A few weeks ago, I received this note from a reader:
I have been searching for a column you wrote about Christmas traditions. My mother had it posted on her refrigerator for years to remember each Holiday Season and your wise words of wisdom. When she passed, I took the column for myself, but the first paragraph had been torn out. The second paragraph reads: “This new year, I’m going to hold on to traditions that fit our family and let go of the old ones we’ve outgrown, etc.” I am now the age of my mother with grown daughters/sons-in-law/grandkids and have continued to heed your suggestion of compromise. I was discussing the article with my daughters yesterday and they remember the article on grandma’s refrigerator. Could you send me the entire article for us? I am not sure of the year it was published but it must be older because the paper has turned yellow.
It’s hard to believe I wrote this column TEN years ago! I’m reposting it here because sometimes we all need a reminder that often we have to let go of the old to embrace the new.
Four Hval boys many Christmases ago.
When Tevye and the cast belt out “Tradition” in Fiddler on the Roof, they’re singing my song.
I especially love the ritual, familiarity, and comfort of holiday traditions. For me, it begins on the day after Thanksgiving. While many folks shop ’til they drop on Black Friday, I decorate ’til I drop.
My sons unearth the red and green plastic tubs bulging with garlands, angels, Santas, and candles, and lug them to the living room. Then I pop a Christmas CD in the stereo and spend the day awash in memories of Christmas past.
Each item from the Play-Doh nativity set, to the Homer Simpson Santa Claus, to the, chipped and scratched snowman dishes has a story.
This year I’m making room for new stories by learning to hold less tightly to treasured traditions.
Actually, the process began a couple years ago with the Christmas tree. Since our boys were tiny, Derek has taken them to Green Bluff to cut down a tree. But our sons are now 21, 19, 17, and 12. Finding a time when everyone has the day off from work to make the trek to the tree farm became impossible.
Derek eyed fake trees, but the younger boys and I rebelled. We reached a compromise: a freshly cut tree from a local tree lot. We also gave up trying to find a night that everyone would be around to trim the tree. I don’t feel too bad about that. Six people, two cats, and one tree can create a lot of Christmas chaos.
Other changes have been more difficult to embrace. For 26 years I’ve celebrated a traditional Norwegian Christmas Eve with my in-laws. The feast is a smorgasbord of Norwegian foods and delicacies, but the real flavor comes from the gathering of extended family.
My father-in-law loved Christmas Eve. He was in his element at the head of the table with his wife by his side, surrounded by his four children, their spouses, and his 14 grandchildren. His booming laugh and warm bear hugs made everyone smile.
This was our first Christmas since his death. Instead of ignoring the empty space, his absence left, family members shared their favorite Papa memories. And in the light that shone from his grandchildren’s eyes– in the echoes of their laughter– Papa’s presence was felt once again.
When we got home, no one mentioned leaving cookies out for Santa. That’s okay, Santa’s trying to slim down. Besides, I’m pretty sure our kitty, Thor, would eat them before Santa got a chance.
Christmas morning is different now, too. Santa still leaves filled stockings outside each boys’ bedroom door, but our oldest has to drive over from his apartment to get his.
In years past, four little boys would clamber on our bed at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning and dump their stocking bounty out for us to see.
I don’t miss the crack of dawn part.
And Sam, 12, informed me last year, “You know we all open our stockings while you’re sleeping and then stuff everything back in and take them to your room. You do know that, don’t you?”
Yes, I know that, because my sister and I did the same thing when we were kids.
The six of us still gather around the tree and read the Christmas story from the Bible before the unwrapping begins, but now there’s less unwrapping. I’ve discovered the older the kids– the smaller the presents. Unfortunately, smaller tends to equal more expensive.
Even so, I don’t really miss hundreds of Legos strewn across the floor, or tiny GI Joe guns getting sucked up the vacuum cleaner.
Clinging to traditions no longer current is like trying to squeeze a squirming toddler into last year’s snowsuit. It won’t fit and someone will end up in tears.
This new year, I’m going to hold on to traditions that fit our family and let go of the ones we’ve outgrown. I don’t want to cling so tightly to the past that my hands are too full to embrace the present.
