We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:
Tricia Alexander, a Lake Geneva resident, award-winning musician and the music ministry creative manager and administrator at the Unity Spiritual Center of Woodstock, Illinois, can still recall a Christmas decades ago when she learned about the power of faith, compassion and love:
“I was just a girl in love with a boy.
“Across America then, because of the draft and the war in Vietnam, for many of our young men, it was a time of difficult decisions: to serve the military or go to Canada.
“Tommy was among the conscientious objectors, but he found a way to stay that felt good to his heart. He served in the Coast Guard. His training was the first time ever that we were apart, so you can understand how excited we were when he found out that he would be off for a few days at Christmas. We started planning my trip immediately.
“I was 20 when I traveled to meet him — to Carolina, I think. Even though it was my first flight and my first time traveling alone, I felt no fear, no anxiety — only incredible happiness knowing within a few hours, I would see him again. Then while I was in flight, he got new orders that would keep him on the base for Christmas.
“There were no cellphones in those days. I found out when my flight landed and there was a note waiting for me saying that he couldn’t leave the base. I was to take a taxi to the motel and he would call me as soon as he knew what was happening.
“So I waited in a strange motel room out in the middle of the empty countryside, feeling very sad and lonely. It was after midnight when he called to say that he might be able to come late in the day on Christmas, but only for a few hours.
“When I got off the phone with him, I decided I needed to make Christmas right there for Tommy and me.
“It started simply with a pillow case covering the little table in my room. I unpacked and set out the gifts I brought for him, all wrapped, beribboned and ready to be opened. It was beginning to look a little bit like Christmas in my room.
“The next morning, as I walked outside to the restaurant next door to the motel, I noticed lots of very little pine tree-like plants growing in the area. I decided that after breakfast, I would go Christmas tree hunting.
“It was between breakfast and lunch and was pretty quiet in the restaurant. I got into a conversation with the waitress, explaining what happened and how I decided to make Christmas for Tommy and me, even if we only had a few hours together.
“The restaurant owner, the chef and the waitress all opened their hearts —and their cupboards — to me. They loaned me red cloth napkins, a white tablecloth, lots of aluminum foil to make ornaments, scissors, a couple of candles, an empty wine bottle and two wine glasses.
“The chef came out of the kitchen with a basket of dinner rolls, butter, jam, cheese, all wrapped up for safe keeping, along with a couple of little plates with some silverware.
“I was able to pull one tiny pine tree out of the ground — roots and all. Once the empty wine bottle was washed out and had a red cloth napkin swirled around it, it made the perfect stand for a beautiful little Christmas tree.
“Tommy called while I was making the ornaments to let me know that starting at midnight, he would have a 24-hour break. We would be able to spend Christmas together after all!
“As I hung up the phone, a prayer of gratitude rose out of my heart. I looked around that motel room with tears in my eyes. Everywhere there were touches of Christmas: a little decorated tree, candles, gifts, even food. Thanks to a handful of kind and compassionate strangers, Tommy and I were going to have a wonderful home-away-from-home Christmas.
“Tommy and I had many Christmases together, but none are as memorable or as dear to my heart as that one.”
After a number of years, their lives amicably went on different paths, Alexander said.
“In the years that followed, I pursued a career in the arts and spent about 35 years on the road. Everywhere I went across America, Canada, Scotland, England, Wales, India, I found people eager to help, to learn about me and to invite me into their homes.
“Almost 50 years later, my heart is still full with gratitude for the waitress, chef, restaurant owner and motel clerk who made me ready to welcome all the people and experiences that followed.”