Does your family have a defining Christmas story? One that is told around the tree or at holiday dinners? One that starts out, “Do you remember that one Christmas when...”
Maybe it’s one marking a first — a first year in a new home, or as a newlywed, or with a new baby. Maybe it’s one that has sadness, like how you managed to find the will to celebrate after the loss of a cherished family member or a hard-to-replace job. Perhaps it might have other elements, like when you were on vacation, when you were stranded, or when something unexpected happened that changed everything.
We all love to hear a good story. Would you share with us a holiday story you find yourself telling over and over again? Contact Veronica Coons at The Great Bend Tribune, and perhaps it will be included in our holiday series.
Veronica Coons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 620-792-1211 ext. 230.
Editor’s note: This holiday season, we invite you to share your holiday stories from Christmases past, starting off the series with a story of our own. We hope it shakes loose your own indelible holiday memories.
When I was 14 years old, I wanted clothes and cash for Christmas, and was likely to get a little of each as well as a book and a few other miscellaneous stocking-stuffers. My brothers were nine and four years old. I have no memory of what they wanted or received that year, because like most teens, I was pretty self-centered. The important thing is, none of us remember what we received for gifts that year. What we do remember is what we did as a family.
It was Christmas Eve, 1982, and snow was falling so hard, you couldn’t see more than a few feet. It was the heaviest Christmas snowfall ever recorded in the Denver area. Accident reports and light-hearted concern that Santa and Rudolph might have to make a detour filled the news that evening.
Most people in our neighborhood parked behind their houses. That night, especially, people were careful not to leave their cars where they would be in danger of being wrecked. One of our neighbors, in fact, was late getting home and ended up having to abandon their van in the alley.
According to my mom, that was a tough year for our family. First, my grandmother was terminally ill with esophageal cancer and congestive heart failure. We kids knew she was sick, but didn’t realize how much. My parents were concerned it might be her last Christmas. Second, we were struggling financially, so while there were presents under the tree, they weren’t the flashiest toys touted on television. Still, we kids woke excited as ever. I don’t remember feeling disappointed at all, so mom and dad must have done a good job of making us feel like there was abundance for our family. My brothers pulled presents from under the tree and sorted them into piles and we began the ritual unwrapping.
After the gifts were open and the wrapping paper was collected, mom and dad had time to survey the conditions outside. Local news reports carried video footage of snow plows working to clear I-70 and other main thoroughfares. There were stories of stranded motorists caught in drifts, stranded travelers at the airport and bus stations, and calls for any and all people with snow-plows or blowers to help clear paths. We were reminded to check on our elderly neighbors to make sure they were okay. There were even pleas for volunteers with four-wheel drive vehicles to transport doctors to hospitals as the morning wore on.
Dad called a family meeting. We had a Christmas mission. We needed to get dressed and be ready to start digging out of the snow so we could get to Grandma’s house. We all loved Grandma very much, and the picture my dad painted of her all alone that day motivated us...at first.
The first task was clearing a path to the garage. Dad did this while we dressed producing two snow shovels, and an assortment of other dirt shovels.
Googling “Christmas Blizzard of 1982,” the official record shows 24 inches of snow fell overnight. But there were drifts over three feet high in places in our yard and around our cars. We ended up giving my youngest brother, Mark, a scoop to move the highest layers of snow while those of us with more lifting muscle shoveled the snow underneath. Our next goal was to shovel out the family car. That took quite some time, and it wasn’t long before the boys headed back inside to warm up, change gloves, and become distracted with their new toys.
We cleared a few feet in front of the car, and began working our way down the alley. Unfortunately, our stranded neighbor’s van forced us to have to focus our efforts toward the end of the block furthest from our house.
Once we were cleared to the end of our property, we’d been at it for at least an hour. We still had to get past six more properties before we reached the end of the block.
A long way to dig
In the next hour or so, as we dug, Dad tried a few more tactics in hopes of shortening our task, but nothing worked. He tried strapping a piece of plywood to the front of the car, hoping he could push the snow away like a plow. It just compacted the snow a few feet in front of the car before it was stopped. He told us to dig to a depth just under the body of the car, and tried pushing through the snow--which worked until he bottomed out and we had to dig the car out again.
In between these efforts, Mom and I kept digging, my brothers coming out to help for periods until they were soaked, and then going back in to warm up.
At one point, we reached a house a few properties away where the other kids on our block lived.
We were all starting to get tired and cranky. That’s wen, looking up, we saw our friends standing in front of their window, pointing at us and laughing. We had become a spectacle. It was discouraging, and I felt embarrassed and irritated with my dad for having us undertake this herculean effort. But Mom wasn’t stopping, so I swallowed my tears and kept shoveling too.
Plows in sight
As we worked, we heard plows scraping snow off the street in front of our house. Lowell Blvd. is a through street to a highway ramp for I-70, making it a priority street. The plows would not turn down the side streets until the priority streets were cleared.
We passed our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Turner’s house. The kind old lady saw us shoveling, and waved from inside her house. We were happy to see she was doing okay, and didn’t blame her a bit for staying inside and warm. After all, she required the use of a walker to get around.
Finally, we saw a plow pass us on 49th Ave. I’m not sure who thought of it first, but together we trudged through the snow to the end of the alley, and as mom remembers it, “we both got down on our knees and made praying motions, begging the guy in the snow plow to please come.”
Our prayer was answered.
“I think he could see how desperate we were, and decided to help us,” Mom said. He came down the alley, plowing up to our neighbor’s van. Finally, we were able to get to the road. Allow me to admit here something I don’t feel very proud of. Seeing piles of snow pushed into the neighbor’s driveways made me feel happy.
Mom remembers going back inside and preparing food, and then we piled into the car and made our way to Grandma’s house.
The going was slow, often with lines of cars trailing behind plows, but we made it. Grandma was so tired, she was happy to see us, but she was almost too tired to really care that it was Christmas. She was more concerned we’d gone to all the trouble. It’s something my mom says she understands better today.
“A particular day does not have such a great significance,” she said.
We shared our meal with her, though she could only eat a few bites, and we spent time talking about our gifts and digging out of the snow. It wasn’t long before she was thoroughly tired, and we cleaned and packed, my dad and mom helped Grandma back into bed and we said our good-byes.
On the way home, my mom tells us she remembers feeling good, with a sense of peace.
“We really did share Christmas with someone,” she said. “Christmas isn’t about all the stuff. It’s about sharing love.”
It was something we were all reminded of later that spring when my Grandmother passed away. Brian, then almost 10, remembered Christmas and remarked through his tears that we had at least been there for her last one, and that she hadn’t spent it alone.
Reflecting on the experience, I realize I carried away another lesson from the experience--one about persistence and prayers being answered. Over the decades, it has become our defining Christmas story.