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Published: Sunday, 12/25/2011

Memories of Christmases past are precious gifts

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

This Christmas column suffered a false start. Just as I began to write my thoughts on the wonders of the season, I stopped suddenly and realized something was missing in my hotel room.

It was my traveling tree that has illumined the Christmas spirit in good and bad, large and small rooms through several states since my journey began Nov. 17.

In minutes the tree was retrieved from the car in the hotel parking lot, a 10 foot extension cord was put into use, and now it is shining brightly in front of the sliding door with the Atlantic Ocean coastline as the background.

Today's dateline is Daytona Beach on Florida's eastern coast, a two-day drive from Aiken, S.C., where I return after a Christmas reunion. The focus here is not to take advantage of the many beach activities, but to spend time with a cousin who is in a nursing home. Our Christmases together go back to childhood at our grandparent's farm house in Rome Township, Lenawee County, and no Dec. 25 has ever been celebrated without me reminding her that she was the person who told me there is no Santa Claus.

We laugh about it now, but I clearly remember the day she gave me the heart-breaking news. We were on our way home from Lincoln Elementary School in Adrian. We were probably 7 years old and were playing in the deep snow drifts when suddenly she said, "Mary, there is no Santa Claus."

I know I was mad and in disbelief that she would say such a thing about the jolly man who had promised me a Shirley Temple doll when we both confided in him at the Montgomery Ward store a few days before she broke the news.

But mother came to my defense to dry the tears. On Christmas morning large footprints in the snow in the backyard were, in a young child's imagination, proof that they were left by Santa. The cookies I had left just in case my cousin was fibbing were gone.

I still cherish the Shirley Temple doll under the tree that Christmas. Years later I learned mother borrowed my grandfather's big farm boots to make the tracks and dragged sticks in the snow for Santa's sleigh tracks.

Warm, fuzzy tales surface at this season. We could review them anytime, anywhere, but somehow they are reserved for Dec. 25 and for the days of song and merriment that precede it.

Each year we reach into the quiet places in our hearts to find the favorite memories with the same anticipation we mill through cookies and candy until we find the favorites. On this long, challenging journey that will take me well into 2012 driving on back roads at dusk has been a deliberate route.

As suspected, the beauty of Christmas shone brightly everywhere. In roadside shack windows, in large countryside farm houses, and in nativity scenes at small town churches the season was alive and well to herald today's magnificent birthday party that is being celebrated throughout the world and giving a homesick traveler a feeling of home.

The wondrous day that we wait 364 days for is here. We can't buy it, wrap it, mail it, or hang it on the Christmas tree. It's a feeling where cherished memories are stored and where there is room to add new ones today.

Wishing you a Christmas day to remember.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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