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Finding child-like happiness again at Christmas

By Steve Stricker

Although I have always loved the true meaning of Christmas with Christ’s birth, many years have passed since I felt that child-like magical excitement when the entire world seemed happy, at peace, full of miracles and surprises, and the last few days before Santa came slowed like Gert’s (mom) spoon sinking through a jar of Mr. Bill Telker’s honey!  Rarely did we have snow on Christmas in our little town in the Bootheel of southern Missouri, just a few miles from the Mississippi River, but when we did it was wonderful and Gert made snow ice cream!

Anticipation became almost unbearable when Monsignor Schmidt placed the large crèche with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men, animals and live Christmas trees bedecked with blue lights behind it on the altar of St. Henry’s Catholic Church and a server lit the fourth candle on the Advent Wreath indicating Christmas was next!

The Christmas trees in our house at the end of Matthews Street, across from the convent, rectory, small grade and Catholic high school, church and large playground, were modest, but I can still smell that live tree fragrance and see the lights, ornaments, and “icicles” that my three older sisters and me helped put on, and how special I felt the first time daddy lifted me up to put the shiny, silver plastic angel on top – I still have it.

It was exciting to get “that” box out of the attic containing the manger that my granddaddy Stricker made from roof shingles and we carefully placed it on white cotton “snow” atop our 21 inch TV next to the tree, unwrapping the manger figures and trees from the newspaper where they were carefully wrapped the previous year, and placing each in their proper place.

My sisters played Christmas songs on their portable record player, Gert popped corn in bacon grease in a deep skillet with a lid, shaking it until the corn was fully popped, and we drank grape juice and ate popcorn as we joyfully decorated the house.  Gert would hang a real wreath and daddy put brightly colored lights around our front door and I would stand outside and stare at them until I nearly froze.

Those days living at home, attending school across the street taught by the Ursuline Sisters (thanks Sister Wilma), serving at Mass, in the choir from first grade through high school, finally having the beautiful ’57 Chevy Belair passed down to me from my sisters, being captain of our basketball team, dating a great girl (Lee) from the large public high school, was a happy time for me.  Then, my sisters went off to college, got married and two weeks before I entered college, my dad died unexpectedly, I almost flunked out of college, and my life and joy at Christmas and all other happy occasions changed forever.

Through the years, girlfriends came and went, but Gert was my best friend and we spent many holidays at home sitting in her kitchen having a glass of wine out of a box in the fridge, eating whatever we wanted and laughing. Especially fun was the day she walked me through making a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie from a Diebold’s Orchard pumpkin, rolling dough and all that!  But, I had become introverted, forlorn and a dark cloud engulfed me as a holiday neared.

Things brightened when I married and watched Christmas through the eyes of my three sons, then life intervened again through a divorce. But, there was always Gert…until 2008, and after some tough years since, I slowly shut the world out.

But God gifted me with an early Christmas miracle this past May when a little black cat with yellow eyes, “Jag” adopted me (scary cat emoji), and after a way too close encounter with mortality on June 22, my world has once again brightened.  Thanksgiving was indeed thankful and the next day I hung a wreath, put Christmas lights around my front door, decorated the house, placed that same plastic silver angel atop my wee artificial tree, and with Christmas music playing as I write this and Jag napping at my feet, that old joyous, child-like happy Christmas feeling is again emerging.

Merry Christmas and Go Rebels!

Steve Stricker has a degree from Ole Miss, is owned & trained by that cat Jag, and can be reached at sstricke@olemiss.edu.