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Christmas Travel

Telling stories about our lives is to value our existence and
rekindle our love and appreciation for each other.
We tell stories about events that are important to us,
and, in this way, define our values and re-create our existence.

When I was growing up, Christmas was a time of travel. Every year, no matter where we lived, we went to my grandparents' house in south western Virginia the holidays. My mother had 5 siblings, and usually they were there with their families. They came from as close as Galax, Virginia and as far away as Pocatello, Idaho. Before my parents and I moved to Holden in 1954, we traveled to Emory, Virginia from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Long Beach California, and Houston Texas. I remember riding the train from California to Virginia. We rode in a Pullman compartment with beds that were pulled down out of the walls by the porter. Meals were taken in the dining car, where the tables had white linen table clothes, heavy silver ware, and a small bouquet of flowers.

In the early 1950's we took the train from Houston, Texas to Emory, Virginia. During the Korean War there were many soldiers on the train; I remember how polite and handsome they were in their Army or Navy uniforms, how happy they were to be going home for the holidays.

Times were different then. People trusted each other. I remember falling asleep leaning against a soldier while my parents drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, and chatted with other travelers. The soldier sang me to sleep with a popular song containing my name: Nancy with the Laughing Face. (In the South, girls have double names, and my cousins still call me "Nancy Kate".)

It was dark when the train went through Birmingham, Alabama. My mother pointed out the colored Christmas lights on the small houses next to the rail-road tracks and told me that the Christmas spirit of giving was in "everybody's" homes. It was not about how many toys Santa brought. Christmas at "Papa Joe and Gramma's" was always special. My aunts and uncles and cousins filled the old farm house. We decorated the fir tree with colored glass balls, strung popcorn, and tinsel, then sat back to watch the new, candle-shaped bubble lights. We were warmed by the coal burning fireplace while we listened to Christmas carols on the big, upright static-filled radio in the corner.

The years go by quickly. My husband and I are now the grandparents. These days travel is more difficult, and I am happy that my three grown children have settled near On Christmas Eve, we gather with our friends and expanding families to make music, sing songs, and tell stories. A fire blazes in the wood stove as the last boxes of glass balls are hung that evening.

Some years we have a Twelfth Night Party (Epiphany). Our doors are open, and our holiday then includes the tradition of a "mummer's play" and wassailing the apple tree in the front yard.

I hope that our children and grandchildren will have fond memories of the holidays, and their stories will continue the tradition.

Reprinted from Worcester Magazine, December, 2003

Katie Green