Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Tales

This has been an unusual Christmas. We’ve never missed a Christmas with our kids since we were married. And that’s coming up on 38 years. In fact, our anniversary is next week.

We almost missed Christmas one year. I think it was 1982. We still lived on Sherman street in Longmont and Linda’s parents lived out in the country near Berthoud. We took the kids out to their house early on Christmas eve. We still had some shopping and a lot of wrapping to do.

It started to snow rather heavy. By the time Linda and I had all the gifts loaded in the yellow van, the snow was several feet deep. We headed down the street … and got stuck at the end of the block. With the help of neighbors, we got the van back home. So the kids spent Christmas night at their grandparents, and we were stuck home … alone. Linda was in tears missing her kids for X-mas.

The next morning the snow had stopped and the plows had done their best. We jumped back in the van (after shoveling off our sidewalk and driveway) and headed north. No problem getting across town or down US 287. We turned onto Caballero, the street Bob and Bea lived on. It had been plowed by a local farmer and was one narrow lane through four feet of snow. I got two blocks down the street before I became stuck.

With snow up the side of the van, I couldn’t open the doors to get out. I went to the back of the van and pulled the “second door release” latch. I was able to force open the two doors with that latch released. We walked the last block to Linda’s parents and Bob came back with two shovels.

We did some widening of the single path, got the van backed up up a bit, and … with a run … made it to his driveway. He had shoveled it off using his little garden tractor and a plow blade. So soon we were spending Christmas morning (or noon) with the kids and we had a very merry Christmas.

Plus, it gave this tale to tell.

Another time, in the 90’s, I was on an “emergency customer visit” with a valued customer in Philadelphia. I had been there all of Christmas week working on a very intense technical problem. I was there with a senior vice-president who was looking over my shoulder every step of the way … often reminding me just what this client was worth in annual IBM revenue.

Although the problem was a "class-one," critical situation, we did take a break for Christmas. I flew home on Dec. 23, and came back to Philly the day after Christmas. Actually, that wasn’t a bad time to fly since most holiday travelers take a week or more off.

Plus that customer threw a big dinner for us when the work was done a few days later and that V.P. was forever in my debt. In fact, he was a key person in getting me promoted later to a senior scientist position at IBM called STSM. That was my last promotion, and put me into financial security such that we had Christmas turkey ever year after that. Heck, we could have afforded Peking Duck after that raise. So all’s well that ends financially well.

This, then, is the first Christmas in 37 years that I didn’t spend with my kids, although Linda is here and so is my dad. That’s OK. We had a wonderful Christmas party and gift exchange on Dec. 12 when we were back in Colorado for a short time. We reserved space for over a dozen guests at the T.G.I. Fridays and had a wonderful time, wonderful dinner, and the usual great memories.

For most of our married life, we had dinner at Linda's parents. Bea was a wonderful cook and we always enjoyed the hospitality. A couple of times we slept over on Christmas Eve. A few, very special Christmases included family from Alaska. In the early nineties, both of Linda's brothers and their whole family came down and spent December with us. We have a great family portrait with all the Lincoln grandkids in memory of that special year.

Later, after Linda's mom turned 70, she turned the meal preparation over to us. She still helped and our sons both chipped in. We often wonder how Bea was able to prepare those wonderful meals all by herself, when it takes four or five of us to duplicate the feat.

Christmas dinner varies at our homestead. It is often turkey with possibly more dishes such as ham. But it can also be lasagne, a specialty Linda and I prepare. Two years ago, being somewhat burned out on turkey from Thanksgiving, we had cold cuts and salads … all from “Our Butcher Frank.” One year we went to our oldest son’s for dinner and had pasta. That was a good break.

One time, about ten years ago, we had Prime Rib. Earlier in Dec. that year, as a department event, our IBM group of 8 went to a chef school for a special day. We were taught french cooking techniques and enjoyed wine and cheese and bread while we prepared a meal for about 20. We then sat down with the chefs, instructors, helpers, and had our self-prepared feast. The star was the Prime Rib. It was a “Rib Roast — First Cut.” I did the potatoes. Under mentorship of the chef, I sliced them very thin and quickly browned them in a skillet with butter. I then piled them, one on another, in a round bowl with a flat bottom. Next I turned the bowl over into a pan, creating a solid and nicely sculpted potato dish which I baked. Others made the salads, home made vinaigrette dressing, and side dishes.

