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.


Posted on December 23, 2011, in General and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Lovely thoughts, Maggie.

    And we really are sad we couldn’t post the cute video of your grandmother, Jessie.


  2. For me Christmas was never about big or expensive gifts. Growing up the oldest of 9 children, Christmas was about family getting together, sharing stories, and best of all Christmas Eve candlelight service where we would sing Silent Night as we walked out of the sanctuary and to our cars with candles lit. To this day, going to Christmas Eve service with candlelight and Silent Night still brings tears to my eyes and the wonder of Christmas is renewed.

    On the gift side, my Mom (who loves to knit and crochet) always made a gift for each of us. Most common were stockings or slippers, occasionally a scarf. To this day, she still makes things for us for Christmas and we cherish them. We’ve been the recipient of afghans, full bedspreads, and many different kind of warmers. It is always my favorite gift of all. Even as a child, we did the pick a name out of the hat for gift giving. The rule was we had to make it ourselves. I still have a variety of handmade ornaments from my siblings, a failed pottery experiment, and various drawings. Some get hung on the tree. Others are framed for the holidays. Yet others simply exist in a file I bring out and review.

    This year we will travel to Salem to be with my parents again. Mom already told me she has crocheted “little” gifts. We will also be blessed with two of my sisters who moved to the Salem and Corvallis area this year. I feel fortunate my parents are still alive (both in their 80’s) and that we were taught early in life that family and love is what matters more than any other present at the holidays.


  3. Wow. This is my 15 minutes of fame. 🙂 Thinking about this brought back great memories of my grandmother and an old video that she sent me in victory for winning the competition one year. I tried to see if I could upload the video but no luck 😦


  4. Lovely post! I love Susan’s comment above as well…what a great tradition.

    My favorite Christmas memory before I had children and a family of my own (because those are a different kind of happy) was of course when I was a child. The parties at my grandparents house. My father came from a large family and there were people and kids everywhere…tons of presents and laughter and food and good times. I never wanted the night to end and it was something we looked forward to each year.

    No words can really describe the unity I felt when there. When my grandmother and grandfather passed away, the gatherings stopped and I hope that as my kids grow and have families of there own, it might be a tradition I can have with them…of course on a smaller scale 🙂 since I didn’t have as many children as my grandparents had 🙂

    Happy Holidays 🙂


  5. When I was a young mother and worked graveyards at the hospital on the labor and delivery ward, I worked with a woman who LOVED Christmas. She taught all of us to make boxes from our Christmas cards that we then hung on our trees. Inside the boxes we were to write on a slip of paper our favorite thing about Christmas that year, and every year after. So I have many boxes, one for each person who came over the years to our Christmas Eve celebrations, with their memories safely tucked inside.

    It’s been a long time since we’ve added to our boxes, but this year when my granddaughter and I were decorating the tree she wanted to know what was in the boxes, so I showed her mine (I actually have two ) and read one of the memories to her. She was appropriately excited and amazed…as was I.


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