The Spirit of Christmas

Readers share their favorite holiday memories

Down the hill we go

hill-tagI had started a new job in September, 1976, and while there was a Christmas tree in the recreation area for the residents, there didn’t appear to be one in the administrative offices. Since my dad had a farm, he always kept an eye out for the perfect tree for the house. I asked him if he could also find me a much smaller one for my office. Of course, as often happens here, the rather steep hills were covered in a blanket of ice and snow when it came time to cut down the trees. Naturally, the perfect one was on top of the hill instead of in the valley. Using the heels of our boots to dig in, we made it to the top (though not without some falls and lost ground), found the trees, cut them down and trudged back to the point where the hill sloped downward. After a few steps it became apparent that “walking” down that hill was not going to be an option. So what’s a determined father and daughter to do? Sit down, grab hold of the tree trunks behind our backs, and slide all the way to the bottom! I’ll never forget how we laughed and bumped our way down that hill and how it makes me smile to remember that wonderful, cold December afternoon with my dad.

Sharon Aden,
Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative

Union suits

inside-ornament3Every Christmas spent with family is always special, but there will always be the year of the “union suits” that my cousins and I will never forget! Every Christmas my mom’s nine younger siblings and their families would gather at my grandma’s house. At that time, I was about nine, and the oldest of seven cousins who were anxiously awaiting the chance to open our Christmas gifts. Finally, after some of the adults started opening their gifts, we were given the green light to open our gift from “Namie,” our grandma. Being curious and wondering what could be in this 9 x 13 box, we started to shake them, but they only made a swishing noise. We furiously ripped through the cute holiday gift wrap and shreds of paper flew across the room. I had my box open first and quickly shut it, hoping no one would want to see what was inside! I’m sure my face started to glow red like Rudolph’s nose because the surprise inside wasn’t the surprise we were expecting. Instead, we were facing bright red onesies, or long underwear with a drop seat, soon to be called our “union suits.” Of course we were speechless and wanted to run! Are you kidding me? We had to actually take them out and show everyone! The roars of laughter were heard in the surrounding houses. Oh, it gets better, because we had to put them on for a picture. And, luckily the youngest cousins had the short end of the stick and had to “drop” their drop seat for the picture! As embarrassing as this moment was, I still hang our picture of my brother, sister and me wearing our bright red “union suits”  on the Christmas tree every year. Thank you Namie!

Lori A. Russ,
Jo-Carroll Energy, Inc.

Stranded guests

inside-ornament1Christmas Eve 1983. A blizzard was blasting Champaign County. Travel was slow and treacherous. My brother and I were home in Pesotum; our semester at EIU ended several days before or we could have missed the special Christmas that awaited us. It looked like the winter storm could close nearby Interstate 57. As the afternoon went on, nervous drivers were halting their travels and exiting I-57 into Pesotum. Where to stay? There are no hotels in this small town of about 600. The volunteer fire department members, including Dad, were helping travelers to safety and warmth in the community building. Afternoon moved to Christmas Eve evening; the unexpected guests needed something to eat and a place to sleep. Pesotum was and still is a friendly town, so doors opened and stranded guests found a place or two added at tables for Christmas Eve dinner. Ours was no exception. We welcomed a couple from Texas who were heading to Chicago for Christmas with family. We had dinner and a toast or two of Christmas cheer, then we settled in with a warm fire to wait out the storm with our guests. Before long another couple joined us from Iowa, heading to Florida and a Hawkeye’s bowl game. Christmas morning dawned bright, the blizzard passed and roads were cleared. Dozens of appreciative guests resumed their journeys, and normal Christmas activities resumed in Pesotum’s homes.

I still think back to that Christmas more than 30 years ago as our little town found food and shelter for weary travelers. It always reminds me of that Christmas 2,000 years ago, when certain weary travelers were also looking for food and shelter in Bethlehem. “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” – Hebrews 13:2

Dennis Cler,
Corn Belt Energy Corporation

A love that never ends

rings2It was Christmas morning in 1967. Daddy and I were at the kitchen table enjoying a quiet time together. Everybody else was looking and probing under the Christmas tree trying to find the treasures that Santa had brought them. You see, when my mom and dad married, back in 1936, they didn’t have much money so Mom just got a small gold wedding band. Oh, she never complained but dad always wanted to give her something better. After more than 30 years of marriage, that day had come. He called her into the kitchen and handed her this beautifully wrapped package. I was ecstatic because I had helped him pick out this present, and could hardly wait until she opened it. It was a lovely white gold wedding set, that was so unexpected by mom, that she cried. My dad was so pleased. The look of such sweet love they shared that morning is something I will never forget – how the love between a man and a woman can be, and should be. My wonderful dad has been deceased for over 40 years. Mom is still with us. She is 96 now, and misses him terribly each and every day. This memory of their love is still as vivid in my mind today, as it was that wonderful Christmas morning.

Mary Patterson,
SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative, Inc.

To grandmother’s house we go

inside-ornament2December 1982. Dad died that July and Mom, 65, still driving, kept her home of 47 married years. My sister Helen lived two miles away. Christmas is always with Helen’s family because her husband is a dairyman with milk-hours. It wasn’t a problem, except snow came before Christmas Eve. Christmas dawned, cold and sunny. With gifts and casseroles, Ross, our sons Tom, Joe, Phil, and I navigated 15 miles of clear roads to Helen’s. Mom called. She was snowbound and had no way to make her steep hill or drifted private lane to the main road. Disappointed, Helen and I lamented.

Meanwhile, the grandsons schemed. It was unthinkable for Grandma to be two miles away, alone, on THIS day. “Uncle, can we use the tractor to get Grandma,” they asked? “Sure, but how can you get her with the tractor,” he replied. “WITH THE SCOOP,” they grinned!

Quickly, Grandma was called. “Be ready, we’re coming, and dress warm,” they told her. With the tractor fueled, scoop cleaned, blankets borrowed and coveralls donned, off they went on a mission to rescue Grandma! With one driving, one in the scoop, and one gripping finders, the tractor battled the white stuff. Soon Grandma spied them descending the hill. They arrived, laughing at Grandma’s wide eyes. They nested her safely in the scoop and brought her right to aunt’s door, where two daughters gladly greeted their adventurous Mom.

After dining and opening gifts, it was time to get her home. With gifts and goodies, she was bundled with grandson in the scoop. They got her home, stoked the stove and reluctantly left. Though tired, she had an astonishing tale to tell friends. Every Christmas, someone says, “Remember when…?” Then we tell the young’uns what Daddy/Uncle/Grandpa did long ago for their own Grandma.

Shirley M. Reiman,
Egyptian Electric Cooperative Association

iclTo read all of the holiday essay submissions, go here.