On Christmas Eve a long time ago, mom took us little kids to town for some forgotten reason. We left dad napping in our parents’ bedroom, just off the living room.
Outside, on the way to the car, we heard distant sleigh bells. Mom pointed up, and there was Rudolph’s red nose like Sputnik way up in the starry night sky. Talk about being excited. My sisters and I chattered like elves all the way to town.
An hour later we arrived home. Lo and behold. Santa had already stopped at our house. Our Christmas wishes were all under the tree, and dad was still asleep.
Our wows and yells woke him up. We had a merry old time admiring our presents, and laughing at dad for sleeping through Santa’s visit.
Dad usually cut our Christmas tree along the Michigan Gas Storage pipelines where he worked. He’d bring home these scrawny, pathetic little evergreens. Their branches could hardly hold up the ornaments, but they worked. His skinny trees became our ongoing Christmas joke.
One year dad must have been tardy. Mom and I went Christmas tree hunting out near the ghost town of Park Lake between McBain and Marion, where she’d grown up.
It was early December without any snow. On the east side of the railroad tracks threads of sunlight were shining through grey clouds, and there was a rainbow. That’s where we found our tree, near where the rainbow touched the ground. It stood in a ribbon of light waiting for us. Since then the Christmas tree has always been my favorite part of the holidays.
Years later, after my parents were divorced, I spent my first Christmas in Traverse City.
It was 1974, and I didn’t have any money, so I gave each member of my family a poem. In some ways things haven’t changed much. This year I’m giving all my readers two poems.
Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 29 years. He is also the creator of Stone Circle, a triple ring of boulders featuring poetry, storytelling and music on his property north of Elk Rapids. Learn more at www.terrywooten.com.
Saint Francis Would Be Proud
There was a cashier’s window
at this Christian college,
and winter semester’s tuition was due
before Christmas break.
Just outside the window
on a bulletin board in the hallway,
was a poster about giving
to the needy and homeless people.
The poster was a collage
of sad, color photos
to stress the issue.
The cashier’s window was doing a good business.
Everything was running smoothly,
until one eighteen year old student
had a religious experience
standing in line beside the poster
advertisement for the poor.
He signed over his tuition check,
his parents’ money
and his grandma’s loan,
to the clerk for the homeless;
figuring God would take care of him,
since He always had.
An hysterical mom and dad flew in
and gave a secular sermon
full of capitalistic dogma
to the Dean to the effect
that if the university
was going to encourage such compassion,
it had to accept responsibility
when pure moments
like this happened.
The university reluctantly agreed.
The poor and homeless were left out
in the same old harmony.
Now everything is back on self-center.
The eighteen year old student
is spiritually and academically
focused straight ahead.
But for one sublime afternoon
another human being knew
what it meant
to really mean it.
A Sad Christmas (1951)
On December 10th
my husband Maurice left
on a bus right out of Kalkaska
for basic training and the Korean War.
I was just nineteen
and moved back with my parents.
The first night he was gone,
mother was away
to a meeting,
and I was home with dad.
The TV was showing heavy fighting
Dad was sitting in his chair.
I sat down next to him
on the floor,
and started to cry.
I couldn’t stop,
and let all the pain loose.
Missing him was really hard.
It was a sad Christmas with my parents.
I visited Maurice’s mother
and went to church.
I guess to make myself feel better,
I visited a local store,
and bought lots of hamburger and food.
I took it to different homes
of older people
and their families
who didn’t have any money.
I can’t remember their reactions
except they said thank you.
They all knew me
and my situation.