A Last-Minute Gift

ImageI’m delighted to have this post up before midnight on Christmas Day. I hope your holidays have been lovely so far.

But first things first … Baseball bet. Me loser. Mention Adam Sendek. Yada yada yada.

With that out of the way, I’m doubly delighted to show you the cover for my new Susan Hunter book. You will be happy to see I restrained myself – a Sasquatch does not appear on the cover.

ImageI’m triply delighted to tell you I have a holiday gift for you. Head on over to Smashwords, and use the following coupon code at checkout to grab the book for free. The coupon is good for at least 48 hours, so there’s plenty of time to get yours.

Coupon Code:

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And finally, lest you think I was unkind to Adam up above, the post about his Great-Grandmother was originally intended to be the Christmas Day post, but he requested it be shared on the 19th. If you haven’t yet read his tribute to his grandmother, it’s lovely. You can read it here.

A Christmas Gift

ImageChristmas is a wonderful time of year for most people. There are parties, festivities, gifts, and treats. Christmas is also a time of remembrance.

At Christmastime, it’s only natural to think of loved ones who are no longer with us. The holiday is an especially poignant time of year for my family. My father passed away one week before Christmas. My grandmother passed two weeks later. Grandma didn’t know Dad had died, and I always thought she must have been so surprised to get to Heaven and find him waiting there to greet her.

My friend, Adam Sendek (Chowderhead to many of you), has a special remembrance of his Great Grandmother. I’m honored that he has agreed to share his story here with you today:

A Christmas Gift

It was three years ago on this date that I received a Christmas gift that I’ll never forget.  The present was a collection of memories wrapped in modest paper with neatly tucked edges – the box obscuring the contents inside.

My Great Grandmother was the matriarch of our family.  She was the glue that held together a dispersed group of people that were reunited each and every holiday because of her.

She was a Romanian born immigrant, relocated to Austria, and the mother of four small children during the Second World War.  My Great Grandfather served for the German Army during that time, and she was left behind to find a way to keep her unit alive and fed.

I was fascinated by the stories that she told about her time in Austria during the war; the anxiety of having to hide out in a basement with the lights off, sitting quietly with her young family, without her husband, and waiting for the American Bombers to pass over.  The instructions were very simple: don’t turn on the lights.  If the lights were on, that was the signal for the American planes to drop their payloads.

At any moment, life could have ceased at the mere flick of a switch.

They didn’t have the luxury then of indoor plumbing either.  Some of the people in that communal living space would become so terrified during the raids that they’d have to run to the outhouse during the flyovers.

She told me about the times when she would sneak bread through the POW camp fences to my Great Grandfather after he was captured.  She described how all of the grass around and inside the fencing was missing – the captives using it for sustenance by making soup out of it.  Apparently anything feeds a stomach that’s hungry enough.

She told me stories about her peasant upbringing, and about the modest food that they would make out of virtually nothing more than cornmeal, milk, eggs, flour, cabbage, and if fortunate enough, a chicken.  They made and repaired their own clothing, and walked wherever they needed to go, because they didn’t own a car or any other means of transportation.

Christmas was a modest tradition as well, but a very important one.  Homemade gifts and oranges were about all that was ever to be had on the morning of the holiday.  It was a religious holiday – a time for thanks and prayer.

She never went to college, never drove a car, and never had a ‘real’ job per se; but she was a nurturer, a protector, and a provider of so many things to so many people.  Despite her lack of experience in many life categories, she was as sharp as a tack – even at the age of 96.

She spoke four languages, memorized all of her recipes, she was knitter, and surprisingly hip to the American culture, even if she didn’t practice much of it herself.  She was up on politics and current pop culture happenings of the day, yet one would never assume it at a mere glance.  To any outsider she was probably just some little old immigrant lady that needed to assimilate better and work on her English-speaking skills.

She always made something for me to eat whenever she knew I was coming by to visit, and we’d sit together over a half shell of beer and talk.  She was tickled by the little bit of German that I picked up from listening in on the adult conversations over the years.  It was effortless to make her laugh, and she adored me in every way possible – always commenting on how handsome, smart, and charming she found me, and always making a note of our height differential.

She would always tell the same stories about us from when we were little kids.  I knew the stories by heart, and I knew when they were about to happen, because they were always told in the same tone with the same delivery every time.  Even after hearing them so many times before, it never got old because I knew that they were memories that she very much cherished.  Her family was her life.

