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A Christmas eve that still touches this writer’s heart | This 'N' That

Looking back on Christmas as a child, I think more than one day sticks in my mind for different reasons.

It was a time of not much to celebrate. The 1930s were so disheartening that the very thought of holidays were sad for many families. There was no work, banks had failed and some folks had not even a place to call home. In my heart I will be forever thankful for our churches, which provided what they could with lean pockets too.

One particular Christmas eve in downtown Seattle, where we lived in a cold-water flat with only one bathroom to a floor, our family — dad, mom, me and little brother Frankie — walked through the wet streets to the little church a few blocks away. The tree seen from big windows threw bright lights out onto the rainy sidewalks making a rainbow of colors. The old organ — and I mean old — was playing and the voices of the small choir sounded like the voices of angels. My heart beneath a little-too-large hand-me-down coat was tripping like a hammer with excitement. We were going to a pageant.

Inside the warm building, we shed our coats in the hall, smelling the scent of a fresh fir tree standing tall in the community room. On the tree were paper ornaments we children had made in Sunday school. I was so proud to see my drawing of baby Jesus on the tree and pointed it out to my parents. I remember the smiles and “You did well, Jacque” coming from mother.

The little church was full of families and the excitement of noisy children added to my racing heart. I imagine we rather looked like a ragtag bunch, but what did we kids know? After the play, Santa was going to visit with his stuffed bag of toys. To this day, I have no idea where Santa found all the toys that came out of it. There was a feeling of expectation in the air as Christmas is not only a holy time, but for children a time of magic.

The lights were dimmed, the stage lit. All were quiet and not even a whimper from the tiniest observer. The nativity story, which I knew by heart, held me fascinated and I made a wish that one day I could be in the play. To me, a wish was like a prayer (yes, a few years later I did get to play the lead of Mother Mary — and tripped over my long gown, dropping baby Jesus on his rubber doll head. I do hope he has forgiven me).

After the play, our pastor’s wife and a few of the mothers served the decorated sugar cookies and warm apple cider. In my life, a long one, I have never tasted anything like those cookies. Then, Santa suddenly appeared with a loud “Ho Ho Ho.” The shrieks and laughter of the children that rocked the old building with its dark, wooden floors so worn with years of use was something to remember.

Each child received a gift from the magic bag. My gift:  color book, crayons and a set of paper dolls to cut out with a pair of blunt scissors. I was thrilled. Next, a stocking with a ripe orange, a few nuts and a candy cane.  Little brother Frankie was proud of his handmade wooden toy truck, a warm knitted cap and his stuffed stocking.

After the Merry Christ-mases were hollered to one another, clutching the gifts to my chest, I sang “Jingle Bells” as only a 5-year-old could all the way home.

Today people might say, “What is so memorable about a time like that?”

My answer: I was blessed to have learned at an early age that, in spite of hard times, life has its moments of joy and that there is always hope for tomorrow.  This is still my philosophy.

Merry Christmas one and all!

— Contact Jacque Thornton at jacquejt@centurytel.net

 

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