As a child Christmas was a magical time filled with family, friends, celebration and traditions. Since my birthday is on December 25, Christmas Day, I think my parents worked extra hard to make sure I didn’t feel slighted or disappointed. They succeeded in building beautiful childhood memories for me and making me feel extra special during the month of December. Anytime I am feeling sad I simply recall my childhood Christmases and I am instantly transported back to a happier time and place.
Now that Lillian is old enough to create Christmas memories of her own, Ken and I created some new traditions with her along with passing on some of the Christmas traditions I grew up with as a child.
This year I shared the story of Santa Mouse with Lillian and her friends. A few days before Christmas I hosted a Christmas party for the “library girls.” Feeling rather brave, I invited eight two-year olds over for a Christmas themed play date. I wish I could say I handled all eight by myself but I need to add that their mommies were also invited. After feasting on bagels and fruit, playing with cinnamon scented play dough and coloring Christmas images, I invited everyone to sit around the Christmas tree in our great room and I began reading the book, “Santa Mouse.”
“Santa Mouse” was written by Michael Brown in 1966. The story is about a tiny mouse with no name who lived a very lonely life in a very big house. He loved Christmas dearly and had a special present for Santa. When he gave Santa his prized possession he was named Santa’s helper. The book reminds the children that if they leave a piece of cheese under the tree Santa Mouse will thank them. I shared with the children that when I was a child, along with Santa’s milk and cookies, I always left a tiny piece of cheese under the tree. In return Santa Mouse left me a small present wrapped in shiny gold paper. The present was always hidden in the Christmas tree. I asked them if they could spy a gold package and a few of the children eventually discovered a sparkly gold box with a gold bow under the tree. I had one of the girls open up the box to reveal a little stuffed Santa for each guest to take home.
My dad was introduced to Santa Mouse while working in the shoe department at JC Penney’s while in college. One December the department store used Santa Mouse in their Christmas marketing and that is when my dad acquired the Santa Mouse book and ornament. Burl Ives recorded a song about Santa Mouse and Michael Brown wrote two additional Santa Mouse books. Long after my childhood days were behind me, my family and I never spent a Christmas where we didn’t open a present wrapped in gold paper from Santa Mouse. And now we are delighted to share the Santa Mouse tradition with Lillian and her friends, the next generation of Santa Mouse believers. Although Santa Mouse is unknown to many and never became as famous as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, in my family he was never forgotten and was loved just as much.
I sit writing this story early on Christmas morning and all is quiet and dark in my parents’ living room. As my family rests upstairs the only sound comes from a wall clock ticking time and the only light is from my computer screen and the Christmas tree in the center of the room. This year, like many over the past five, my dad has decorated the big tree in the living room with photographs. He calls the tree, “the heritage tree” because it is full of family history and memories.
As I gaze upon the tree I spy a portrait of my Grandma Freeman. In the photo she is young and beautiful and in her early twenties, a full life ahead of her. She is smiling at the possibilities. Another is a wedding photo of my Grandpa and Grandma Beatty. My grandpa standing tall and proud while my grandma holds a large bouquet of flowers in her arms. The photograph is a happy moment during the Great Depression, an otherwise dark time in our country’s history. A wedding photo from my mom and dad’s wedding forty-eight years ago hangs next to a photo of Ken and I beaming with excitement on our wedding day. There is a photo of my dad at the age of four or five sitting on a skinny Santa Claus’s lap and a joyous pig tailed little girl (me) smiling with a plump Santa Claus thirty-five years later. A more recent photo was taken two years ago when my daughter was an infant. Our talented newborn photographer, Shelley Hynes, captured this precious image of an innocent babe who was a mere six days old. The photo full of pure innocence reminds me of sweet baby Jesus, lying in a manger on that first Christmas mourn.
The newest photograph is one taken of my daughter by a Belleville photographer, Larissa, a few weeks ago. Capturing an active two year old is no easy task but Larissa succeeded and now the photograph will forever be part of our family tree. The photo captures the magic of Christmas as my little girl delights in hanging a sparkling ornament on the Christmas tree. She is mesmerized by the sights of Christmas with the illuminating lights, the sparkly glitter and the shiny balls glistening on the tree. Just as she was with the light from the candles we held as we sang “Silent Night” at church on Christmas Eve. She is enchanted by all of the sights, sounds and tastes Christmas has to offer. Proudly singing “Jingle Bells” and bouncing along to “Sleigh Ride.” Smiling with delight as she opened a window on her advent calendar and tasted chocolate for the first time. Nana’s homemade sugar cookies in the shapes of trees and stars offered her another sweet taste of Christmas. Although she cried when she met Santa Claus this year she beamed with joy when she met Santa Cow at Chick-fil-a and gently caressed the figure of baby Jesus lying in a lowly manager underneath the Christmas tree. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of a babe reignites the senses and offers me the possibility to experience the joys of Christmas all over again. It is a joy beyond measure for our family and soon the quiet living room in which I sit will be bustling with excitement when everyone awakes and my in-laws join us for a Christmas/birthday celebration later today.
