When we were kids, we spent Christmas Eve traveling to my grandparent's farm and back, all in the same day. My parents didn't want to miss the big family get-together, but they felt strongly that we kids should all wake up in our own beds on Christmas morning. (Secretly, I think they were trying to get us to sleep a little longer . . . to no avail.)
This four hour one-way trip done twice in one day kind of prevented the establishment of Christmas Eve traditions, but we still managed to have some good times.
We spent the drive home listening to The Forgotten Carols, counting Moravian stars, making drawings in the mist we breathed onto the windows and scanning the sky for a glimpse of Santa Claus. Somehow, the magic was preserved even though we were not "nestled all snug" in our beds.
One year, about two hours away from home, our car died. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but it was cold and late and when we coasted into a gas station from some obscure exit ramp, all the lights were off and there seemed to be no one around for miles -- no houses, no cars, no civilization. On Christmas Eve, with four little kids, in a van that didn't work.
Suddenly, from out of no where, we saw headlights. A big Cadillac pulled up behind our minivan, and a man in what I can only describe as a gold lame' jumpsuit got out of the car and approached my dad's window.
"Do y'all need some help?"
He volunteered to drive us to a hotel so we would have a warm place to sleep and help us find a tow in the morning. We piled into his big boat of a car. I felt so special to sit in the front between this kind stranger and his big-haired blond wife in a fur coat. My mom and dad sat in the back with MommyJ and our brothers, and we were on our way.
My mom says she and Dad started to get worried when he kept passing hotels on the interstate. Mass murderer? Crazy mental asylum escapee? One after another, after another, he just drove on past. Finally, my dad spoke up . . . aren't you going to stop? This motel would be just fine.
"No, sir. Children should be home on Christmas Eve."
And he kept on driving until we arrived home at 3 AM on Christmas morning.
I don't remember what gifts were under the tree when we awoke later on; I don't remember what we ate or who we saw or anything else about that day. But I will forever be thankful for the kindness shown to my family that cold, cold night years ago.
This year, I have spent too much time away from my family. I have not been around for bedtime since December 3. Instead, my evenings have been filled with rehearsals and performances, choir practices, church meetings, office parties and other things that seemed so important when I was committing my time to them. After two concerts last Saturday night, I came home and checked on my little ones just to remember what they look like.
So, in memory of Roger and Teddy, who got us home for Christmas, I pledge to say No! And to really mean it! Roger was right . . . children should be home for Christmas, but so should their parents. In this season that ends up being the busiest of the year, why don't we all simplify? Why do we feel so compelled to fill our time with things that are less important than those things that are real?
Next year, I promise to do better.