If you have been listening you have probably heard a few dozen people say “Christmas came too fast this year” or maybe “we missed the program because it was stormy, windy or too cold.” Most of us can identify with one or both of those points of view. Being semi-sidelined myself, I can agree with both situations but also learned a few things about the season from the sideline view.
1. Santas come in all sizes and shapes and somehow find you even when you are not in normal spots. The following were all surprises since I did have plans for shopping but never got there. One of the smallest Santas who came to my door was possibly 4 or 5 years old, handed me a red wrapped package and said “This is from my grandma,” but did not tell me his name or grandma’s. He left little footprints in the snow racing back to the car that brought him. Another Santa left a large box in my car which is normally parked in front of a neighbor’s door. Since the neighbor was not home, no one heard the knock. A third gift appeared at the library and a fourth amid the clutter on the piano at church. The clutter is what is left behind when I try to practice there and do not take all the music home with me. Each gift was timely and appreciated. Thank you to all those people and others who sent “anonymous” gifts but did not sign their names. Sometimes the gifts we receive seem to have the giver’s fingerprints enclosed. When I am back to writing there are plans for thank you notes.
2. Christmas to many means special music plus stories behind the music. Possibly in the past I may have written about the lovely carol “We Three Kings” sung annually in many programs and churches. This year a Christmas card added a note to the lore behind that song by pointing out that the unusual rhythm of the carol was written to include the syncopated clopping gait of the camels ridden by the Wise Men as they made their way across the desert. And thanks to the fact that a song in the Northern Lights Christmas special appealed to their audience, “A Christmas Hallelujah” already has, or may be heard, in several local churches this year. In an earlier column I wrote about calling Poppler’s for the music which was beyond my limited skill. Even with mistakes some listening liked the practice attempts, one friend paid the music bill, Lisa Schuler shared the version she had used earlier, and others took on the task of preparing a special rendition for the Christmas Eve service. From where I sat during this song you could see the faces of people in the audience who appeared to be smiling and singing the Hallelujah’s that ended each verse of the song. It became a special treat new to our congregation.
3. Christmas mysteries and ghost stories. A few years ago, Rosemary Franta Peterson from the Seattle area sent me a book of 100 Christmas Mysteries – short stories with clever endings as famous and infamous detectives solved their cases. Some of the stories were classics written in the 1800s so almost 200 years old. Some were modern tales which led me to want to explore other writings by those authors. After Christmas I loaned the book to a friend who wanted to “read a good mystery” and gather he may have passed it on to someone else. The CBC tends to present stories of this type each year on their evening broadcasts. I could remember them doing this in the 1940s when our family would gather around the radio and listen to them broadcast “Dickens Christmas Carol” featuring noted actors of the era. Later there were television and movie versions of the same tale. The powers that be at the stations added other classic favorites over the years. One that I try to listen to each year was featured December 23. This is Frederick Forsyth’s Christmas mystery “The Shepherd” as read by the late Alan Maitland. Documentaries have sometimes accompanied this reading, and there is a simulcast you can access by computer if you wish. Forsyth, who became a well-known novelist, was visiting Ireland with his then girlfriend in possibly 1957. The young lady expected him to bring a diamond with him to their Christmas celebration. He did, but kept it hidden in his pocket while she searched his room and belongings. Not finding the ring she asked him what his present would be. In turn he asked what she wanted, and she suggested he write her a ghost story for Christmas. Five hours later he had ten pages of a story which later became a classic novella, “The Shepherd”. It is the story of a young pilot returning from Germany in 1957 hoping to be back home or at his base in England in 66 minutes. His aircraft is a Vampire, and as he crosses the North Sea the fog comes upon him, then his electrical system fails, and he is faced with ending his life in the cold waters of the Sea. Out of his desperation a little used tactic from World War II comes to mind: flying in triangles so the erratic movements of his plane would send up a shepherd aircraft to guide him to safety. And such an aircraft appears: It is a De Havilland Mosquito whose pilot is dressed in the uniform worn in 1943 and guides him to a lonely and now abandoned landing strip where he lands just as his fuel expires. He walks to a lighted building and is greeted by the only two people there who serve him supper and assure him they had heard no call for help and no one had alerted them to his problems. He is offered a room for the night, and on the wall is a photo of a pilot standing beside a World War II De Havilland Mosquito identified with the initials JK. He is surprised, because this looks like the exact plane that guided him to safety that very night 14 years later. “Oh, no sir,” says his host, “that picture is of Johnny Kavanaugh who went down on a similar flight in 1943.” The complete story is now available as a classic from Amazon.com with the taped version available for your kindle. They also sell the printed version at collector’s prices. Another link on the computer will lead to the Maitland reading. I learned the story is required reading for students in England and Canada, as well as a listening treat families with ties to the UK routinely gather to hear each Christmas.
4. For those who read the story two weeks ago about the hazards of getting old, the glasses have been replaced, and one of these days I hope to adjust to them or them to me. Currently they are good for driving and recognizing people. They do not work for reading computer screens or music notes when playing for church services. The not-broken arm took on a life of its own turning many colors and by the second week developing an infection which led to antibiotics and other complications. On the less traumatic side, some of the plants we delivered that hectic Saturday have grown and already bloomed! Hopefully others will bloom before Valentine’s Day. The advice about handy gift tickets for riding the senior bus reminded readers this is a great gift not just at Christmas but any time of year you want something for an older person who wants to maintain their independence. Several have mentioned they appreciated receiving them in Christmas cards or gifts.
5. As I write this I am enjoying Christmas cards written or mailed earlier as will others in the days to come. Christmas is not just one day, it a season when we think of those we love and want to remember. Larry Schrader found a gorgeous picture on a website with no details on where it was taken other than North Dakota in winter. My guess is it might be the Golberg Church in Hay Township, Cavalier County. Happy New Year Everyone.