December 18, 2009

Christmas memories

Surprise visit is best Christmas gift ever

By Margie Walke (Special to The Criterion)

Christmas Eve in 1985 started out with the usual flurry of activities. The cooking, cleaning and gift-wrapping were finished, and my older sisters, Lea and Sandy, would soon be arriving with their families.

Our normal festivities called for gathering around the tree to open presents then helping ourselves to a bounteous buffet of Cornish hens with all the trimmings.

Finally, we would call my brother, Ernie, and his family in Florida. They had moved there in 1977, but due to time constraints could never make it home for Christmas so we had to rely on a phone call to celebrate the holidays with them.

On this particular Christmas Eve, around 4 p.m., my sister Linda and I were upstairs changing into our Christmas finery. Our sister Sandy had arrived and was in the kitchen with Mom. Dad was down the street sharing a bit of Christmas cheer with some friends.

I heard the front door open followed by shouts and screams. Linda rushed down to see what was going on, and immediately called up the stairs for me to “get down here!”

I flew down the steps, and there in the middle of the living room stood Ernie, Connie, Jeff, Tammy and Ben engaged in a giant hug with Linda, Mom and Sandy. The surprise and joy were overwhelming. We laughed, we cried, we hugged.

Our sister Lea soon arrived, and we laughed and cried and hugged all over again.

Ernie went to meet Dad, who got a big smile on his face and exclaimed, “What the heck are you doing here?”

Amidst all the excitement that night, Mom never did get to change into her Christmas dress, and the tater-tot casserole came to the table still mostly frozen because the oven hadn’t been turned on soon enough. But what a great time we had! Many prayers of thanks were offered at Christmas Mass.

This wonderful surprise had been planned for some time, and everything worked exactly as it had to for that holiday. Connie and the younger kids, Tammy and Ben, left Florida on Sunday, driving in their van and stopping at motels in Georgia and Kentucky overnight. Ernie and Jeff had to work on Monday so they flew home on Tuesday morning.

Connie was waiting for them at the Cincinnati airport in the midst of a blizzard-like snowstorm. But suddenly, as if on cue, the snow stopped, the clouds parted and the plane landed on time.

Mother Nature had done her part by giving us a white Christmas, but not so white that it interfered with the Christmas surprise.

The surprise visit was the best Christmas gift that any of us received that year or any other Christmas after that!

(Margie Walke is a member of St. Louis Parish in Batesville.)

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