Some Christmases stay in our minds forever, no matter how old we get. My most memorable came in 1972 when I was fifteen. It was the first time I feared Christmas wouldn’t come…at least not in the way I’d always known.
On December 20, a huge storm pounded our little town in Connecticut. Electricity was out almost everywhere. Ice coated power lines, branches and shrubbery, giving a surreal, frozen beauty to the world.
The morning after the storm, our family of five stood in our cold living room. A huge tree had fallen on our property, dragging power and phone lines with it. We knew that didn’t bode well for Christmas.
And over the next few days, it seemed every other home got their electricity back, except ours. Because of that fallen tree, we were told it would take longer.
At first, we tried staying put, sleeping in sleeping bags in front of the fireplace. I remember my father staying up all night, tending to the fire.
Finally, it became obvious we had to leave. Our kindly next-door neighbor took in my brother, sister, and me. My parents stayed at a local motel.
Two days before Christmas, there was still no power. School holiday break had begun, but it was hard feeling joyful. I came off the school bus, dejected. Around me, all the houses looked warm and inviting. Ours was dark.
Instead of heading to our neighbor, I entered our front door. It felt like visiting a sick friend. Everything that made our home warm and human was gone.
Couches and chairs were cold to the touch. The air was chilly. Rooms were unlit. No water came from the kitchen sink. Our Christmas tree sat in the corner, decorated with colorful bulbs and tinsel, but lifeless. I even tried plugging the cord in for the tree lights, hoping for a miracle, but of course, they stayed off. I left, helpless and frustrated.
To not be home for Christmas was unthinkable, but that’s what we faced, probably trying to make the best of it in some motel room.
I went back to our neighbor’s that afternoon sad. What could we do? It was bad luck.
The next morning was Christmas Eve. I started to get out of bed when I heard a sound I never thought would warm my heart — chainsaws. I looked out the window to see a crew of utility guys working on the limbs of the tree in front of our house.
Unbeknownst to us kids, my father had gone to our town’s First Selectman, pleading our case. I don’t know what he said or how he said it, but it worked. I’m convinced if he hadn’t done that, the job would’ve waited.
Several hours later, my mother, sister, brother, and I stood in our cold house when we heard that wonderful thump. We had power! The furnace started cranking. Water was available. And best of all, I could plug in our Christmas lights. Our house had become a home again.
We bustled about, putting gifts under the tree and getting ready for dinner. My father came home from work, bringing the usual bag of goodies he brought each year from his holiday office party – cookies, bagels with cream cheese, hors d’oeuvres and chocolate. “Merry Christmas!” he said, coming in the door, his face wreathed in smiles. We all gave him a hug. “Merry Christmas!”
Everything tasted especially good that night.
Forty-six years have passed, but every time another Yuletide rolls around, I think of that Christmas. I think of how my father stayed up all night before the fireplace, trying to keep his family warm. I think of how he went to our First Selectman, asking for help. He was a proud man. That probably wasn’t easy.
Dad passed away two years ago from Parkinson’s disease at 82 years old. Mom is still adjusting to life without him. We all are.
I realize now the greatest gift that year didn’t come from a store. The real gift was appreciating things I lived with everyday, but had taken for granted — a warm, cozy home, running water, and a refrigerator full of food. The real gift was having a family to share these simple pleasures.
I’ll never forget that storm of 1972. It coated our world in such icy splendor. But it also taught a Christmas lesson.
Do you have a memorable Christmas story? Comments are always welcome and if you like, please share. Thank you!