The fact that many will be filled with sadness on this day is not lost upon me. For they will be experiencing Christmas for the first time without their loved ones. Two close friends, a co-worker and my father, who lost his brother earlier this year, will have heavy hearts as they celebrate the season yearning to have another Christmas with the ones they hold dear. Although most of my loved ones whose photographs adorn our “heritage tree” are no longer here to celebrate with us this year, they are not forgotten and they live on through the wonderful memories of Christmases past.
We discovered our daughter’s affection for golf a few months ago during a weekend trip to the lake house. My in-laws have two plastic golf bags complete with plastic clubs and plastic golf balls (probably leftover from when our teenage nephews were wee ones) in their garage. Our little princess spotted them and immediately wanted to explore. She spent hours that weekend throwing the golf balls and carefully taking the clubs in and out of the colorful golf bags. With great tanicity she tried hitting the ball with the club. Although unsuccessful, the smile on her face remained, innocently oblivious to the fact that she wasn’t meeting her objective. She remained positive throughout her trial and error and saw the pure fun in the activity. This is a trait I hope she retains for the rest of her life. She glowed with excitement simply seeing the golf ball move and when the ball hit the tile floor she squealed with delight. She enjoyed her mini golf set so much that she preferred it over any toy or activity that weekend.
We returned to the lake house in November. Our family makes a pilgrimage to the lake house every Thanksgiving and together we enjoy fellowship, good food and a lot of laughs. Since the lake house is on a golf course my husband and his father occasionally experience a warm November day and get in a round of golf between the leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. This year my father in law took advantage of the mild weather and played a round of golf the day before Thanksgiving.
The golf course was empty that day. The only movement was from a few lonely oak leaves that were slowly being blown across the green by the brisk November wind. I mentioned to my daughter, Lillian, that we might see Paw Paw come past the house during his golf game. He called us as he was approaching the 15th hole (the hole closest to the house) and we all rushed outside. Then over the hill came Paw Paw in a golf cart! Lillian’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree when she spotted him. With ever growing anticipation she eagerly took his hand and walked to the golf cart that he had parked on the edge of the yard. He gently lifted her into the cart, put his arm around his tiny passenger and took off to finish hole 15 which over looks the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks at the bottom of the hill.
As they took off in the cart I began to walk after them, carefully keeping my distance as not to interrupt the exchange between teacher and student. When the golf cart reached its destination she helped Paw Paw select a club and gently took his hand as he led her to the tiny ball on the green. And all the while she was obedient, following all of Paw Paw’s directions and hanging on to his every word as he told her where to stand. She watched her Paw Paw with unwavering determination as he placed the ball on the tee, set his eye on the hole, adjusted his stance and drew the club back to take a swing. When the ball rolled into the hole, upon Paw Paw’s approval, she ran to the hole and retrieved the golf ball for him. I began to head back to the house as I expected Paw Paw to turn the golf cart around and return his passenger to the house so he could play the last three holes without an audience. So imagine my surprise when I saw the golf cart disappear in the distance as it moved towards hole 16! Paw Paw’s little golf caddy played the last three holes with him and enjoyed each hole as if it was the first.
She returned from her “Tee for Two” adventure with two golf tees clutched in her chubby little fist. A treasure she had uncovered on hole 15. She handled her prized possessions gently as if they were a delicate porcelain tea cup.
My father in law didn’t get a hole in one or beat his average that day. In fact, he didn’t even keep score! However on that partly cloudy day in late November I witnessed the best golf game ever played. For a truly magical thing happened on the golf course that day. It was the day a grandfather taught his granddaughter about the game of golf, sharing one of his passions with his youngest grandchild.
Since I had Lillian later in life what a gift it is that Lillian has the opportunity to share these special moments with her grandparents. I feel blessed that all four of them live locally, are in good health and have been actively involved in every stage of her life over the past two years. Memories were being made on the green that day which were far more valuable than a birdie or even a hole in one!