“Except for Maybe the First Time”
Well, I wasn’t going to write this year, but now that time is at a premium, it seemed like the Keene thing to do. I have always worked best under pressure, and I have to leave shortly for the airport, so now is the time.
2013 turned out to be a fairly uneventful one, aside from the birth of my fifth granddaughter, Melody Scott, born the last day of April, now sharing her birthday with Saul’s wife, Cheryl. She is a delight, and her sister, Penelope loves her, as do her three cousins, Ryan, Henley and Gemma. When we have our Monthly Keene Sunday gathering, it is quite busy and loud. Needless to say, there is much giggling, screaming, running and “fighting.” After all, that’s what little kids do. Plus, they always seem to survive, despite the parents.
I continue to do some substitute teaching here and there, but I have also started working retail for the holiday season. I call my job at James Avery Jewelers my “hobby jobbie.” I enjoy the change, although, not having ever worked retail before, there is a lot to learn. And, it’s good to be on the other side of the counter for a change. It gives me a whole new perspective on the unhappy customer.
Travel took me to St. Louis twice this year—once for my mother’s 88th birthday and once for the annual Slovakfest at the church where I was baptized, confirmed and married. Spending time with family and many dear friends was special. In August, I went with my brother-in-law, Art, on a drive from Los Angeles to Medford, Oregon, to spend some time with our sister-in-law, Betsy and her children. The visit was cut short, however, because of the forest fires that were sending smoke throughout the region. Apparently, this is an annual occurrence for that time of year. It was a beautiful area, when you could see the hills.
In December, I returned to Florida and Disneyworld to see family and Mickey Mouse. I got to watch some of the filming for the Disney Christmas Day Parade that will be shown “live” on TV on Christmas Day. At Epcot we were treated to the Christmas Candlelight Choirs performance with Whoopi Goldberg presenting the Christmas narrative. I was so glad to be able to spend time with my brother, Steve, and his wife, Carol.
And now I am back to Houston, my daily schedule and routines, my “hobby jobbie” and the people I love and care for the most. I had the morning to myself today, so I cleaned up the patio, trimmed up the deck plants, and headed out to run errands.
After rushing to Kroger to get the last of the fixings for the traditional Christmas Eve meal for my family gathering, I remembered Larry having written about this event in a Kwikies. It was dated December 28, 2001. I pulled it up on the computer, and having re-read it, I had some laughs, shed a few tears (of course), and remembered the events of that particular Christmas Eve. Allow me to share this Kwikies entitled “Christmas Traditions” with you, as once again I will be celebrating Christmas Eve in the same tradition with all three children, their spouses, five granddaughters, and also, my brother-in-law, Art and nephew, Brandon.
Well, I guess I shouldn’t have used my kids as the illustration to kick off the Christmas Eve sermon, gloating as I did about last year when Sue and I got to wake them on Christmas morning after they’d been asleep for only a couple of hours or so due to doing what college kids do best, i.e., partying. But the public gloat of that memory was worth all the years when I did Christmas Day on less than two hours’ sleep, having spent Christmas Eve after worship assembling toys and such. Not to mention it was a foretaste of the feast to come (though I hope not too soon) when they themselves will lose sleep over their own children, while grandpa and grandma are tucked snugly in bed (hopefully on a boat in the Caribbean, but probably not, since I know already that She Whom God Gave Me would never permit such an absence). In any case, justice is sweet.
Though they, having heard the sermon, I suppose resolved not to permit that illustration again, so that on Christmas Day Mom and I did not have the opportunity to jump on their beds and rip off their blankets yelling, “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas! Time to open gifts!” We all got up at about the same time and eventually, after 45 minutes of making coffee and other preparations, got around to opening gifts. We do it by turns, and that works pretty well, except for this year Deborah’s boyfriend, Jonathan, who is from Ohio and had spent Christmas Eve with us, also had 10 bazillion gifts from his family, and still had a stack of them when we were all done, this earning the requisite Keene grief for it.
Our Christmas celebration officially begins on Christmas Eve at about 4:00 (depending on what time I have to be at church) with a mongrelized traditional Slovak Christmas dinner inherited from my wife’s side of bean soup, sausage, potato pancakes, and some other stuff. I say mongrelized because the potato pancakes are not really Slovak, being also known as German pancakes. They’re a compromised substitute for something called “halushki” (I don’t have a clue as to the spelling), which looks like boiled big bird droppings and tastes like cement. Real Slovaks love ’em; they swoon over them (or it, again, I don’t know). They’re supposed to be served with fried cabbage, which led to our First Christmas Argument, eventually leading to the Second Great Compromise of marital life: I’ll do without the turkey dinner on Christmas if you’ll do without the halushki. So we have German potato pancakes, which are good even if out of a box, but not like my grandma used to make.
The meal, though, actually begins with what now will be forever known as “The Hastings Cheer of Christmas,” again from the Slovak side of the family: a little devotional service complete with unaccompanied singing which we don’t handle very devotionally, and square communion wafers (you know, the ones that taste like styrofoam) with honey drizzled on them. Another Slovak custom of smearing honey on the foreheads of single folks so that it reflects in the candlelight of church and all know who’s eligible, was also dropped pretty early on—about as soon as the kids could object—in my recollection.
It got nailed with the “Hastings Cheer” moniker by son, Saul, who was a good, part time employee of Hastings Books in Seguin until the day he got into a tiff with his manager about his refusal to do the “Hastings Cheer” at an employee meeting one Saturday morning about 7:00, which is not a good time for any college student, to wit: “Do the cheer.” “No. What does doing the cheer have to do with serving the customers well?” “Do the cheer or quit.”
So, he’s currently unemployed. The Hastings Cheer story has entered the Keene Anthology of Silliness in the World, and when, in explaining to Jonathan the upcoming devotional service connected with our meal, he quipped, “Oh yeah, the Hastings Cheer of Christmas,” we all knew that whatever slight bit of pious seriousness still clung to that thing was now gone forever. Indeed, we laughed so hard while hearing about the Word made flesh and singing “Silent Night” and drizzling honey on styrofoam wafers, that we will never be able to be religiously somber with it again, except for maybe the first time somebody is missing at the table, and even then probably not for very long.
Sue, of course, is the tradition setter in our house, and has taken great doses of (usually good-natured) grief about it over the years, especially from me. But I’m thankful for it because that is the foundation upon which these other things can happen for us. And even when we laugh, still there is this moment which binds us together in love and strengthens us for the future with cherished memories.
Because the Word did become flesh, you know, borne into a family with traditions and such. And so made these things holy and good.
Christmas is a time to remember and to create new memories. Whatever your celebrations or traditions, I hope your moments together are good and blessed.