Christmas by fives

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange considers Christmastime the best time to look back at where you’ve been and how far you’ve come.

(LANGE) Over fifteen years ago the last of our kids left to seek her fortune. Our town’s chief industry is education, its chief export educated kids, who seem to feel that opportunity lies elsewhere. Very few return, and elderly couples here often resemble stars without planets. That’s been us for some time now, with our kids gone to other galaxies.

If any come home for Christmas, we go to the midnight church service, and, half-asleep at one in the morning, hang our stockings by the stove. Christmas Day we open presents together. Mother starts the dinner, and the kids and I take a walk with the dogs through the frozen woods. I hadn’t expected, when the last of the kids left, that we’d ever experience this again. It’s more pleasure than anyone could deserve.

This being a year divisible by five, Mother and I went back by fives and tens over the past 45 Christmases we’ve shared. We found a surprising number of them memorable.

Our first Christmas together was 1960. We were staying with my parents. Our first baby was on the way. I was driving cab on the night shift, she was clerking days at an S&H Green Stamp redemption center. We passed each other twice each 24 hours, like ships in the night. It was untenable. Our only transportation was a roaring, romantic, and sadly unreliable Jaguar roadster. The day after Christmas, we piled everything we owned into or on top of that old rocket and headed for the Adirondacks and independence.

Five years later we celebrated Christmas in the first house we ever built. We stayed up all night Christmas Eve to finish the hair on a Raggedy Ann doll. Five years later was our third in New England, again in a new house, unfinished like the last one. We didn’t have a dime to spare, so we made cubicles in the living room with hanging bed sheets; and each in his cubicle, made his presents for the other four. It was probably our best Christmas.

Ups and downs are made more poignant by the holiday season. One Christmas we didn’t have a house. The three of us still left spent it in a borrowed house whose owner was away. We decorated a scruffy little spruce that I’d dragged in from the woods, and discovered on Christmas Day that the home’s owner had unwittingly lent the place to another party.

All those memories make this weekend’s celebration the more precious. The little details – the coffee machine perking in the warm kitchen; crunching through the icy woods with one of my children; playing Scrabble with Mother – these assume tremendous importance, because we know how fragile is the web that supports them.

Every good day is a pearl beyond price; Christmas gives it a setting of gold.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, wishing you all a very merry Christmas!

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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