Dancing Sugar Plums… by Nancy Brophy
My friend, Jessie, isn’t like me; she still believes in Christmas. Her family has not reached the cynical point where everyone’s agreed not to get gifts for the other because Christmas is for children. When Jessie’s grandmother was still alive, the two women, one in Oregon, one in Ohio, started a competition to see who could send out the most cards and who got the most back. When Jessie tells this story, she laughs, because the competition wasn’t about the Christmas spirit, it was sharing something special with a family member two generations removed.
Jessie and her grandmother decorated their walls with cards and sent competitive photos to show the outcome. The last year of her grandmother’s life, when she was too sick to send her own cards, Jessie sent not only her cards but her grandmother’s as well (over 700 cards) with a note telling recipients that her grandmother was not doing well. An aunt hung them on the wall of the nursing home making her grandmother’s last Christmas a memorable one.
As frequently happens with good deeds, at the funeral, a cousin got the credit for it. As I watched as Jessie wrapped presents and addressed cards for people across the country, I found myself envious that Jessie’s family traditions mean she still gets excited about the holiday.
I grew up in a small oil-rich town that didn’t have much else going for it. I have no idea if this story is true or not, but it’s one I remember hearing when I was a child.
Back in the day when banks were owned by real men and women, First Wichita National Bank loaned big bucks to an oil speculator named LD Burns and, in return, suffered dry well after dry well. (The phrase ‘throwing good money after bad’ may have started here.) The bank loaned more and more until the Board of Directors met late one Saturday evening in December to vote on whether the bank could even open its doors the following Monday. LD Burns entered the room long after the meeting had started soaked in oil.
By the time I was a child, the Burns family had cemented their fortune. They lived on a large corner lot in the Country Club section of town and every year they put on a Christmas fantasy. The Burns Display. Every year it got bigger, tighter and more crowded. And better, because one quick look wouldn’t take it all in.
Santa rocked in a house soaking his feet. A manger scene complete with a choir of life size manikin angels sang under a huge star. A Ferris wheel at least ten feet tall carried Snow White and the seven dwarfs around and around. Frosty tipped his hat, bowed at the waist and blew bubbles from his corncob pipe. An ice skating rink with finished toys circled in and out of Santa’s workshop.
And every year we inched our red and black 1955 Lincoln in bumper-to-bumper traffic around the corner of the house to view it. Three kids in the back seat with noses pressed to the window starring in awe. “Look. They moved the sleigh and reindeer to the back.” “Is the Gingerbread house new?”
Mr. and Mrs. Burns eventually died and the display was stored until the local college, Midwestern State University, agreed to display it on the lawn of their administration building. It is now called The Fantasy of Lights. There is plenty of room. Crowding is no longer an issue. One can walk on the curved paths and see each display up close. Maybe I’ve gotten older, but it’s not the same.
Christmas is a time of too much, but big city opulence has never competed with the memories of my youth. What is your favorite Christmas memory?
May you and yours have a happy holiday and blessed New Year.