Column: Feeling like Christmas

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO

JO ANN KIRKLAND PHOTO

Whenever I hear someone say that they don’t have that Christmas feeling I remember something that happened back in the mid-80s when I was one of the chaperones for a bunch of teenagers from the Youth Group who were going caroling to Island shut-ins.

It was a snowy, icy night and less than a week before Christmas, but the kids and adults were discussing the fact that they definitely didn’t feel like it was Christmas.

In spite of the snow and all the holiday hustle and bustle, none of us, it seemed, had been stricken by that jolt of whatever it is that makes a person feel like Christmas.

Our last stop that night  was the home of an elderly couple. The woman had suffered a severe stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. Their house was at the top of a steep hill and the driveway was too icy to drive up so we left the van down on the road and tried to get to the house on foot, which wasn’t easy because we all kept sliding back down the driveway and falling down.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person wondering whether it was worth all the trouble and if it wouldn’t be better to just skip that last house.

The problem was that the man had been called during the afternoon and warned of our arrival. He was expecting us. Somehow, we made it. I seem to recall that I crawled on all fours and did a little swearing in the process.

At the other homes we stood outside and sang but the man, who was at the door when we arrived, led us through his house to the living room where his wife waited.

I was concerned about clumps of snow on oriental carpets and water stains on the wood floors. The man didn’t care about the carpets or floors — he wanted us to stand where his wife could see us. So we gathered in the corner of the living room while he stood across from us, next to his wife who sat, completely motionless and expressionless, in her wheelchair.

As soon as we started to sing, the man moved his right hand in the air, as though he was holding a baton, conducting us. He sang along with us, too.

Normally, our frozen group zipped through three songs, first verse only, then bolted for the van. But for this audience we sang every Christmas song we knew and several we didn’t.

Midway through “Silent Night,” the man stepped closer to his wife and placed his free hand on her shoulder. Though the woman had not moved or changed expression, tears began to run down her cheeks. The man had tears in his eyes, too, but he continued to smile and sing and wave his imaginary baton.

In order to keep singing, I had to look away from the tender scene at some spot on the ceiling, but I was aware of the sudden sniffles around me. I could detect the motions of snowy mittens brushing away tears and hear the breaks in the voices of the dozen young carolers who struggled to keep singing through throats that had lumps in them.

When the man led us back to the door he tried to hand out money, which the kids refused. He said he wanted to give them something for all their trouble. He knew how difficult it had been for us to get up the hill to his house. The teens told him that the caroling was a gift to him and his wife.

The man shook every hand, thanked us for coming and wished each of us a Merry Christmas.

In the van, on the way to warmth, hot chocolate and cookies, the kids talked about our last stop and how glad they were that we hadn’t skipped that house just because of the icy hill.

They liked that man. And they were sure that his wife was able to hear us.

Definitely. And also that her husband loved her a lot.

I listened as some of the kids made plans to come back the next morning to clear the snow and ice from the couple’s driveway and for the rest of the ride the normally noisy, rowdy teens and the adults were quiet.

Nobody said the words because nobody had to. But I think that moment, finally, we all felt like Christmas.

This column first appeared in the December 21, 2000 Reporter.

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