It was after the War had ended, when she and her family made the long boat trek to the States to start a new life.  They’d been sponsored by family friends that had already moved here – friends from the old country.  She regularly sent care packages consisting of canned food, clothing, and money to friends still living overseas who were surviving on much less.

Life was different now, and the abundance was never taken for granted.  There was so much, and at times it overwhelmed her.  She cried often about the simplest things – the simplest gifts or experiences – and she was grateful for everything she had: a car, a home, a place to earn a living and modest pension, and personal safety.  It was just a simple life built around food, family gatherings, and God.

As I watched her lying there quietly in her hospital bed three years ago today, I remembered all these things.  I recalled the stories and the sacrifices that were made, and all the times that she sent me packing with a hug, a lot of kisses, and some kind of German dish or canned item to have later.  I remembered how much unconditional love she gave to me and the rest of her family throughout her time spent here.

Spending the holiday in the hospital with her wasn’t ideal, but I’m glad I was there with her as she quietly passed away.  It was a time for me to remember her life and the impact that she had on mine.  I didn’t recognize it as a gift at the time, but it turned out to be a gift that was far more important than anything I’d ever gotten any Christmas prior.

On this day a candle is lit to remind us of the place she holds in our hearts.

Thank you, Oma.  You’re a gift never forgotten.
~Adam

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When Your Life Is a Video Game

ImageFor a break from the usual, I thought I would share a couple of Christmas memories today.

This will be our first Christmas since our son moved out on his own, and Rich and I don’t really care if we have any hoopla around us or not. Christmas with family will be at our nephew’s house this year, so we’ll enjoy the decorations, food, and festivities there.

Our son has had some pretty memorable Christmases. I was always like a kid at Christmas, so in essence, we were like two kids, and Rich had to be the adult.

The first memory comes from when Rich used to work afternoons, and for several years, he worked on Christmas Eve, which took away that evening and also the next morning.

Our son was twelve at the time, and, of course, he played NintendoImage quite a bit. We were all enjoying a goofy old game called Snake, Rattle, and Roll. One of the best parts of the game was warping to other levels. If you have never warped to another level, it’s basically finding a secret place on one level (like level three) that will automatically send you up to another level (like level six), so you can bypass some of the game.

This particular year, our son also bowled in a league on Saturday mornings. Two weekends before Christmas, I took him to the bowling alley as I always did. I told him I would pick him up in three hours, and if he was done early to stay inside and wait for me. I usually stayed to watch.

The minute I left the house, Rich put a ham in the oven and started decorating. The tree went up and presents were loaded beneath. Other decorations were placed around the house. Christmas music was turned on. The minute I came home from dropping the boy off, I started fixing Christmas dinner. Rich made a banner for across the wall in the kitchen.

When it was time to pick him up, Rich drove down to the bowling alley. He probably told our son something lame like Mom wasn’t Imagefeeling good. When they walked through the door, a huge Christmas dinner was on the table, the house was decorated, gifts were under the tree, and along the wall was a banner which read:
WARP TO CHRISTMAS DAY.

The boy couldn’t believe it. He was living a video game. He kept asking, “Is this for real?” He had two full days that weekend to play with Dad, the neighbor kids thought he was the coolest thing ever, and it made Christmas that year so much nicer for all of us.

The second memory is from a couple years later when our son and I were sitting in a Starbucks late one afternoon. Once again it was about two weeks before Christmas. I asked him if I was getting something in particular, but I can’t remember now what it was. He said, “I’ll tell you if you tell me something I’m getting.”

Well, there we were, not one kid and one adult, but two kids. Before you knew it, we were telling Imageeach other everything. Rich was at work, and we dashed back to the house and dragged all of the boy’s gifts out from their hiding places and looked at everything. There was a Sega Game Gear in the lot, and we played with it for the rest of the day. We messed with and/or played with his gifts every day after Dad left for work – right up until I had to wrap the stuff on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas day, our son acted wonderfully surprised with everything he opened – as did I. It was months – as many as eight or nine – before we confessed to Rich what we had done. We confessed in front of Grandma and Grandpa. They thought it was hilarious, but Rich absolutely couldn’t believe that I would have done such a thing. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The boy and I had a blast.

So even if my house isn’t decorated this year, or Rich and I don’t have any hoopla, I still have a ton of fun memories.

I know I’m not the only one to mess with Christmas. Tell me what you’ve done!