Thoughts at Christmas, Part 3
|by Mary Wakefield Buxton|
It seems ironic but Christmas can be the most sad and lonely time of the year. Memories of the past come back to haunt us. Loss of loved ones and hardships endured seem especially poignant. Even dreams at night can be filled with strange and incomprehensible pain that pass like shadows through our unconsciousness. The holiday can become the time of bittersweet emotion. Memories are like exquisitely woven tapestries embroidered onto the brain.
My first memory of Christmas in Ohio was World War II and the resulting meat rationing. Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor just three months after I had been born, bringing the United States into a ferocious fight for survival. I had arrived into a troubled world, but it was no more or less than any other time.
Father was not a farmer but he managed to keep chickens and three pigs to help supply the family with food. I remember Mother saving government-issued ration coupons to buy meat for Christmas. Whatever was on the table in those desolate war years was a profound blessing.
Christmases after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King were sad as were those during the Korean and Vietnam War years. Especially in the latter conflict when my husband was stationed on a ship in the South China Sea. I was 22 with a new baby living off base in Japan and fending the best I could.
During that Christmas in Japan I was so lonely for home that I could barely get through the holiday. I remember how I felt one day arriving in Tokyo by train and spotting a cross, a rare sight, on the roof of a Christian church. How I longed for the USA. There is no loneliness like the loneliness at Christmas in a foreign country.
Christmases during Chip’s years in law school, when I worked to support my family and there was little money, were particularly difficult, as were those after Mother’s and Father’s deaths. Losing one’s parents is a horrifying loss that no one can prepare for and I still miss them.
Who can forget the Christmas after 9/11? The sight of the Twin Towers toppling down in New York City, smoke arising from the airplane crash at the Pentagon, and tales of the last moments of those courageous passengers who resisted terrorists in that last flight as it crashed in Pennsylvania are forever etched in my brain.
And do you remember that Christmas right here in Middlesex County the year we lost electric power and went for weeks suffering excruciating cold?
There have been joyous Christmases too. The births of babies and grandbabies have delivered happiness almost beyond the power of the pen to describe. Each birth has brought reminders as to the real meaning of Christmas: precious new life and hope for a better world with peace, good will, love and forgiveness as our guiding lights.
This year we expect a new grandson. A difficult pregnancy for Lori. For a while she was on bed rest, and for several months both mother and son were on the prayer list at Christ Church. We hope for a healthy new grandson arriving sometime during Christmas week.
This Christmas is one of great hardship for most Americans with soaring unemployment, massive deficit spending that will inflate the dollar, and troops in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan. Small businesses are especially struggling to survive and face even more cutbacks in the months ahead.
Father used to tell me when I was a child that tough times build character. He used to remind me of our English roots and how the English bore up to daily Nazi bombing during World War II. “We’re English, Mays,” Father told me as if in some sort of pep talk. “We’re building character.”
“I have enough character,” I would reply, wondering who in the world cared about building character.
But Father wanted me to concentrate not on whatever problem I had to deal with at the moment, but on what was really important—the gift of life, and as the French call it, the “joie de vivre.”
It is good to keep loss and hardship in perspective and foster deeper appreciation for the gift of life. Hard times will not last forever. May we feel the boundless love that surrounds us and may the coming New Year be filled with a growing sense of shared blessings.
Merry Christmas! ©2009
(One Woman’s Opinion will return in February.)
We pick up pen this day and write words of tribute to our friend and Deltaville neighbor, Andy Turner, who passed away this week. He was 90 years old.
Known by many as “Mr. VMI” because so many in his family attended that venerable institute in Lexington, Andy’s passing this week represented yet another loss of that ever dwindling treasure of World War II veterans. He and many others who fought so bravely to free Europe and the rest of the world of Nazism have been so aptly called the “Greatest Generation.”
A “come-here” from Roanoke, he quickly made his presence known in Deltaville. Everyone knew Andy. There were few organizations and causes in which Andy and his effervescent wife Evelyn were not involved. He loved Middlesex County and spent many volunteer hours in service to the betterment of our area. He had a heart of gold. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to help others. A lifetime Baptist who had joined Lower United Methodist Church upon moving to the county at retirement, he never lost that special Baptist demeanor.
We clashed in the late 80s and early 90s over whether VMI should open its doors to qualified females. Our disagreement was sharp and passionate, but our admiration and respect for each other never faltered. We both revered the other’s opinion and the right to express it.
Some of my columns calling for opening VMI to the gals ruffled him a bit. Oh, all right, they might even have made him downright furious. Once, in total frustration at something I had written on the subject, he sat down and wrote me a seven-page letter. “Maybe I’ll mail it to you one day,” he told me.
But he never did. He was too much of a gentleman to do what he was sure would have hurt my feelings. Operating on old-school manners that always put women on a pedestal, I loved him even more for it.
Andy taught me a lot about what it was like to be VMI alum and also a “Virginia gentleman.” He accepted the eventual change at VMI with honor and magnanimity. I admired him for it.
Andy and VMI will always be intertwined in my mind. They both stood for values we never want to lose in our society—values of honor, good manners, dedication and discipline that are well worth preserving. And lastly, the Virginia tradition of being civil in public discourse regarding opposition of ideas.
Andy, who had attended his 65th reunion at VMI, was planning to return to Lexington next June to celebrate his 70th. I still think that Andy will be meeting up with his fellow rats in 2010 as they celebrate their 70th reunion. For who could possibly doubt that VMI hasn’t somehow managed to take over heaven?
We celebrate his life, well-lived to a ripe old age, and send our love and sympathy to his family. —MWB