Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

Christmas Memories — December 19, 2013

Christmas Memories

As we draw closer to Christmas day, I find a flood of memories filling my mind. Some are good memories, some are funny, some are sad. But such are the ingredients of life. Capturing these memories felt important, necessary, desired. As I sat down to write them out, I decided some were worthy of the blog where I share my life stories.Nativity Scene at Centennial Park in Nashville, TN (1954-1967) via Nashville Archives

Not too long ago I posted on memory triggers. In the last few days, a high school classmate posted an image on our graduating class’s Facebook page. (Image: Nativity Scene at Centennial Park in Nashville, TN (1954-1967) via Nashville Archives)

That image triggered a rush of memories.

Suddenly I could feel the biting cold of the night air as we stood under the stars and gazed upon the largest nativity I had ever seen. Every year we piled in the car, bundled from head to toe, to join with hundreds, maybe thousands, of other citizens in and around Nashville to view the Nativity donated by a local businessman.

And then it was a quick drive home to warm up and crawl into bed but not until Dad had read the nativity passage from the Bible. Mom, Dad, and I — and years later my younger brother — gathered on the living room sofa with the lights twinkling on the tree and our now somewhat very small nativity lit on top of the radio/phonograph console.

Memories by now were marching on and I’m thinking back to one Christmas night when I was about seven, almost eight. As all children experience, I went to bed when told but could not sleep. Waiting and listening for any sound that evidenced the arrival of Old St. Nick.

There it was. Sounds of activity in the living room. Voices even. Could it be?

Only one way to find out. I quietly climbed from my bed, opened my door, and peeked into the hall. Someone was in the living room!

Tiptoeing as quietly as possible I made my way down the hall. He was in the living room. Putting together a blue bicycle! Oh, how I had dreamed of this moment. My very own blue bicycle. And Santa, right there before my eyes!

1955 Hanes Ad via Google 1955 Hanes Ad via Google

Strange — Santa wasn’t wearing the familiar red suit. Instead he was wearing jockey shorts and the standard male undershirt of the day. A toolbox sat by his side and an instruction sheet laid out to follow along. Didn’t his elves put everything together for Santa to deliver?

And there was Mom, her hair in curlers and her in her robe in the middle of the night. What was she doing up with Santa in his underwear?

This was definitely not what I expected. I gasped and gulped back my tears.

Santa was evidently my mom and dad. All this time I believed in a man in a red suit with a snow-white beard who drove a sleigh pulled by reindeer and delivered toys all over the world. The truth sat in my living room, right before my eyes!

Mom and Dad looked up at my gasp, and they knew then that the secret of Santa was no more. Their little girl discovered the truth on this very night called Christmas Eve.

I sat in Mom’s lap while Dad finished putting the bike together. He sat me on it and promised the next morning he would take me out to go for a spin.

Santa or no Santa, I gave Dad a big smile!

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These are only a couple of my Christmas memories that came back to me this last week. Have you experienced any cherished memories in the past few days or weeks? Perhaps you’ll share them in the comments below.

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Healing by Writing will be quiet until the first of the year. It’s a time to be spent with family and cherishing the new memories being made. I hope you’ll be doing the same.

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Remembering Dad — June 16, 2013

Remembering Dad

Clockwise L-R: Dad sitting at a linotype machine, Dad at 16, and Dad showing me how to use my new tricycle
Clockwise L-R: Dad sitting at a linotype machine, Dad at 16, and Dad showing me how to use my new tricycle

Dad was and still is my hero.  Life was never easy for him growing up. The story I’ve been told, not by Dad but by other family members, is that when he was four Dad and his siblings, a brother seven and a sister nine, their mother took them to an orphanage after the death of their father at age 36.  With no means of income and in the early 1900s, my grandmother had no other choice. Skipping ahead a few years, Dad found himself left behind as his siblings reached the discharge age. Dad stayed at the orphanage until he was 16 and had lost track of his siblings.

At this time, he moved to Winchester, TN where he began work as an apprentice at the newspaper in this small town.  The work was hard and when not at the newspaper, he helped the owner of the paper with his peanut crop.  Fortunately, the owner also provided him with housing.  According to Dad, the best part of the job was meeting Dinah Shore before she was famous.  Her father owned the local mercantile where Dad shopped on occasion.

