Christmas ran against the odds this year. Tina is traveling with friends, the kids are staying put in New York and Charlotte and Blondie and I are home ripping old tile out of the bathroom. No lights, no tree, no shiny wrappings and yet it was a very nice Christmas. We'll have to go back 60 years or so to start.
I cannot ever remember when I did not know my friend Ray. School, Church, Camp, Scouts, from the time we were both very small. I met his wife Linda much later. When we were 12 or 13 and her family moved back to town. We all became very close friends. They married and went off to college. We stayed close and I always had a place to sleep if I wanted to visit them or just visit High St. in Athens. The summer when I was between college and grad school I helped them build the house they still live in. Ray's Dad took time off work to help and we drove nails all day in the days before nail guns. Linda and Ray's mom would feed us well every day and keep the site tidy. I remember Ray's Mom shoveling gravel into the basement excavation while we were down below spreading it out. We could barely keep up. She had known a life of hard work and wasn't afraid of more. Still isn't.
Time marched on as it usually does. We visited often and remained best friends. They had kids. Their son was wearing the first diaper I ever changed and he thoroughly christened me. Tina and I married, we moved. Still within a drive but farther away. Ray started a business, I started a side business. We visited, we went fishing, we got busy being adults. Tina and I had kids. The visits we could fit in were more dedicated to Grandparents than friends. We drifted apart as life squeezed in more and more and months between turned into years between.
Jump ahead 30 years or so. Last fall we all had a class reunion. We got together. Talked a lot. Saw other folks who looked older than they used to and promised to stay in touch. Life marched on a little and I called them Tuesday morning to wish them a Merry Christmas. Linda said dinner is in an hour and a half you should come. I said lets do it when you don't have all the kids and grandkids there. She said come. I did. I had the best time.
Ray's Dad had a serious stroke a while back and in the fall it had sounded like he was in pretty bad shape. I guess he had started some new treatments recently and is doing much better. He was able to come to dinner, feed himself, and carry on some conversation. He is 91 and I had never expected to have another conversation with him. His wife is 89 and still his primary care giver. They have been married 68 years and lived in the same house for 64 of them. She works as hard as she ever did and takes very good care of him. She reminds me a lot of my mother. She is a little younger than my Mom who would have been 100 this year but they both grew up in the depression , worked hard all their life, went to church on Sunday, and never complained or asked for help. Tougher than most of us will ever be. When you work shoulder to shoulder with people you form bonds that transcend time. It was a privilege to spend time with them again.
I sat next to Ray at dinner and had a great meal with plenty of time to compare our ailments and degradations. I didn't have as much time to talk to Linda but we don't have to. There is so much warmth that immediately felt at home and at least for a few hours 30 years younger.
Christmas day I went to my brother's for dinner. We had another great meal and talked about our other brother. His grandson's were there and were loving their Christmas. One boy who is 5 or 6 had wanted a grappling hook for 2 years. They are not really sure why but blame it on Spiderman. He got a grappling hook this year. A real steel one. My brother has a big pile of huge logs out back and all the boys wanted to do was go outside and climb with hook and rope. Real boys having real fun.
I stopped at our niece's house after that and dropped off the clay projects the Girl Scouts had made a while back. There were bunches of handmade thank you cards and positive feedback from the girls waiting for me. Tina's brother was there and took me to see the house they had just bought. It needs some work but it has 12 acres and will be a nice home for them.
"Neither do they sow nor do they reap" I didn't shop, I didn't decorate, I didn't give presents, I didn't get presents. It was a very nice Christmas that focused on love and friendship without any stress.