Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wishing You a Merry Christmas

My favorite Christmas display this season isn’t found in any of the homes and yards bedecked across the neighborhoods here, though there are many lovely sights. I am a sucker for big ol’ Texas-sized Christmas light displays.

These decorations are on a half-dozen or so scraggly cedar trees out Farm Road 1431 a few miles north of town, on the left. First there were just one or two trees on the shoulder decorated in bright garland — red, green and silver. Then a few more joined the crowd, then a couple more, so now at least a dozen cedars wave Merry Christmas to vehicles passing along that busy highway. I salute the elves responsible.

Memories of Christmases past, stories I’ve told before:

There was a Christmas tree lot in Nacogdoches I passed each day on the way to work in December 2001, the first Christmas after 9/11. About 50 trees perched on an asphalt lot, each nailed to a wooden cross of one-by-fours. Each day I would make a silent bet to myself how many trees would be standing after the winter wind blew through. Each morning the owners would trudge out from their well-used motor home to right the fallen trees.

One day, just one tree was standing. I silently named it the hero tree. I would have bought it except I already had a tree. That season, the Elton John song, “I’m Still Standing,” kept running through my head as I passed that lot — with the lone tree still standing. We were knocked down, as I wrote back then, but we got back up. We are still standing still.

Christmas afternoon of 1984 I headed to town, which was San Augustine, a tiny place in Deep East Texas where I ran a weekly for five years.The presents were opened, lunch eaten, wife and children napping, so I decided to see what was going on around the square. As usual, Sheriff Nathan Tindall was present, meaty hands perched on his ample belly. Christmas was just another workday for him. I walked in, and he said, “C’mon, let’s go. We need to check on somebody.”

We headed down one red-dirt road, then another, finally arriving at a shack in the middle of the woods. A gap-toothed man came to the door, which was open despite the bitter cold. Tattered plastic flapped from the windows. The cracks between the boards were wide enough to slip your fingers through.

The old man's face was blackened from hovering over a sooty wood stove. He was trying to warm a cup of frozen coffee, brown sludge in a dirty cup. The man didn't seem to be terribly unhappy about his fate this Christmas afternoon. Clearly he needed help.

The sheriff hauled out a kerosene heater from the patrol car’s trunk that a hardware store owner had donated. He lit it, and we left. I asked why the man didn't check into a nursing home or something. He didn't want to, the sheriff said. Several folks had tried to get him to, and he fought them tooth and nail.

I took the old man’s photograph as he stood out on the porch, talking to the sheriff, a skinny dog watching the exchange. The photo still hangs in my office, a constant reminder. The old man died a year or two later. They found him frozen to death in that shotgun shack.

My earliest memory of Christmas is from a half-century ago. We always spent Christmas Eve at my maternal grandparents’ house outside of Concord, N.H. The tiny house was filled with cousins bedded down most everywhere. I was lying in my grandparents’ bed, looking out the window, which was narrow and near the ceiling, so you could see the stars if you were on your back looking up.

I saw Santa Claus streaking across the sky and realized I had better get to sleep, or the old man might skip this house. My cousins would really be upset with me. Sure enough, in front of the fireplace the next morning were gifts from St. Nicklaus. The plate of cookies held only crumbs. The carrots for the reindeer were gone.

I know. I didn’t really see Santa Claus. Probably it was an airplane headed to Boston, or perhaps a meteor shower. But it’s a powerful childhood memory that has stuck with me for a very long time.

Here's hoping you make some memories this holiday season. Merry Christmas to all of you, and God Bless.

Originally published in the Hill Country News (Cedar Park, Texas). December 23, 2010.


  1. Thanks for this....provoked my heart to start my Christmases Past flowing through my heart. Tears and all. Good tears, women can cry and it is still good, you know!

    Merry Christmas, Gary Borders. We here in Gladewater, Texas love to read your blog, as we have loved to read your column. You are a staple in our mornings.

  2. Thanks for your kind words, and Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year to you as well. God Bless.

    Gary B.