The hard work didn’t end there.  When he became proficient in typesetting, he moved to Nashville and began working at a variety of places.  But he always worked hard.  Hard at work and hard at home.  He never seemed to want to be idle, except when his poor health got in the way.  You see Dad was a recovering alcoholic.  And the alcoholism had taken a toll on his pancreas, liver and stomach.  He almost died in 1948 when I was just two years old.  After that, his health kept Dad from doing a lot of things other dads did with their families.  But one thing was sure — Dad always showed up for work and he worked hard.

At home he worked hard maintaining our house and yard, and each year there was a little garden back in the corner of our back yard.  He treasured the vegetables and fruits he planted, and Dad’s love of blooming flowers grew larger each year. One of my favorite memories is the year he planted close to 100 tulip and daffodil bulbs in a bed along the side of our garage. One by one, the squirrels dug up the bulbs and “planted” nuts!  It was one of the few times I ever saw Dad lose his cool.

Dad reached hero status with me by loving me quietly, gently and warmly.  Unlike our mother, Dad’s voice was never raised.  If something was wrong or if we were in trouble, it was a quiet talk with Dad about understanding what was wrong and asking us to explain how it would not happen again.  If you asked him for advice, Dad was slowly explain what he would do in the particular situation but ended with a reminder that this is your situation, your decision, and your consequences.  It was part of growing up, he always reminded.

I think Dad always knew how I cherished our relationship, and to this day I find myself talking to him when times get a little tough.  I’m always thinking about him wondering what life would have been like if he’d been healthier, if he and Mom had married a little younger (Dad was 45 when I was born), and if he’d lived longer (he died at age 72).  I was only 27.

I have a long list of things I credit my Dad with infusing into my life:

  • love of reading and words
  • love of music
  • gentleness and compassion
  • good work ethic
  • standing for what you believe in
  • a quiet Christian faith

On this Father’s Day and every one since his death, I sit and wish he were next to me so I could tell him again how much I love him.  But, he’s not here, and I tell him anyway.  I believe in heroes, and I believe they can hear us.

Dad, I love you!

Memories — Mine or Yours? — June 13, 2013

Memories — Mine or Yours?

Creative Commons via Flickr (Paul Yoakum)
Creative Commons via Flickr (Paul Yoakum)

In the most basic of terms, writing memoir is sharing your story.  Offering an account of your memories in story form.  Your recall of events is intimate and necessary to your story.

However, in my case, I have two siblings, both brothers, who have very different memories of our growing up. My older brother is 14 years older than I and my younger brother eight years younger.  We basically grew up in different times and almost in separate families.

With such an age range among us, it is not unusual that we would have different memories. But what about the overlap?

I have memories from both my brothers’ high school days.  And I am sure they have memories of high school days too.  Are our memories the same?  Who has the lock on those memories?

Family Christmas circa 1960
Family Christmas circa 1960

Here’s a photo of a Christmas gathering some time during the 1960s.  My mother’s family is all together for the most part. That much I think we could agree on, or could we?  Will my younger brother note that some of Mom’s siblings are absent? Will he know why our older brother and his family aren’t in the photo?

Brad is front and center kneeling on the floor.  At the time he is probably eight years old.  I immediately know the absent family members and why.  My older brother and his family had left before this photo was made because one of their children became ill.  An aunt and uncle are missing because they had another commitment that afternoon.  I doubt Brad would recall such details.

Buzz and Gene (right) before graduation
Buzz and Gene (right) before graduation

Another family photo was made on the day my older brother graduated from high school.  Our mother took the photo outside his best friend’s home, and that’s his best friend, Buzz, in the photo with him.  What Gene would likely not remember that I do clearly is that I loved him so much at that time in my life for a variety of reasons that it hurt terribly when I learned I could not have my picture taken with them.  Devastated, I cried until I could not cry any more.  My guess is that an 18-year old graduating from high school is not going to remember such details when looking back at this photo.

I share these photos and my memories with you to show the contrast in memories the three of us might have at any given time in our lives.

Neither of these photos plays a principal role in my memoir, but they do show the disparity of recall among people experiencing the same date or time or event.  Whose recall is correct?

Each one is correct based on his or her ability to recall
the events as they experienced that day, time or event.

I urge you to write your story as you know it.  If there is concern about another’s role in your story, change the name or talk with that person to compare your recall.  Perhaps your recall will be the same; perhaps not.  If the latter, then you will need to decide whether to include that story, hopefully with the other’s agreement, leave it out or maybe change the name.

Remember, your memoir is your story!

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Coming up next:  On Tuesday next, I’ll be writing on writer’s block.  Hope you’ll drop by!