Oh Christmas Tree …

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Happy December to you! Maybe it is because Thanksgiving was so late this year, but it is hard to believe that we are less than a month from Christmas! The reality of that sunk in this weekend as I did a couple shifts at Cars 108 and we are playing all Christmas music.

One song always really sticks out to me each Christmas, mainly because it really isn’t a Christmas song – Linus & Lucy (AKA the Charlie Brown theme) from the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun song that immediately makes be think of Charlie Brown and the gang, but it is a song that is used in basically every Charlie Brown special. Personally, the soundtrack to the Charlie Brown Christmas special is one of my favorites.

O Tannenbaum is the instrumental that kicks off the album. Many know the song as simply “Oh Christmas Tree”. (In case you were wondering, a tannenbaum is a fir tree). It’s one of my favorite versions of the song. I had the chance to hear it over the weekend and it got me to thinking about the Christmas Tree. I recently had the chance to go through a bunch of family pictures and I was surprised at how many of them included the Christmas tree. This blog is sort of a “pictorial” blog featuring some of those pictures.

As I looked through the pictures, it was fun to see the various decorations and the toys under the tree. Bear with me, as some of the years I am guessing on …

chistmas51

The above picture is of my dad in 1951. He would be 5 here. As I look at this picture, I see a little of me, my brother, and my oldest son in my dad.

mom young

The above picture is my mom. Just a guess, but this is probably from 1953 or 1954, as she looks 5-6 years old here. Tinsel seemed to be really big in the 50’s! Wonder what that “Little Painter” set is worth today….

On Leave

The above picture is my dad, home on leave from Vietnam. The date is 1967. I really have no idea what that tree is made of. Eventually, my grandma had a ceramic tree that my mom made that stood about that high that she put there in the window. This one looks … fluffy. There are pictures of my dad with both his mom and his dad next to this tree too.

My folks told me that the local paper used to put names and addresses of servicemen who were overseas in the paper for people to send letters. Both of my parents were from the same city and my mom sent my dad letters. With letters, occasional pictures were sent back and forth, too.

mom at tree

I think the above picture is one my mom sent to my dad. I am not sure. I am not sure because I don’t know where this was taken. It would seem to me that this would be a picture that she would send to my dad overseas. At any rate, some things stand out, though. Note the “sunbust” clock on the wall – I know my grandma had one of those. Also, note the cool Hi-Fi with the ceramic cat on it. This was a record player and radio. It probably also played 8 track tapes and stored records. I know my dad, and my grandpa had one of them, so again, not sure when this is.

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I know for a fact that this was taken at my grandma’s house. I know this because of the fireplace and the huge wooden fork and spoon on the wall behind the TV. In my lifetime, I don’t recall my grandparents ever putting a tree on the TV, so I am guessing this is before I came around.

I was born in May of 1970. I was 7 months old for my first Christmas. I am thankful that my folks took lots of pictures. A few of my favorites all come from 1970, all for different reasons.

Great Grandpa Becker 1970 (2)

The above picture is my and my great-grandpa. He passed away shortly after this. It is the only picture I have of him and I.

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I am not 100%, but I believe this picture was taken in my mom and dad’s apartment. My dad can correct me if I am wrong. I remember that stuffed Bugs Bunny to my right very well.

young bowler

I am pretty sure that this is at my grandma and grandpa’s house. What I love about this picture is a little foreshadowing. One of my favorite sports to participate in is bowling. I love that I am propped up next to a balling ball bag in this picture.

7 mos with Mom (2)

This is absolutely one of my favorite pictures of my mom and me. It was taken at my grandparents house, probably Christmas Eve. I love this picture so much, because it reminds me of another … which I will share in a few pictures.

pam keith sam christmas 1970

The above is obviously from the same year. This time, I am with mom and dad. My grandma always kept her house hot, so mom took off her vest. Dad, who is ALWAYS hot, must not have felt it was too warm, because his is still on here.

GRANDPA PIZZO C (2)

One more from the same year (and you won’t have to look at that brown bowling ball bag anymore!), here is my and my grandpa. I always loved this picture of us. I was his first grandchild, and you can see just how happy he is here.

Grandpa and Grandma Davidson Christmas 1970 (2)

These are my mom’s parents – Grandma and Grandpa D. The date on the picture says 1970, but another scan from my brother says 1967. Not really sure. It could easily be 1970, though. It is one of my favorites of them. The tree is in the corner where my grandpa’s recliner used to always be.

Jodi and Keith Christmas 1972

The date on the above picture is October of 72, which means I am 1 here. This is at Grandma D’s house. That is my Aunt Jodi holding the bear. Note in the background, another Hi-Fi. My grandpa used to have big band records I used to listen to on it.

1975

The above picture was taken at our old house on Brandywine. I am about 4 here and my brother is probably just 2. The thing that stands out in this picture is the ornaments on the tree. See those diamond crocheted things? Yeah, my mom made them. She had many hobbies (I have an entire blog ready about her various hobbies through the years) and this particular year, she was crocheting everything! I remember a maroon vest that she made for me! At any rate, those ornaments were two squares, with a piece of an egg carton in the middle, and a tail hanging down. I am sure she made these for many people. I remember seeing them on other family members Christmas trees, too.

