From Nearly 60 Years Ago. It was the beginning, or should I say one of the beginnings of wisdom, a lesson in the impermanence of things.
My grandfather was the one who really sensed how enthralled I was with the electric train, and as soon as the gift opening was finished, he sat with me on the hardwood floor of the dining room to assemble it. The train seem to fly around the track as I pushed the switch as far as I dared. Naturally the train lifted off the tracks a few times before I got the knack of it.
In the 1950s nothing made a young boy happier than finding an electric train under the Christmas tree.
WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - "Heard Melodies Are Sweet, but Those Unheard Are Sweeter," wrote John Keats in his famous "Ode to a Grecian Urn." For me, this explains the pleasure of memories, especially those of a Christmas nearly sixty years ago now. My family lived in Prairie Village, a suburb of Kansas City, in a modest ranch style house.
My father, an airline pilot for Braniff, was a lean and handsome Texan who carried on his face traces of sadness from his fifty B-24 missions flown out of Italy over Eastern Europe during WWII. I didn't know then he would have rather owned a ranch, and would have, had it not been for the intervening war.
Mother was a dark-haired beauty and held herself with the air of a small-town girl from Texas who had been a Zeta Tau Alpha at Duke University in North Carolina.
When Christmas came, the Texas relatives from both sides of the family descended on that small home in Prairie Village whose other inhabitants included me, my red-headed older sister Ruth, and our cocker spaniel Laddie.
Great Aunt Lucile from Austin, the unmarried former opera singer, would arrive in a mink coat and hat, a black veil across her eyes, and with a regal bearing so gracious, I realized later, she could have been entering Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.
Even I was aware, at an early age, of an attempt on my parents' part to avoid having both sides of the family descend on our home during the same Christmas. My mother's parents, who I called Hoody and Tissy, did not care to compete for attention with Aunt Lucile, my father's aunt, who had traveled the world since the 1920s. Aunt Lucile had carefully managed and grown her inherited wealth, was très formidable, and we were all affected by her presence.
As the years passed, I realized that part of every Christmas included the push and pull within the family, old quarrels and new, always stoked anew by comparing the children, how they looked, their achievements, the colleges, the grades, the jobs.
As early as eighth grade, I began to devise ways to derail the feuding before it gained momentum -- enforced caroling, reading Scripture, reciting poetry, and, when all else failed, playing show tunes and telling jokes.
Each year though, by the time the Christmas Eve darkness descended, tensions would give way to expectation, helped along by the serving of egg nog, which of course, was kept from me. By then I was too intent on the shiny, beribboned packages placed under the tree.
I would look at the tags to see how many where for me and how their size and number measured relative to those of my sister. But, the final accounting had to wait until Christmas morning when Santa's presents would be lying unwrapped in front of the tree and the blazing fireplace.
In my memory, it seems that both Santa and my parents took great pains to make everything "even Stephen," which is something Theresa and I have done with ...
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