Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas- The Ultimate Comfort Zone

Before you really get started reading this column, close your eyes for just a minute, and picture yourself on Christmas morning. Really. I promise I’ll be here when you get back. One, two, three, close ‘em.
Open again? Okay. So where were you? What were you doing. What did you see, hear, smell?
I’ll share first. I am at my grandmother’s house. The house is quiet, except for my Granny’s humming as she cooks. I can hear the clicking of her basset hound’s toenails on the linoleum floor as she follows Granny around the kitchen. The smell of corned beef hash wafts through the living room. The little aluminum Christmas tree glows brightly in the reflected light of the round multi-colored light machine. Unwrapped toys still sit under the tree, with neatly folded bathrobes and slippers and other warm clothes nearby. We would have a quiet breakfast, just my Mom and sister and me and Granny (and Sam the Basset hound). Soon, my aunt and cousins will return for dinner and playing outside in the South Central Kansas snow.
Your memories are probably much different. But it is not hard to conjure up a Christmas memory. They stick and stay in our heads, and we bring them out when we need to be in a happy place.
 If I try again, and fast forward to when our kids were small, the scene will be similar. Some presents are unwrapped under an artificially green tree in our living room, but Santa’s special surprises: a Cabbage Patch doll, a Pound Puppy and a new pair of cowboy boots wait proudly for the first sleepy-head to emerge from the bedroom. I sit with my cup of hot tea and soak up the precious silence. Santa had come through once again, though my husband and I had wondered how he would manage with our meager paychecks. Outside, the Arkansas sun shines brightly, and I am actually thankful that there is no snow. Here in the foothills of the Ouachitas, slick roads would keep the grandparents from coming over later to watch the kids enjoy their new things. The big dinner the night before had been at their house, and I will most likely serve sandwiches today, along with any leftovers that might arrive with them. For now, heavenly peace.
 Yes, the faces around the tree change, the size and value of the presents vary, but there are constants. Things seem familiar, comfortable.
 Now that our kids are grown, our new normal is that we very rarely manage to have all of our offspring in the same room at the same time. We enjoy each one when we get to see them, no matter the date on the calendar. The tree goes up earlier, stays up longer, to accommodate their schedules. That is fine for me, as I have more of those quiet moments, more time to remember Christmases past.
 Not everyone adjusts to changes in the Christmas routine as easily. The same memories that bring us joy, also cause pain. The absence of familiar faces diminishes our joy. We need to be aware of this, and reach out to those who suffer during the holidays.
 The first Christmas was not comfortable for the young couple who had traveled a great distance to find a “No Vacancy” sign, and a baby who was born in a building intended for animals. They knew, though that something amazing was happening, having heard from angels, and visitors who came to gaze in amazement at the future king. This story is the constant that keeps Christmas so special for all of us. The realization that no matter what else happens in this world, God keeps His promises. Whether in a festive room full of friends and family, or alone in the flickering light of a fireplace, Christmas encourages us, prompts us to look around, to reach out to each other. Let’s remember the hope that filled that tiny, smelly stable so long ago. Comfortable or not, enjoy your Christmas celebration this year!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Raised to Back the Blue

          My TV debut at age three was very exciting.  I have only vague memories of appearing on a locally produced show that was broadcast to our hometown and surrounding areas. It was fun sitting with the other kids and watching cartoons, and waiting for our turn to talk to the host, and his microphone. This is the part that made my mother, in the studio audience, very nervous.  You see, I had two well meaning- translate that ornery- teenaged neighbor boys who had been helping me rehearse for this moment. Along with learning to repeat my name, address and age, they coached me to answer the question “What does your Daddy do?” with the answer “Drinks beer.” I can remember sitting on the curb with them as they dissolved with laughter after my sweet pronouncement. The answer would have been embarrassing to any mother, but in this town where everyone knew everyone, they also knew that my Daddy really spent his days and nights as the local state trooper. Luckily, that question didn’t come up during the interview, and Mama’s nerves were preserved.
          My Daddy and his police car were a common sight in our little town. I remember standing by with pride when he led the college homecoming parade down our main street with his lights and siren blaring. Another early memory involves the time I had taken a spill, and he used it to transport me to the emergency room for stitches in my chin. So, yes, I must confess I have ridden in the back of a police car once in my life.
          The other policemen in town were our friends, and we spent time with them and their families during their precious off hours. Since I was the older of two girls, my Daddy was often assigned the duty of keeping me out of Mama’s hair, so we would go for a ride (in our private car) to one of his buddy’s houses. Not many people know that the sheriff in our Kansas county was the owner of a parakeet. I was captivated by this pet, and must have begged for one, because we had a few in our house when I was small.
          My parents divorced when I was five.  But, we were still very close to the law enforcement community. We would always wave at policemen as they passed. We always still viewed them as our friends.
          As I grew up, I learned that a policeman’s job was not always glamorous. My dad was fortunate never to be seriously injured while on duty, but he did have a glass baby bottle broken over his nose during a family disturbance, and his eyebrows were singed when he pulled someone out of a burning car. He did, of course, continue on the force in his new home, ending up on the Kansas Turnpike for most of his career. His fifteen minutes of fame came when the Kansas City Star newspaper did a feature story about him. They reported that he spent many more hours changing tires and rescuing stranded motorists than he did issuing speeding tickets.
          With a background like this, it is predictable that my husband and I raised our kids to respect and admire police officers. Where other children may have seen them as someone who would take them to jail if they did wrong, our kids were taught to seek the men in uniform when they were lost or in any trouble. We knew that these men and women were public servants, with our best interests in mind, and that they had families at home who couldn’t wait for them to return safely after their shift was over.
          Today, with criticism of police officers showing up from all directions, we tend to want to hear their side of the story. Of course, there are some who should not be wearing the badge. Just like there are probably some very poor examples of human resource analysts and monthly magazine columnists out there. But, overall, these young men and women have pledged to support us, and we should return the favor.
          I still wave at police officers, and often tell them “Thank-you” for standing in the gap for us. They are all someone’s son, or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s Mama, or if the kids are very lucky, someone’s Daddy.