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A year later, same house, and same ornaments! You can see them a little better in this picture! I am probably 5 here, while my brother is 3. This would be the last Christmas at this house, as we moved the following year. A couple things (besides the ornaments) stand out in the picture. First, there is the organ I used to play, and mentioned in the blog about my music lessons. Next, I remember the Ernie and Big Bird stuffed animals! Then there is that picture above the organ – it’s two horses. I think everyone in my family had that picture!! Finally, and this should get my wife’s OCD going, note that I am wearing the pants from one pair of PJs and the shirt from another in this picture! Good Lord!!!

Mom, Chris, & Keith Xmas 79

The picture above has to be from 1977. My grandma bought us each a set of Star Wars figures that year. I think there were like 20 issued the first year. I remember my grandma having trouble finding the Jawa figures! This picture would have been Christmas morning, and we had gotten the figures the night before at grandma’s. If I remember right, we had the big Han Solo and Jawa dolls (pictured here) and Boba Fett and Princess Leia, too. What I love most about this picture is that my mom is in it wearing this yellow robe. I have written about her yellow robe in previous blogs. She wore this thing SO much that it was stained and had tears and holes in it. She loved this robe. Eventually we bought her a new one for Christmas one year and she wore that. We assumed that she threw this one away, but after she passed away, we found it in the back of the closet! I have a “memory bear” made out of this robe.

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The above has to be from 1978. If you can look past my brother’s golf pants and my wacky shirt, you will see a Tie Fighter and X-Wing Fighter. You can see the tree set up on the TV, but cannot really see the amazing display on my grandma’s mantel. Every year, she put up angels, Santa, reindeer, trees, snow and more. There was one piece that always stood out – a little mouse that was in a flower arrangement that I sent her when she was in the hospital. She put that up every year!

Keith Doctor Doctor game

It obviously took my folks awhile to develop film! This is from Christmas of 78, and was not developed until August of 79! First, I love how skinny I am in this picture! Second, I remember having the sliding wooden doors that covered the doorwall. I also remember the bad paneling in the living room! I can see the Polaroid camera on the TV, the candy jar, and the glass candle sticks that my mom had. I wish I could make out more of the presents under the tree, but I remember really wanting this game. I also remember that star on the tree. It was made of hard plastic and the ends were very sharp! It could probably be used as a weapon!!

Grandma and Grandpa Xmas 79

The above picture is of my dad’s folks, my Grandma and Grandpa P. This was in 1979 – I remember that was the year that everyone was taking Polaroids! At family gatherings, everyone took pictures and wrote their last name on the bottom, so they knew what pictures belonged to what family! A couple things I notice right away: The tree topper, I never understood just what the hell it was! It wasn’t a star, it was just this spaceship shaped thing that lit up! I remember the musical angels on the wall. They moved from room to room as I recall. Grandma’s beehive hair! She wore it this way for SO long!! I also notice the pack of cigarettes in my grandpa’s pocket – you could bet they were either Lucky Strikes or Pall Malls. It looks like he is wearing a bracelet in this picture. I don’t remember him wearing one, but he did here. Just love this picture!!

cousins

The above is from 1980. This is my brother and me, with my cousins Arin and Melissa. This is at my Grandma and Grandpa D’s. A couple thoughts on this one – I am holding the very cool Coleco Head to Head Baseball game which I loved! I do not remember that bear I am holding! This is probably the year that my grandpa bought me my cribbage board, too! What is sad about this picture, is knowing that my grandpa would pass away in less than a year after this picture was taken.

mom dante

Jumping many years ahead now for the above picture. Remember the picture of my mom and me by the tree? It reminds me of this picture. Here is my mom and Dante’. This may not have been her last Christmas, I think Dante is 2 here. She loved him so much and I see the same joy in her smile here as I do in the picture of her holding me.

boys at trailer

The above picture is about a year or so before my divorce. I just love this picture because these two guys (no matter how much they may fight) really love each other. This was such a spontaneous picture and it remains one of my favorites of the boys!

boys last year

The above picture is from last Christmas Eve morning. Christmas Eve was always bigger than Christmas on my dad’s side of the family. The fact that I get the boys every Christmas Eve Morning to open up gifts is so special to me. I cannot wait until they can celebrate it with their sister. They are going to be such great brothers to her.

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The above picture is from 2018 (on the right) and 2017 (on the left). When we first got Moe (left) he got up in the tree! When Maizey came along last year, the fact that she was almost in the same exact spot as Moe the year before made me laugh. So I put together this comparison picture. It still makes me laugh!!

sam at tree

This picture (along with the song I mentioned earlier) was the reason for this blog. As I mentioned, so many favorite pictures involve the Christmas tree. I took this picture of Sam just the other night. It was her idea. The silhouette of her baby bump against the lights of the Christmas tree is just beautiful!! I posted it on Facebook (she did, too) and mention how I cannot stop looking at it!