Publication credits can be hard to come by for budding authors, but The Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise offers a smorgasbord of publishing opportunities for writers to offer the world a taste of their work.
The franchise produces dozens of volumes each year, offering a paying market for novice and experienced writers alike
My stories have been featured in 13 Chicken Soup for the Soul books, and I’m delighted to share my recipe for a good soup story.
Learn how to get your writing published by this franchise and increase your publication credits on Saturday, October 29, at this free workshop sponsored by the Spokane County Library District’s 6th annual Spokane Writers Conference.
Please join author Mark Cronk Farrell and me, Wednesday, April 13, for a discussion of her latest book, “Close-Up on War.” It’s the amazing story of Catherine Leroy, who documented the war in Vietnam through compelling photos.
Military spouses are experts at saying goodbye. Separation is a fact of life, and no one knew this better than the men and women featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation.”
During World War II, these couples’ farewells were fraught with fear. There would be no emails. No texts. No FaceTime with the family. Letters and scant phone calls or occasional telegrams had to suffice.
But, oh, the reunions! Most of the 36 couples profiled in “War Bonds,” vividly remembered and described the moment they saw their spouses when they finally came home.
In the past six weeks, three of those brides experienced their final reunions with their husbands. This time they won’t have to say goodbye again.
Melba Jeanne Barton died Nov. 30. She and Don were married 67 years before he died in 2013. That eight-year separation marks the longest time they’d spent apart.
She’d met Don at a Grange dance two months after he’d returned from flying B-29s in the Pacific theater. He’d endured a horrific loss when the plane he piloted was hit in battle, and his young navigator was killed. Decades after the experience his eyes still filled with tears when he spoke of it.
“He was a nice kid – a real nice kid,” he’d said.
You might think Melba Jeanne would be immediately smitten by the dashing pilot. After all, he shared her Christian faith, and he was a great dancer. But Don was a farmer, and Melba Jeanne swore she’d never marry a farmer.
“Feeding chickens and milking cows – none of that stuff appealed to me,” she said.
But Don’s patient persistence and promises that she’d never have to do farm chores won her hand and her heart.
They raised three daughters on their family farm. And Melba Jeanne discovered the best benefit to being a farmer’s wife.
“On the farm, your husband is never far away. We’ve always done everything together,” she’d said.
Bonnie Shaw died on Dec. 5. She met her husband, Harvey at Central Valley High School when he was home on leave and visiting his siblings.
Despite his uniform, Harvey was just a boy himself. “I got stupid and quit school right in the middle of my sophomore year,” he recalled. “I just didn’t think. A few months later, I was in the Navy.”
He said goodbye to his family and set sail on the USS Kwajalein, but Bonnie didn’t forget about him. He returned home in 1946, and when Bonnie and her boyfriend broke up, Harvey wasted no time.
“When we finally got together, we just really fell in love,” she recalled.
And just like sailing the Pacific, their courtship wasn’t without bumps. Bonnie was a devout Catholic and Harvey was not. Unbeknownst to her, he began taking instruction at St. John Vianney, and they wed there in August 1950.
They spent 64 years together. Harvey died in 2014, not long before “War Bonds” was published.
When I’d called Bonnie shortly before his death she said. “He’s not doing very well, but he asks me to read him your column, and every time I do, he smiles.”
We both cried a bit then.
Bonnie gave Harvey nightly back rubs and the last words they whispered before falling asleep were “I love you.”
“Harvey is my heart,” she said.
Lastly, Betty Ratzman died Dec. 26.
To know Betty was to love her. A prolific writer and avid letter-writer, Betty’s fierce intelligence and sharp wit delighted all who knew her. I treasure the letters I received from her.
In fact, she won her husband’s heart through the mail.
They’d met on a blind date in 1943, and when Dean Ratzman shipped out with the Navy, she told him not to get his hopes up.
He ignored her warning and treasured both her photo and the letters she wrote to him while he was at sea.
“You can find so much more about someone in letters,” he’d said.
They married in 1946 and spent 73 years together until Dean died in 2019.
Fit and active, the couple attended many “War Bonds” events, gladly meeting folks who marveled at their lasting love.
