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The Dunn County News
December 30, 2007

Snapshots from a Christmas past capture very best present

   It was a brisk December morning in Duluth, Minn. Just a 10-year-old girl then, I was chattering, bouncing and dancing around the kitchen.

   "Dad's home! Dad's home!" I cried. "And today is the day we get our Christmas tree! And Dad's home!"

   What was so special about Dad being home? Well, usually he wasn't!

   You see, Dad worked construction and was gone six days a week. My family needed the money and the company would pay him if he was willing to work that extra day every week. On Sunday afternoons, he traveled to the job site - wherever it was - in his home-away from home - his newly-cleaned travel trailer stocked with clothes, blankets, food and a few notes from me. He didn't return until late Saturday nights.

   But that week, Dad came home on Friday night! I hadn't known it because I was already fast asleep when he pulled into the driveway.

   But upon awakening on Saturday morning, I found Dad sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee - a whole day early! And my dancing and chattering ensued.

   Breakfast was made and inhaled - a pound of bacon fried in a cast iron skillet, blackened toast, eggs fried in the bacon grease, and milk - tons of milk. So full we could barely dress, Dad and I bundled ourselves with long underwear, pants, wool socks, boots, mittens, neck scarves and a saw. Yup, we were going for a walk in the woods out back to cut the annual Christmas tree.

   Once back in the pinewoods, I looked for trees that were about my own height. But I found nothing full or balanced. Nothing was good enough.

   Then I looked over at Dad and saw him standing with his head bent back and looking up at the sky.

   "What in the world was he doing?" I wondered. Then I said to myself, "We're supposed to be looking for a Christmas tree, not spotting clouds."

   Dad explained that the best Christmas trees were really treetops. He said they got good sun up there, making them full, even and nicely shaped. The perfect Christmas tree for our living room would be a treetop.

   After much neck strain and some quick tree climbing, the perfect Christmas tree was on the ground and being hauled back to the house.

   "Oh," Mom exclaimed, "that tree is so big!"

   Quickly I responded, "Just perfect!"

   And it soon was.

   The remainder of the day was spent with Dad, Mom and my older sister, Donna, decorating that tree. The bald spot (and there always was one) was placed toward the corner. The lopsided tip to the tree was remedied with shims of wood.

   The lights were strung by Dad - a family tradition for many people, you know - and then all of the mercury glass decorations and garland and ornaments were hung with extraordinary care. It took hours. In fact, my family ate supper in the living room off of TV trays so as to keep decorating before it was bedtime that Saturday night.

   And by bedtime, the tree did look beautiful - glistening and shining with lights and ornaments. All that was missing was the tinsel.

   Sunday was tinsel day. Upon returning from Sunday school, the box of tinsel came out and the messy, time-consuming, putsy task of draping tinsel on the tree began. That took hours. Truly, all of Sunday afternoon was taken up with hanging tinsel.

   But when it was time to hug Dad good-bye for another week, the tree looked like a silver statue over in the corner of the living room. And there was still half a box of tinsel to go.

   Dad drove off for the week and the house became very quiet. Both Mom and I were caught up with memories of the weekend and special times with Dad.

   But still much had to be done that week. After the decorating was completed, the presents had to be wrapped and placed under the tree before Dad returned home again that weekend.

   Between school, spending time with the Rusty, the dog, playing in the snow with Donna and hanging that infernal tinsel, the week passed quickly. Soon, Dad's big smiling face was back in the kitchen and once again he was home for the weekend. It was Christmas!

   Christmas morning began at about 3 a.m. or so - there was no need waiting since Santa had already been there. So up we were! While I bounced, chattered and danced in the living room, Dad, holding his coffee cup, said, "Keep filling it, Mom! It is very, very early!"

   Presents were opened and cards were read to one another. It was a grand morning of sharing gifts - gifts based upon the love and desire to please - purchased on a very limited budget, but numerous just the same. Even Rusty got a present on Christmas morning. No one was left out.

   And it never failed. At 6 a.m., like clockwork, the telephone rang. It was the county or the airport calling. Someone was needed to run a plow for the day because the regular crew had the holiday off; and the runways, or some streets down by Lake Superior, needed plowing due to the drifting snows. Could Dad fill in for the day?

   So Dad dressed and Mom packed a lunch. And off Dad went to spend Christmas Day in a plow. Mom assured him that Christmas dinner would wait until he returned, no matter how tired he might be. Christmas dinner waited for him.

   I spent my day arranging my gifts - delicately and deliberately - under the tree. Then I took pictures with my Brownie Starflash camera, using a new bulb each time. When the film was developed, all those jagged-edged, black-and-white photos went into my Christmas album.

   Then after a hearty Christmas breakfast and a quick romp in the snow with Rusty, I returned to the living room to find a few grocery bags lying next to my presents.

   It was time for the real sorting.

   Presents were sorted as to their size, purpose and by how much I loved them. The not-so-wanted presents went to the right. The gotta-keep-these presents were placed on the left.

   Over and over again, the sorting and resorting continued until it was completed. Finally, several hours later, I called Mom into the living room, where we filled grocery bags with the not-so-wanted presents.

   Then off we drove to deliver those grocery bags of presents to girls my very own age - girls who lived in an orphanage run by the Catholic church in Woodland. Shy girls accepted my gifts. I wished them all a merry Christmas and ran out the door.

   As it grew dark upon returning home, I was reminded of my greatest gift - parents. Happy with Mom by my side, I remembered Dad would soon be home.

   As we grow wiser in our years, we realize that Christmas is making memories with family and loved ones. What I remember most is the feeling of Christmas: the warmth, caring and security of being a part of a family that loved me, wanted me and raised me to share and think of others as best as I can. And so at some point each Christmas season, I walk down that memory lane to reattach to my mom, my dad and sister, who have all crossed, and I thank the dear Lord for giving me the very best present of all - them.

Happy Holidays,
Sandy and The Herd

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