Twinkle Lights

One Christmas while I was still in the Air Force, I came home for what I expected would be a quiet holiday.

There were no young children in the family at that time so our custom was to go to midnight mass at Trinity Church on Christmas Eve then come home and open our presents after the service. That way we could all sleep in on Christmas day.

Trinity Church by H. S. Wyllie

Midnight mass had become such a huge service at our church that on this particular year they had decided to have a family service earlier in the evening. We chose to attend the early service and enjoyed one of the most joyful celebrations of Christmas we’d ever experienced.

The normal processional was replaced with a telling of the Christmas story frequently interrupted by everyone singing appropriate carols. The first carol was “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and as the congregation sang, the angels – a small mob of pre-schoolers dressed as angels – marched down the aisle. Marching is what they were supposed to be doing, but that was forgotten as soon as they saw mommy or daddy and had to wave or say hi. Once they were all “settled” at the front of the church, the story continued and the next carol brought a group of slightly older children dressed as shepherds. More carols were sung as the oldest children performed the roles of the major characters and the pageant was complete. The actual service then began and the normal rituals were expedited somewhat as the children fidgeted up front. At the appropriate point, they all marched out to change from their costumes and have refreshments while the adults took communion. There was a joyful reunion of parents and children in the churchyard after the service.

As we walked back to the car we noticed a small group of people across the street chatting. One young man stood out because he wore a beret with holes punched through the felt and a strand of small twinkle lights poked through the holes. He had found some source of power and was standing there casually twinkling away. We found this quite amusing.

Back home, we all relaxed around the tree and began opening gifts.

Christmas day was always full of visitors. Neighbors would drop by with gifts – usually delicious baked goods – and we shared bags of citrus fruit from our trees. Christmas dinner was a group effort, but always a relaxed and enjoyable experience. There was time to stop and visit whenever a neighbor or friend dropped by. Our big meal was late afternoon and things were normally cleaned and put away by sunset.

This particular Christmas evening, we were all semi-comatose in front of the evening news when a car pulled into the driveway. It was several young adults Mom had befriended – she was always adopting strays – including the young man with the twinkle lights beret from the night before. Once everyone was introduced and settled, he plugged himself in and was soon twinkling away. It was most festive! Twinkle Lights was actually quite articulate and an interesting addition to the conversation. We were so engrossed that we didn’t notice another car pulling into the driveway until the occupants stepped onto the porch. I looked up to see one of Mom’s friends with her husband and another couple I didn’t recognize. She was staring at Twinkle Lights through the glass front door and I could see the shocked look on her face. You could see that she was considering a quick retreat. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and the group was soon finding Twinkle Lights and his friends as fun and fascinating as we did.

Mom had a gift for bringing disparate groups together and this Christmas evening was just another example. Although this was not a Big Christmas in the sense of large family gatherings or large events, it was very special. Thirty years later the images of those little angels marching down the aisle and the young man with the twinkling beret are still vivid memories.

Originally published December 2011.

I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm

BlogCarolingAnother Christmas and once again it’s time to go blog caroling with footnoteMaven and all the Geneabloggers! My choice this year is one of what has become an annual tradition for the Jarod family (no relation). These videos are a delight – even to total strangers like me. Looking at the props and scenery, my guess is it was a family affair from start to finish. I particularly loved the paper birch tree forest. Think of what these productions mean to their grandparents then consider what precious gifts they will be to future generations.

Keep that camera/phone handy and capture your own holiday stories. They don’t have to be professional quality to become treasures.

Early Morning in the Spanish Quarter

Arrivals House on St. George Street.

The Arrivas House on St. George Street in the Spanish Quarter. Photo art by the author.

This house was reconstructed in the 1960s as part of the city’s quadricentennial celebration. It’s construction is based on historical records and excavated foundations. The earliest recorded house on this property dates to the 1650s. The reconstruction includes details from both the 18th and 19th centuries.

Bastogne

Seventy years ago the Battle of the Bulge began when the Germans attacked American forces near Bastogne in Belgium. By December 22nd the Germans had the American forces in Bastogne completely surrounded and were calling on the Americans to surrender. General McAuliffe made history with his one word response – “Nuts!”. Four days later, General Patton’s forces arrived and broke the deadlock.

Bastogne, Belgium

Sherman tank memorial on the square in Bastogne, Belgium. Photo courtesy of fisherbray, on Flickr.

We paid a brief, but memorable, visit to Bastogne on Easter Saturday 1987. It was the last stop on a week-long trip to Holland. We were driving through Belgium on our way back to Mannheim (Germany) and found ourselves in Bastogne at dinner time. It was dark when we arrived so the only memory of the town I have is an American tank sitting in the square across from the restaurant where we had dinner. Our Camaro – parked in front of the restaurant – easily identified us as Americans even before we said a word. We spoke no French and no one in the little restaurant spoke English, German or Spanish yet we enjoyed one of the best meals of our trip. I’m still not sure what I ate that night, but it was delicious and the hospitality was delightful.

During our tour in Germany, we knew we were targets for a growing number of extremist groups because we represented America. Yes, we dealt with demonstrations, bomb threats and other security concerns. We also enjoyed the gratitude earned by our fathers’ hard-fought efforts from people in countries like Belgium and Holland who still remember what those Americans did to secure their liberty.

Ardennes American Cemetery.

The Ardennes American Cemetery. Photo courtesy Kaitlin Yapchaian via Flickr.

We will watch the Battle of the Bulge tonight and remember once again how massive that battle was. We will also honor the men who fought there. And we’ll wonder at the peaceful beauty we saw during our drive across those Belgium battlefields decades later – including that short but memorable stop at Bastogne.

Windswept Cedars

windswept cedars at Lighthouse park

Windswept cedars at Lighthouse Park

These cedars stand at the water’s edge between the boat ramp and the fishing pier at Lighthouse Park. This small park, tucked into the neighborhood surrounding the St. Augustine Lighthouse has been a favorite playground as long as I can remember. It was an easy bike ride from our house and we spent many hours here fishing and playing tennis.