Without a doubt, this is my favorite time of year. I’m a Christian, so I’m mighty fond of Easter as well… but I LOVE the Christmas season!
I think it’s just the way I’m able to look back on a lifetime of wonderful memories around this season – from childhood to the present.
One of my all-time favorite memories is from my childhood in Harlan. Let me tell you the story.
We live at 201 Sycamore Street, across the river in the community of Fairview.
It’s Christmas Eve and my brother, Ronnie, is either on leave from the Marines or is home for the holidays from working out of town. I can’t recall where he was in his life that year.
Ronnie asks me if I wanted to go for a ride. Boy, am I excited! This is a rare offer. Ronnie, and our cousin Bill Smith, who is near him in age (and like a brother), are VERY particular about their cars. Being at that girls and hotrods stage in their life at the time, they don’t take people for rides. Uncool!
So I am geeked! I’ll never forget it – we head up Ivy Hill. I remember three things about this night as vividly as if I had just taken the trip yesterday.
One – “Man this road is tight!” I mean, I’m a Harlan County boy. I’m used to tight roads… curvy roads. They don’t bother me. But the road up Ivy Hi is REALLY tight! And that edge is really close!
Two – “These houses are HUGE… and beautiful!” You see, when I was a boy living in Harlan, Ivy Hill is where the money lived. And I remember thinking this night that Ivy Hill is such a big area. It isn’t big at all, not by a long shot. But it sure is to a seven or eight year-old boy this Christmas Eve.
Three – “This is amazing!” Everything is covered in deep snow. All the houses are capped with a white, downy cover. The trees are white, the shrubbery white, the lawns white, the driveways white – EVERYTHING white!
And all the houses are decorated with Christmas lights. Red lights, green lights, blue lights, yellow lights… lights, Lights, LIGHTS!! And their reflections off the pristine snow just added to the magic.
From certain vistas on Ivy Hill you can see downtown Harlan (the opening scene from the TV series Justified was shot from Ivy Hill).
And just like the homes on Ivy, the buildings in downtown Harlan are blanketed in snow. And just like on the Hill, I can see the Christmas lights downtown.
When we return home, Mother and Dad (and other family, no doubt) are all there. Mother and Dad meet us at the door and tell me that while we were gone . . . Santa came!
“REALLY?!?!?!” I shout.
“Yes!” they tell me. Dad says, “Look at his footprints!”
And sure enough, leading up to the tree… footprints in snow! Santa had come and put the gifts – my gifts – under our tree!
It was one of the most magical nights in all my years.
What did I get for Christmas? Couldn’t tell ya. I’m sure there were toys and balls and clothes and shoes and who knows what all. I know the gifts were well thought out; I know some were practical but most were fun; I know I got gifts I asked for, and I know they were given in love and with joy.
And I received them with appreciation and thankfulness. I know I did. Because that’s how we were raised. But I don’t remember what they were.
What I do remember is a family so loving that they would concoct such a well-timed scheme to make one little six-year-old boy’s Christmas magical.
I remember an older brother who loved me enough to break the code of cool and take his little brother for a ride in his hotrod.
I remember a dad who loved me enough to shovel up a container of snow, take it inside, put globs of snow on the floor strategically and walk in it so he could make Santa’s footprints.
I remember a mother who loved me enough to gladly join in on the surprise, knowing full well she would be cleaning up the mess soon.
I remember the love.