The first Christmas that I can remember well was in 1968. I was six years old and had just started the 1st grade. There are a few flash memories that I have of the times before that Christmas, like my sisters wedding when I was 4 years old and then the times I was picking strawberries in my dads fields and playing with my cousins in the woods around our house. But the Christmas of 1968 stands out clearly in mind. Mom and Dad loaded us up with gifts to open and among them my most prized gift was the Cowboy and Indian dress up clothes. (This was long before the time of every body getting offended about everything.) There was no cultural appropriation present, just kids free to imagine themselves in another place and time. My brother Ronnie Bruce and I played with our bow and arrows and six shooters for hours on end. We would fight over who got to be the Indian. So we took turns. My sister Mary was the oldest of the five kids and I was the youngest. She was already married to her husband Cornelius and he was like another brother to our family. Cornelius would later be drafted into the Marine Corp and he taught me the words to the Marine Corp Hymn. Well, in 1968 Mary and Cornelius bought me and my brother the Alvin & the Chipmonks Christmas album and we played it non stop on the record player. We loved that record even though Alvin was a major jerk to Dave and the other Chipmonks. Every time I hear those songs it feels like 1968 again. Christmas is still special to me to this day. It’s the music, the gifts, the food and time with family.
Little did we know nor suspect that after the Christmas of 1968 our lives would change forever. In early 1969 our little farm house burned to the ground. My parents woke us up in the middle of the night and got all 4 of the boys safely out of the burning house. They brought us outside and put us safely away from the fire in my dads old car. I remember sitting in the front seat with my brothers watching my dad and the volunteer fireman fighting the flames. The battle raged on through the night but it was a total loss. The little house burned to the ground. The front seat of the old car started to get cold and the firemen were losing the battle with the fire and it occurred to me that all of my Christmas toys were in the house. All I could think of was - I will never get to be an Indian again. It’s funny what your value system looks like when you’re six years old. My most valuable possession then was my bow and arrows and now they were gone. It seemed like such a great loss from my perspective. But as I grew up my value system changed and the lessons that I learned that night came into focus and they still shape my character and define my values.
Now that I look back at the last 50 years I see that what was really important survived the fire. My family walked away intact. Together. That fire and the loss of that Christmas created in me a deep love of family and a strong desire to protect the people that I love. How is it that complete loss and utter desperation always clarifies what’s really important. They teach values and principles that you’ll learn no where else. I remember Momma yelling to wake us in a burning house and my dad carrying me to safety and then huddling together with my brothers in the front seat of that old car. I remember watching the firemen battle the blazes and I remember the feeling in my gut of losing all the things that I loved. Now I know it’s not what I lost that night but it’s what I discovered that matters most. People. Events. Values. The people and the events on that cold night in 1969 left a deep impression on my life. It still shapes my values to this day. From the perspective of my six year old self I suffered a great loss But ironically every thing I needed in my life either survived or was born in the fire.
Family. Faith. Love of Christmas.
Betwen you and me I’m still six years old and love to pretend that I’m an Indian tracking my brother through the woods near my childhood home.
Merry Christmas from our family to yours. Whatever fire that you’re battling this year hold on tight to your faith in Jesus, love your family and listen to the music.