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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Holiday memories of days long ago

What are your fondest memories of the holidays? I would wager that most of your fondest memories centered on school, church and family.

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John Eggers
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What are your fondest memories of the holidays? I would wager that most of your fondest memories centered on school, church and family.

The school

Rural Minnesota towns in the 50s didn’t have much going for them in terms of community-wide entertainment events except for the annual school Christmas pageant.

For most small-town Minnesotans, the pageant was better than seeing a Broadway play — for one reason — every child and grandchild would have a part in the pageant. The pageant was the biggest event in the community, similar to homecoming in high school.

The one performance in my small town was always held on the Friday night before the start of Christmas vacation. Every chair, every bleacher seat, and every space on the balcony in our small gymnasium would be filled. Parents stood in the entryway and along the walls when seats ran out.

After the pageant, we went to our classrooms to give our teacher her Christmas gift. We made sure our desks were tidy, said goodbye to her, and thus began our Christmas vacation — the Holy Grail of vacation days.

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Our parents waited for us outside the classroom. They told us how well we did and how much they enjoyed the pageant. They shook hands with my teacher and wished her a Merry Christmas. (It was always a “her” and most often a “Miss.”)

We climbed into our cold car on what was always a frosty, star-filled night to go home. We drove through the streets, commented on the lack of cars, and looked to see if anyone was in the cafes as we drove by. The town was quiet. Tomorrow people would talk about how wonderful the pageant was and how cute the kids looked.

As my brother and I nestled in our beds that night, we would relive the pageant and think about what we would do over Christmas vacation.

The church

I came from a very religious family, so celebrating Christmas was and still is a big event. Many years have passed since I spent Christmas with both my parents and grandparents present, but the memories remain.

Our Christmas Eve church service was held in front of standing-room-only crowds. Kids marched down the aisle singing “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and took their places in front. One by one, we recited our Christmas piece, a verse from the Book of Luke Christmas story.

There was no microphone system, so it’s a wonder the congregation heard anything. It was Academy Award night for parents who always gave their kids Oscars.

The elders would hand out large bags of candy, nuts, and fruits to the Sunday School kids. Nothing was wrapped, but it didn’t make a difference. We said “thanks” and took our treasure.

The family

After the service, we went home to open our gifts. My grandmother rode home with us and we then waited for my grandfather to turn the lights off in the church where he served as pastor.

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My grandfather smoked cigars, so it was the tradition that he would receive at least one box for Christmas. I remember the Christmas when he didn’t want the cigars because he said, unbeknown to us, “I don’t smoke them anymore.” He was in his mid-90s, and I think he may have passed away that same year.

After the Christmas Day service, we traveled to a relative’s home for the annual Christmas dinner. My brother and I were eager to see what our cousins received for Christmas. After a big meal and later eating sandwiches, we returned home in the dark with visions of our Schwinn bikes dancing in our heads, which we received one year for Christmas.

I was thinking about all these memories while taking my dogs for a Christmas day walk in the small, dark woods bordering our property. The words of the iconic poem by Robert Frost came to mind “Stopping By A Woods On A Snowy Evening.”

The woods are lovely dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

All of my grandparents, uncles and aunts have gone to sleep. My cousins now celebrate Christmas with their families, as do Kathy and I. Those family gatherings of yesteryear were an important part of my life.

The school, the church, and the family provide us with a foundation of memories that made us who we are or who we were to become. Happy New Year.

Riddle: What is it that begins with the letter T and ends with the letter T and has T in it? Answer: A teapot. New Year’s Eve is a good time to drink tea.

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Please help any youth you know to graduate in 2023. We’re adults. We can do this.

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John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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