It was a wonderful experience, and I learned a lot about cooking, knife skills, and other preparation methods. I used a “mandolin” to cut the potatoes as thin as paper. Not a stringed instrument, but a thin slicing kitchen appliance. I ended up getting one for Linda as a Christmas present (from McGuckin’s for those familiar with Boulder, CO) and used it for the meal after she opened the present. We still use it to this day. (If you watch “Chopped” on the Food Channel you’ll see them in use.)

I repeated the meal for our family a couple of weeks later. One reason one has turkey is lower cost for a large meal. I paid over $100 for the roast. When I got back to work after the holidays, my boss said he’d done the same. Only his roast had cost over $200.

By the way, the little event at the cooking school cost $325 per person. IBM had a fund that paid for events for the departments as morale boosters and teamwork builders. We would often spend our money on a luxury box at the Rockies games. One year it was two-for-one, so we got two wonderful days at the ball game in the luxury boxes. And, let me tell you, this luxury boxes are pure luxury.

Another memory from Christmas long, long ago included our best friends, Steve and Sandy. I don’t remember where our two boys were that night, or their two girls, but it was just the four of us out driving around town on Christmas eve. It was around 8 or 9 at night, and all the restaurants were closed. We found a Chinese restaurant that was open, as they didn’t celebrate the holiday. We had a wonderful diner … we were the only ones in the restaurant at that time of night.

Later, about ten, we were riding around enjoying the lights. There was very little traffic. Sandy said they didn’t have a tree, and we passed several lots that sold trees. They were all closed at this late hour of Christmas Eve. Steve said we should just stop and take a tree. They weren’t worth anything now with the holiday almost over, and it wouldn’t really be stealing. We thought about it pretty hard, but decided not too. I think that decision was made right after we passed a police car on patrol.

So we drove around until midnight looking at lights and enjoying the solitude and each others company. Finally we took them home and returned to our abode to await the sound of tiny reindeer on the roof.

Speaking of reindeer, Linda would always try to trick the boys on holidays. After they went to bed, she would make footprints on the living room floor using white powder. She'd tell the boys it was Santa or, in the Spring, the Easter bunny. We always had stockings filled with candy and toys that we’d put up after everyone was in bed, and preserved the Santa myth as long as we could. It is fun to pretend.

We often spend Christmas eve now driving around and enjoying the lights. We go up to Fox Hill because they always do luminaries in the entire neighborhood. These are paper bags with burning candles in them.

Recently, for about the last five or ten years, we've been attending a candle light service at our church. I remember the first one. After we all sat down and sang some carols and prayed, our paster, Tom Beaman, came out dressed as Joseph. He said Mary and the baby were sleeping, but he could tell us all about the miraculous night and the shepherds and wise men visitors. He was dressed authentically and told the story beautifully in a sort of "you are there" style.

Then, they turned out all the lights, including the decorations on the tree. It was black as pitch. As Tom spoke of the light that came into the world, he lit a candle. The ushers lit their candles from his. Then they went down the aisles lighting the candles on the end. Each person would light the candle next to them and the room was soon filled with light. This was how the story is told. This is called "evangelism." It is a beautiful thing. Don't hide your light under a hat. Rather, shine your light like a city on a hill.

For those that don't know, Colorado is the official Christmas state. That's true. Think of all the Christmas specials filmed in Colorado. Think of a cabin and a warm fire with white snow outside. (Think of skiing and hot tubs.) You see, it is true. Colorado is the official Christmas state. Right now hollywood stars and millionaire are celebrating in Aspen and Vail. Merry Christmas to Colorado.

Many memories. That’s what Christmas means to me … memories. I hope all of you reading this little note built some more good family memories this Christmas season. This will always be a special Christmas to me. The Christmas I spent away from Colorado with my wife and my dad. Great that I can spend time with him. No one knows. This could be the last Christmas with him. That is a great gift in itself.

God bless us all, Tiny Tim.

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