The last time I spoke with Betty shortly after Dean’s death, she wanted to know all about my sons and my cats. Then her quavery voice broke a bit.
“Oh, I miss Dean. I miss him so much,” she said.
I miss Betty, and Bonnie and Melba Jeanne.
The “War Bonds” brides are at the heart of what made our country great. They endured separations and rationing. They tackled nontraditional jobs and learned new skills, to keep our country going during the war. They gave their husbands something to fight for and a reason to come home.
While I celebrate each couple’s heavenly reunion, I can’t help but think our world is diminished by their absence. I know my little corner of it is.
It’s always a bit surreal to be the interviewee instead of the interviewer, but I had fun chatting with Hara Allison on her podcast “See Beneath Your Beautiful.”
See Beneath Your Beautiful podcast is raw and intimate, sometimes funny and always entertaining. With new episodes every Saturday, Hara explores our loves, fears and hopes with a delicious combination of depth and lightness.
We chatteed about writing, parenting, grandparenting and lots of stuff in between.
You can click here https://bit.ly/3okAtTe to listen to the episode, or find it on any podcast streaming service.
On a chilly November afternoon, I said goodbye to another veteran featured in my book “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”
James Loer died on Oct. 17. His wife, Helen, preceded him in death four years earlier.
Just as I’d done at her service, I read their chapter “From Sailor to Preacher” at his funeral.
Theirs was a simple story of plain people who worked hard and served every community they lived in with quiet devotion. As James said in our first interview, “I can tell you right now this isn’t going to be romantic!”
Indeed, romantic might be too flowery a word to describe their lifelong bond. They married in 1948 in a small ceremony at the home of their pastor while James was attending Bible school.
He’d felt called to the ministry after surviving several harrowing skirmishes when he served in the Navy during World War II. The 13 battle stars on the cap he always wore told more of story than James liked to discuss.
During his funeral, the pastor, used a flag, a hammer, a Bible, and a seed to tell James’ story. The flag for the country he loved, the hammer for the work he did as a carpenter, the Bible for the God he served and the seed that represented his farmer’s heart, as well as all that he’d sown into lives during his many years as a pastor.
At 96, James Billy Loer had lived a full, rich life, and longed to be reunited with his bride.
And then, on the first day of the New Year, another “War Bonds” reunion took place.
Zelma Garinger joined her beloved husband of 65 years, David, who passed away in 2014, before “War Bonds” was published.
Unlike James Loer, David Garinger was an avowed romantic.
In fact, this is how he described the first time he kissed Zelma on Valentine’s Day 1947.
“I had my arm around Zelma, sitting close. I smelled her sweetness. Her dark shining hair and sparkling blue eyes worked their magic on me. Our lips met for the very first time … it seemed so right. Truly she was my Valentine.”
David had served in the Marine Corps during World War II, and after returning home and marrying Zelma, he became a pastor, and later a master carpenter and contractor. He loved art, music, poetry and most of all, Zelma. Each morning, he’d deliver a cup of coffee to her bedside.
The years without him had been long. Zelma had chronic respiratory issues and suffered with chronic back pain, but she still made it to a reading of “War Bonds” at the South Hill Library in 2015.
After Zelma’s death, her daughter, Janice, wrote me a beautiful letter, sharing memories of her mom.
Zelma had returned to college and earned a teaching degree when Becky, her youngest daughter was little.
Janice wrote, “During hard times teaching children of migrant workers in California’s Central Valley, she shared with us that all her efforts were worth it if she could make a difference in the life of even one child. She was always more than just their teacher. She prayed for them and quietly reached out when there was need. Many books and supplies were personally purchased to enrich her students.
We vividly remember a tiny first-grader who was rescued many nights from her alcoholic mother, then put to bed in our parents’ home, so she could attend school the next day.”
Reading Janice’s memories of Zelma and hearing the pastor speak of James Loer’s life of service at his funeral, brought home just how much we lose as a society when another member of the Greatest Generation leaves us.
The lives they led filled with hard work, hope, courage and sacrifice are simply irreplaceable. We would do well to honor their memories by following the examples they set.
I think the inscription on James’ headstone beautifully sums up both he and Zelma’s lives.