadent desserts, and always cookies baked both by me and my mother.

I miss them. I miss some of that warmth of those years, some of the fun of having a younger child in the house.

And yet there's joy these days as well, for close friends and neighbors, for each other, for being where we are, and for being so blessed. I don't sing in a choir anymore (although I may eventually again -- I do miss that), and we don't belong to a church. But we belong here, and we are grateful for the love and caring with which we are surrounded, and for the peace of the land.

No comments: