Fifty years ago today, December 17, 1967, the romance that started outside a laundromat in Valdosta, Georgia began a new adventure as my Mama and Daddy said, “I do.”
And they did. Sickness. Health. Laughter. Pain. Joy. Grief. Children. Grandchildren. Other children whom they called their own. Friends. Family. Biscuits. Gravy. Pound Cake. Fried Cornbread. Homemade Pizza. Cars. Trucks. Books. Celebrations. Mourning. Everyday Life filled with Extraordinary Moments.
And even though their time together on this earth ended six years ago, I know they are together today, and I hope they are doing what they loved to do most on this day–spending time together, enjoying the journey. On their anniversaries, Daddy would take the day off from work, and they would go on an adventure of sorts. Traveling on backroads, eating in diners and restaurants they’d come across along the way. Meeting interesting folks who would become lifelong friends.
Since 2013 after Mama left this world, I’ve had the joy of continuing their tradition of sharing books with young people we know. In honor of their anniversary, I’ve chosen different books as our Christmas Book of the Year. This year, I’ve chosen a very special one that ties an old memory to a new one.
This past summer the littles, the Fella, and I got to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. Growing up I read the Little House books and loved my weekly time with Laura and her family on “Little House on the Prairie.” I was “fangirling” pretty hard. The. Home. Of. Laura. Ingalls. Wilder. Where she lived. Wrote her books. Raised Rose. Oh my stars, I was over the moon. But as excited as I was, it was wonderful to see that our Princess was even more so. She had read and reread all of the books in the past year. She loved them.
During our time there, we saw Pa’s fiddle and photos and letters from Laura’s sisters. There were letters schoolchildren had written to Mrs. Wilder, asking about the people she wrote about or thanking her for writing them. The museum part was fascinating, as we took our time wandering around, reading and looking and soaking it all in. But it was when we went to her home, the one that Almanzo built by hand, one room at a time, that I felt the spirit of the place. Neither of them were very tall, so the home suited me and my short height just fine. I loved that she continued using her old stove, even after Rose had an electric one put in. Sometimes change is hard, y’all, and just not worth the bother. As a child I had fallen in love with the young Laura. This past summer, standing in her home, surrounded by her things, I fell in love and in awe of the grown Laura, the strong woman who didn’t want anyone to know she loved to read Westerns, and whose last birthday cards were still sitting on the table in her kitchen, as she passed on right around her birthday. That was my favorite part of the whole adventure. Soaking in her world in her little farmhouse. The other house we visited that Rose had built for her parents as a gift when she was an adult did not compare. It was lovely, but it just didn’t have the same feel, the same homeyness, the same spirit.
As I wandered through the farmhouse, enjoying the stories that our tour guide shared, I was reminded of a Christmas in my own home, many years ago.
I believe it was Christmas 1989, my senior year in college. My dear friend had come home with me for a day or two before heading home to Alabama. We had slept through the night to be awakened early the next morning by the ringing of jingle bells. My friend, my siblings, and I all went to the living room where we found a sock for each one of us. A long knee high sock I believe, filled with good things–like an orange, a giant peppermint stick, a penny, an orange in the toe, and the matching sock balled up inside as well. It was left there by, as the note said, “The Christmas Spirit of 1889.”
I probably laughed it off as my parents and their whimsical ways in the moment, but inside I loved it. I love all things old and traditional, and as far as I was concerned, this was perfect. Everything about it. I’m not really sure what prompted my Mama and Daddy to keep Christmas like that that year. Maybe they wanted to remind us that simple joy is at the heart of Christmas–that the simple joys are the treasured memories we will carry in our hearts for a long, long time.
Just as I have the memory of the sock filled with goodies, nearly 30 years ago.
So when I sat down to choose a book to share this holiday season, I found it almost instantly. In memory of that Christmas 28 years ago and our adventure “home” this past summer, our family Christmas book this year is “Christmas in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The illustrator, Renee’ Graef, shared that her artwork was inspired by the work of the talented Garth Williams with his permission. It’s a sweet story about the excitement of the holiday season and the greatest joy of all–being together.
Tonight I’m thankful for the love of two people that grew to touch so many–our family and friends and folks they met along the way. A love that was joined together forever fifty years ago tonight. I’m thankful for their quirkiness and how they reminded us of what is really important all those Christmases ago. And I’m thankful for the privilege and thrill of standing where some of the world’s favorite stories–I know they are some of mine–were put on paper for all of us to enjoy.
May the simple joys of this Christmas season bring you grand memories that you will treasure for years to come. Love to all.