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Boomer Bytes #50: Christmas Memories

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Christmas Memories

By Steve Canipe

Dec. 26, 2014. A line from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol makes me fondly remember Christmas times. It is said by Scrooge after he has been visited by the three spirits: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

This column will be about my Christmas memories. Others of the readers may have different types of memories – perhaps some fond and some sad. For me, Christmas was generally a fun time; even when I was too young to understand that getting gifts was a burden to my family. Maybe we are all like that to some degree…

To me, at least now, Christmas is about being around friends and more especially family. Mom and Dad have both passed away (2010 and 1996 respectively). My sister (2014) is also gone.   So the holiday times are a time for a bit of reflection for me.

The very first Christmas that I can really remember was when I was about 5; actually I don’t really remember Christmas as much as I remember what happened then. We had just come back from attending the church Christmas pageant—I may have been in it, I really don’t remember. I had a new baby brother, Terry who had been born in late September. When we got back from the play on 22 December, he seemed startled by the rattling of a newspaper. That evening, he died. The doctors said it was SIDS, although at the time I did not know or understand what that meant. I remember the family was very sad as was I.

#50cowboyNot all of the Christmases were sad. I had great times. One of the things that I loved getting was cowboy gear; especially guns, cowboy hat, and chaps. See the picture of me from some year with my quick draw pistols. Before you think I was a bloodthirsty little boy, let me say that I was one of the good guys and would always be wearing the white hat!!

Other Christmases were full of presents like bikes, books, and other toys. I loved playing with Lincoln logs, toy cars, and little plastic figures of cowboys and Indians. One time I got a set of plastic bricks (similar to Legos of today). I used these to make roads for my cars to travel. I can also remember getting the bottle caps from glass soda bottles and using these caps to build circular houses with each successive row moving inward and ultimately closing the top of the domed structure. These also became pieces in impromptu checker games and “kings” being formed by stacking two caps. Such a simple time.

There was a local convenience store called Hill Top, which surprisingly was at the top of a hill on NC 150 near my house. This store had drink boxes and a ready supply of bottle caps!! The proprietors were always willing to give the caps away; just for the asking. They also would pay 1¢ for any returned glass soda bottles – I was into recycling even before it became fashionable. I almost never took the actual cash money because it was spent on the penny candy counter!!

As a kid growing up in a home without a lot of money for things, I never really felt deprived. Some of the things that were given were made rather than bought. But I did get bought things too. At the time, I was unaware of the sacrifice that my parents made to give me those bought toys.

Most of my Christmas memories flow together while I was still living at home. My best memory of Christmas was when my wife, Sharon, and I celebrated our first Christmas together. We were living in Charlotte and had been to visit my parents on Christmas Eve. Our family habit had been to open gifts on Christmas Eve. When we got back to the apartment off of Commonwealth Ave, I flipped on the television and there was a Christmas special on. I grabbed a cassette tape recorder and got the music from Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, VA. (We honeymooned in Williamsburg!) and also from San Javier del Bac Mission in Tucson, AZ. Sitting there in front of our own Eastern red cedar, which we cut ourselves, and listening to the wonderful music really made me realize how truly blessed I was. We had few ornaments for our tree – mostly glass balls that we had bought at the local K-Mart. But we also had a set of three cardboard houses, representing our homes apart and our home together! One of them still graces our tree…it looks like it is a 42 year old cardboard house but it is very special. Actually all the ornaments we have collected in our travels are special, whether from China, India, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Peru, and everywhere we’ve been, they are reminders of fun trips.

The cassette recording has been transferred to CD and as I write this I am listening to those sounds from so many years ago with fondness. But sounds are not the only things I remember. I remember our first Christmas with our daughter!! She was about 6 months old; buying things for her was a delight then and has continued to be so.

Some Christmas things that Santa brought over the years to her and later our son required parental help to assemble; sometimes lots of help. I developed a new understanding of those little words “some assembly required.” One in particular was a stereo entertainment system. There must have been thousands of screws, bolts, etc. that were required to be part of that assembly. Another time a bumper pool table required many hours late into the night—really early morning to get together.

One thing we tried to do was always spend Christmas at our home. We visited both sets of grandparents over the holidays but Christmas was ours. During some of the early years while we were still living in Charlotte, we had a mountain cabin over in Ashe County in the Cranberry Springs area. We had intended to spend Christmas at the cabin and go out and cut down our own tree, like the Walton family did on TV. Getting ready for the 90 mile trek and packing all the presents along with being Santa’s helpers was trying. We had to leave a note for Santa at our Charlotte house telling Santa where we would be…we did that.

Arriving during a cold snap at the cabin, we found that the pipes, which I thought I had fully drained, were frozen and we were not able to stay. There were three choices: 1) return to Charlotte; 2) go to my parents where space was limited and without a good fireplace; or 3) go to Sharon’s parents with lots more room and a huge Christmas-size fireplace. We headed east to Buies Creek (near Raleigh). Of course we had to leave Santa another note that we were not there and now where we were going. It took a lot of convincing that Santa was very smart and could easily follow the directions as to where our daughter, Marti, was going to be. This was pre our son, DJ, being on the scene

Her maternal grandfather had a great time with her and they were up early on Christmas Day to see if Santa had found the place; of course he had done so. The magic was still intact and all the gifts were where they belonged.

Now with both of our kids being grown and no grandchildren on the scene, we still love Christmases. The gifts today are much different. We no longer need things; it is a matter of love and caring. Our daughter several years ago gave us a gift to an organization called KIVA which makes small business loans to individuals in developing parts of the world. You get to read business plans and then “loan” your money to local folks. We’ve loaned and re-loaned several times and we just received notification that our latest loan to a Peruvian lady who used it to purchase supplies for her beauty shop business has repaid her loan. The money is now ready to loan again – makes you feel good to help folks with these microloans. The repayment rate is 98.78%! Pretty good for any loan program—eat your hearts out Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Chase.

We now spend Christmases away from the NC Mountains, as both our kids live in Arizona and none of our parents are still living. This Christmas, as we have several times in the past, we attended the new version of the same concert at Mission San Javier del Bac that we heard during our first Christmas together. There is a neighborhood here in Tucson called Winterhaven that decorates wildly for the holidays and has been doing so for the last 65 years. We try to get to the neighborhood during the holidays. It is a walking tour of middle class homes with fabulous decorations. We went on Monday of this week, when the weather was a little nippy once the sun went down. Not cold by Boone standards but enough to sort of see your breath!!

As I was writing this column, I had many more memories of this joyous holiday of Christmas. Some of the readers may have different traditions and not celebrate this holiday, but for me I want to say to each and every reader that I wish for you the same peace and joy that I have and celebrate at this time of year. I don’t get hung up on using Happy Holidays, Merry Xmas, or Merry Christmas. These are all expressions of caring and I care for all of humankind. And no the X is Xmas is not a sacrilege or a slight to the Christian tradition; what it really represents is the Greek letter chi which is short for the word Χριστός meaning Christos.

I hope you will share some stories of your memories. I bet each of you have a lot, just as I do. Please share below or send them to me at boomerbytes@yahoo.com. I’ll close with yet another quote from Dickens. “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Blessings and peace to everyone.