I feel the need

I feel the need

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Story #4: A Tender Tennessee Christmas

Good afternoon all!

So Bob and Brian, the morning show guys on my favorite local radio station, The Hog, like to read stories from listeners about this time of year.  They call it "Holiday Horror Stories."  Yes, many of the stories I've told here  (and of course, the engagement TWO PART story, which is yet to come) have been read on the air over the years.

The stories they read are, as the title suggests, horrible.  Seriously.  We are a messed up bunch over the holidays.  And looking at my own Christmas memories, so many of them involve some sort of family tension.  Which is why, for this Christmas tale I'm about to tell, I've chosen my very best, sweetest, and most wonderful Christmas memory.  Think of this as the calm before the storm of Holiday Horror I'll be unleashing next week.

This took place the same trip as the prune induced fath-athon of a couple stories ago.  The point of the trip was to travel to the Deep South and check out the antebellum homes in Mississippi.  As luck would have it, Memphis, TN, was on our way down.  I'm so glad it was because it was Christmas Eve, 1986, when I fell in love with Tennessee.

My family has always been devout church goers, so attending church on Christmas Eve was not ever a question.  The mother in law of one of the teachers on my dad's faculty (I'll call her Mrs. T) lived in Memphis and offered to let us spend Christmas Eve at her house after a service at her church.  She and her husband weren't going to be at the house, they had a party to go to after church, but Mrs. T couldn't bear the thought of us spending Christmas Eve in a hotel room.  (Because, by that point of the trip, we'd gotten over the residual effects of the prune room in Kankakee and we were back to sharing a room.)

The church was a very small mission church, hardly the type of place we were used to.  Maybe there were thirty people there, and with the four of us, the room was full.  It was a very, very small church. 

I don't remember much about the service.  It was a Christmas Eve service, but very different from any I'd been to.  The difference, in our experience being that there wasn't an army of grumpy kids barking out the good news of Christmas in robot like unison.  ("FORUNTOYOUISBORNTHISDAY   INTHECITYOFDAVIDASAVIOR WHICHISCHRISTTHELORDANDTHISWILLBEASIGNTOYOU YOUWILLFINDTHEBABEWRAPPEDINSWADDLINGCLOTHES  LYINGINAMANAGER.")

Instead, this was a beautiful, heartfelt service with 30 other people.  And at the end of it...the most amazing part.

These people, these strangers, came up to us and asked if we had someplace to go.  "Y'all can come over tonight if you'd like.  Or, if you don't have anyplace to go tomorrow, we're having brunch at 9.  Come on over."

First of all, it was the first time I'd ever heard someone say "y'all" that wasn't on the show "The Dukes of Hazard."  Second, while people in Wisconsin are plenty friendly, I don't know that any stranger has ever offered me a place at their Christmas morning celebration.  I was 19 at the time, the child of two hardworking people who were very generous with their time and talents when it came to helping those around them.  And yet there was something so eye opening about these people. complete strangers, offering us a place to be on Christmas.  We thanked them all, told them we were going to the T's house for the evening,  (which, if you think about it was amazing, since we'd never really met the T's either.)  and that we were getting back on the road Christmas morning.

To this day, almost 25 years later, I don't recall much about that vacation without help of a photo album.  But the feeling I had that Christmas Eve, in the face of such sincere, unasked for hospitality, has never left me.  I fell in love with Tennessee that night and I've never forgotten it.  (Probably a big reason why my current work in progress is set in Tennessee.)

What have I done with this feeling, have I shared it?  I'm ashamed to say it took me several years to reach out to others at Christmas the way that little church in Memphis reached out to four travelers.  But yes,   I now open up my home to anyone who is alone at Christmas.   And every Christmas Eve, as I look over the assembly of folks in my house, I think of that tiny little mission church in Memphis and I thank them for teaching me a lesson I may never have learned otherwise.

So Merry Christmas my friends!  And if you're in the Waukesha area on Christmas Eve, stop in.  We're the house with the flying candy canes in the front yard.  Ask the delivery guy at Feng's Chinese restaurant.  He'll get you there.

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