Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Ghosts of Christmases past, 2015 edition

I was in the middle of wrapping my wife's Christmas present, A T-shirt.

Don't judge me until I show it to you. It was pretty cool. A custom made shirt designed to look like one of those shirts rock bands make to advertise their tours. She's been interviewing for a medical residency next year, visiting 16 programs this fall and winter, and she's not quite finished, but the dates are (hopefully) locked in. So I visited a place out in Urbana called Project Te and they gave it a whirl.

Actually, the woman I talked to sounded so "stoked" about the idea that when she called her boss to get permission to do a run of just one shirt (they usually supply whole groups of people with the shirts they make) that I heard her say on the phone "we've got to do this one!"

 Anyhow, after the part where we discussed the coolness of T-shirt canons (with which she was unfamiliar), and I met their musical macaw (or whatever it was) that bopped to rock music--you had to see it--now where was I?

Oh, yes. Wrapping my wife's present. Stuff all over the floor. And I hear a car door slam in the drive way. I look out just long enough to see a blue car.

Crap! She's home! She said she was doing errands and wouldn't be back for two hours!!!!!

Flurry of activity, flinging things in drawers, hiding the paper, hiding the box--where to hide the box? No time! ARGGHH!

Ok. Got it. We're cool. Now out to meet Kristen at the door.

It turned out not to be her after all. Different make of car, even. Hadn't noticed in all my panic.

In fact, it was Steve's daughter and her husband. With a tree!

At this point in the nice feature article I'm obviously not writing, I would back up to tell you a bit about Steve, our retired pastor friend who was recently diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. We had just paid him a visit a day earlier, and during the conversation mentioned that we weren't doing a Christmas tree this year because Kristen was off on the most complicated part of her "tour" in the first half of December; it had rained the one day we might have had time to get the tree before she left for two weeks, then I had gotten sick, and just didn't feel like trying to make the trip to the tree farm and do it all myself, being busy and sick at the same time, and, well, we were just going to do without this year. We must have sounded a little depressed about it, although I hope we didn't lay it on too thick, I mean, Christmas comes anyway....

This apparently bothered Steve, who happens to live right next to the tree farm (which his family previously owned), and he sent his daughter and son-in-law to pick a tree and deliver it all the way across town (25 minutes?) in their blue minivan. Which is where the story picks up.

I was shocked and surprised, and still getting over my rush of adrenaline at trying to hide my present when I met them. We put the tree up in the corner where seven of its predecessors had spent the month of December. They had even brought lights (I think we mentioned humorously that we couldn't even get ours to work anymore)! It was all I could do to stammer my thanks.

After the duo left I decided to make another try at wrapping the present. But I only got as far as the desire when another car pulled into the driveway. It was my wife this time, still home early. I met her at the door, ushered her into the living room, and had a good time smiling and snapping pictures while she kept wondering what was with me and failing to notice that we had a tree in the corner. (She did notice a note on the table from Steve and stopped to read it--this was what first broke the news.)

(notice how many pictures I got off before she even saw the tree!)

(I wish I'd gotten the picture to take while she was doubled over laughing)

Christmas, of course, is not about the trees and the lights. We've all seen enough Christmas specials to know that. But somehow, with my wife finally home from her interviews, the traditional Christmas music skipping on the traditional Christmas CD player, and the lights and the ornaments coming out of their boxes--it did finally feel like Christmas. The concert craziness of the season had subsided for me, and, just days before Christmas (the 22nd, I think), we could both relax and enjoy a holiday ritual and a real Christmas moment.

And, since trees in our house usually last about a month before becoming a pile of needles, we can leave it up through much of January this year, which might help my mood going into the Narnian part of the year ("always winter and never Christmas!").

I recently wrote about the Christmas of 2010, which I think currently holds its place as my all-time favorite. There were several contributing reasons for that, but the main one had to do with a gift I was able to give my father, and his joy in receiving it. Christmas of 2015 is now a serious challenger for that crown, but for the opposite reason, for a gift I received. We are told that it is better to give than to receive, but I've been the blessed recipient of much appreciation and support over my years here in Champaign (including a recent Christmas bonus given to the choir director and I by members of our church choir) and I can tell that receiving can be a real joy as well, especially when you know the gift is an expression of love.

I hope that Steve also received joy knowing what a wonderful Christmas gift he gave us. As I write this the tree is still in the corner, grinning its Yuletide grin, one candy cane still affixed to its nether regions (apparently we didn't pass out ALL of them at the airport while traveling). I've done a lot of looking back at Christmases this year, but as more of them accumulate in the rear view mirror, it is good to know that the ones in the present still mean something, and will continue to mean something. And may your Christmases, too, dear reader, never stop coming.


  1. Thanks for the thanks
    Dammit--thats's 3 timed I've cried today. I'll blame it on the meds! Glad Kristen laughed!

  2. What a great story. Christmas and CU are better place because of you all!

    p.s. Halloween 2015 will go down as a personal favorite because of a certain keyboard recital featuring the grim reaper!


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