One Christmas Morning

I have thought of that Hefty trash bag every day throughout the Christmas season and feel guilt and shame about the excess most enjoy, myself included. Does that stop me from going headlong into the gift buying and giving during Christmas?

Since I can’t seem to put this memory and the feelings it conjures up to rest, I’m taking a few moments to write about it. Maybe I’ll get some resolution. Maybe not.

Here’s the story. Years ago, I wanted to mix things up a bit in my Human Growth and Development online class. While there was nothing wrong with the written assignments, they got to be, well, boring after a while. So I got the bright idea of having the students write a semester long document with the overall theme of Life’s a Journey. My plan was that they’d start with prenatal life and the variables that went into making them who they were, the ingredients that influenced their journey…like inheriting musical proclivities or athletic prowess; physical attributes went into the mix, too. This blog isn’t going to be long enough to go into the multiple combinations that affect our physical appearance, but you know what I’m talking about. Are you blue-eyed in a brown-eyed world? Tall when everyone else is average (whatever that is)? 

But let’s move forward. In childhood, what was the home like? Were both parents present? Did the family attend church? Was there enough money for the basics? Did the person live in an apartment, a luxurious home, a shelter? And where was this residence—country, city, mountains, seaside? 

I wanted them to see how where they’d already been on their journey could affect where they were at that moment and all the moments in the future. Many students wrote about picking up passengers along the way, including spouses and children, and I recall being impressed by the creativity of that. Sometimes their journeys were bumpy and filled with potholes, and other times it seemed that they whizzed down smooth roads with nary a curve or missed exit.

As we neared the end of the semester, I opened the last of the documents, and things were going along swimmingly until I read the final installation by a young woman who wrote of an unforgettable Christmas. Her parents had been fighting, and there wasn’t much money for gifts, but still, she was hopeful. They had a tree after all, and her mom had cookies set out for Santa.

But the next morning is one that would be forever etched in her memory. She and her mother and little sister woke up in a women’s shelter with all their worldly possessions shoved into a black Hefty trash bag. Her mother, puffy faced and red eyed, was barely holding it together. I can’t remember the details of the story; I might have deliberately suppressed them. I just know there had been a horrible scene, one so haunting that the young woman writing about it not only recalled the trauma decades later but also one that gave her resolve to never, never, never keep company with anyone who drank. 

Like I said, I read this document decades ago, and yet it still disturbs me. I think of that heartbroken, scared little girl awakening in a shelter on Christmas morning and hope her life has done nothing but soar through the years. I remember her story and feel compassion and sadness for all the little children like her, those who have crummy parents and/or no gifts beneath the tree.

I have thought of that Hefty trash bag every day throughout the Christmas season and feel guilt and shame about the excess most enjoy, myself included. Does that stop me from going headlong into the gift buying and giving during Christmas? No. I’m just as likely as others to leap into the commercialism of the season. At the same time, this year on the first day of 2020, I’m resolving to become more aware of the needs of others, especially children, and to do something about them. 

Any ideas?

Changing and Looking Ahead


My son and his family left Myrtle Beach this afternoon. It was marvelous to see them again…and heart wrenching to tell them good-bye last night. Atlanta, GA is a long way from here, and although I know I’ll see them at least once before Ethan Paul makes his debut in March, it was still hard to watch them drive away last night.

Still, if I’ve learned one thing in my life it’s that it (life) goes on. Despite separation, trials, loss, and pain, it goes on. Whining and feeling sorry for myself won’t bring the young family back. Nor will it bring back my parents and grandparents who no longer walk the earth. I’ve known people so sick or discouraged or miserable that they simply didn’t want to go on anymore. Fortunately, so far they’ve had the fortitude to keep on keeping on.

Here’s another thing I’ve learned: those whom you’ve loved never really leave you. They’re always in your heart and mind, and sweet memories of them can be conjured up at a moment’s notice. Hundreds of these recollections  have flooded my mind during this special season, thus making it challenging to spotlight just one. Many of them sort of flow into each other, like the dozens of Christmas Eves at my grandmother’s house when all of my cousins were there. Invariably, one of the adults would look out the window and declare that he had seen lights circling the area, a sure sign that Santa wanted to land. If I had to choose just one Christmas memory, I’d go with the one in which my grandmother read me an article from the newspaper about a little girl named Virginia who wanted to know if there was a Santa Claus. Spellbound, I listened to MaMa Padgett as she read Virginia’s letter and the editor’s response, thrilled to know that indeed Santa existed.

My sweet daughter-in-law seemed to have a case of the doldrums when I saw her yesterday, and I suspect it’s because she and I were feeling some of the same emotions. She’s on her way back to Atlanta now and probably won’t see her parents for several months. They’re serving a mission for the LDS church and only came home for a couple of weeks at this special season. They’ll be back in June. By then, Amanda and Paul will have another baby, Ethan. Hmmm. That brings me to a third thing I’ve learned: The only constant is change! Seriously, you can count on that one. Nothing ever stays the same. For better or worse, things (people, events, circumstances) are always in a state of flux. All I have to do is look at my grandchildren to see that!

I think of my sweet mama every day, and naturally she’s in most of my Christmas memories. Of the many, many lessons I learned from her, one is that a person always needs something to look forward to. Whether it’s a visit from a friend, a favorite television show, or a shopping excursion, having something to look forward to can give us momentum and buoy up our spirits. Having a hopeful expectation that something good is going to happen can make the crucial difference between happiness and misery.

As 2011 comes to a close, I realize the truth of the above even more. Life goes on, people never really leave you, change is constant, and hope is important. I’m looking forward to 2012 and all of the changes that it will surely bring. I hope that we can all adapt to whatever lies in store for us and, all the while keeping our loved ones in our hearts.