The reason is that it brings about so many feelings: Feelings of love for my beautiful wife. Feelings of joy and nostalgia – because it is Christmastime and the Christmas Tree. Feelings of excitement and anticipation – because the baby will be here soon. Feelings of happiness – because the picture brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

In the years ahead, I hope that more and more wonderful pictures will be captured near the Christmas tree … so I can reflect on them, too!

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Voices of the Past

This weekend, I DJ’d homecoming dance.  For high schools, all my new music is on a hard drive and I play it from the computer.  When I do weddings or parties, I still bring some CDs.  Recently, I have been going through boxes of CDs in hopes of putting what I don’t have on my hard drive, on the drive.

While most of my CDs are professional ones containing albums and music, I have some homemade CDs of things that I have burned to CD from various places I have worked.  I found 2 CDs marked “B95 Stuff” and “More B95 Stuff” in a box and took them with me to listen to in the car.  I was unsure if these CDs were data or audio CDs.  When I popped them in the CD player, I was happy to find they contained audio clips.

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Most of the audio was phone calls from listeners.  I used to do an “impossible question” every day for prizes and there were many phoners of listeners guessing the answer.  One of my favorite calls was on the first disc.  A woman caller simply asked, “Yes, is the answer poop?  Going poop!?”  Like the word poop wasn’t enough … she had to explain “going poop”!  There were also many requests, as I did a request lunch show.

I also found some interviews with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tim Rushlow from Little Texas, and Terri Clark.  Some of the phoners were just silly things, I used to have listeners say things like “Keith Allen?  They let him out on parole?” or “I love every thing about this station, but Keith Allen!” or “Keith Allen?  Turn that radio off!”  There were a couple calls that took me by surprise.

Call #1

The first one was hearing a call with my friend, Marie.  If you read my previous blog, Marie was my friend who just passed away last week.

That blog is here: https://nostalgicitalian.com/2019/09/21/time-life-death-ripples/

There were actually 2 calls from her on that disc.  One of them she wins a contest I was doing, and another she called to talk about watching Trace Adkins rear end when he was in concert.  (There were other females who called to talk about his butt, as well.)

She was one of those friends who would do anything for you.  When my oldest son was born, she had this beautiful blanket made with his name on it and also had a small photo album made with an engraved nameplate.  When my youngest was born, she bought him one of my favorite outfits.  I spoke with her just a few days before she passed and she was asking what we needed for the baby.  She was always doing things for her friends.  While it was nice to hear us joking around about Trace’s butt on the CD, it was sad to remember that she has just passed away.  Her funeral is Wednesday.

Call #2

The second call was one from my friend Pat.  I always called her Pat, but I think most people called her Trish.  I also met Pat while at B95.  She was forever trying to win prizes.  She always came up to our remote broadcasts and talked with us.  She was a HUGE fan of the band Alabama.  She used to call up and say that she was lead singer, Randy Owen’s wife.  I used to kid her and ask is his wife knew about that!  She and I had a lot in common, and became good friends.  She was a huge Elvis fan and we often talked about him and his music.  I remember how excited she was when she told me she was going to Graceland.  I had been there while in Memphis for a St. Jude visit, and I told her how much she was going to love it.

The first time Pat won a prize from me she was SO excited.  “I won?!  OH MY GOD!!  WE DID IT!  WE WON!!!  THIS IS AMAZING!!!  (Laughter) I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!”  It was such a great response that I used to use that call as my “stunt winner”.  If we ever had someone win a prize who was not excited about it, I’d say “Bring in the stunt winner” and play Pat’s call!  The call on the CD was when she won some hockey tickets and she kept saying how much her boys were going to love it.  She passed away suddenly in 2014, leaving behind her four boys and a granddaughter who she spoke of so often.    She was such a wonderful person and we shared many laughs together.

Call #3

The third call that got me was a call I made to my grandma.  Phone calls from my grandma were a staple on the show.  I used to call her every Christmas Eve (if I worked on the holiday) or the day before.  Christmas Eve was ALWAYS at her house – I wrote a blog about it here:

https://nostalgicitalian.com/2018/12/24/the-ghost-of-christmas-eve-past-and-yet-to-come/

The phone call would consist of me asking grandma what was for dinner.  She would go on to talk about homemade ravioli, breaded steak and ammoglio (pronounced moy-gyoo) sauce, the many varieties of cookies, cakes, and cannoli, and the other items featured in the Christmas Eve Feast.  This call, however, was NOT about Christmas Eve, which is what made it even more special.

This call actually helps me date the CDs.  This call was made July 24, 2001.  How do I know this?  I was calling grandma to wish her Happy Birthday.  During the call she offers up without hesitation that she is 77.  She goes on to talk about how my dad was razzing her about something and then asks when I am coming over.  She then went on to tell me how I needed to come see her “while my eyes are still open” because “I’m not going to be around much longer” as she often said.

It was emotional to hear her voice.  She was sharp as a tack for so long.  She was your stereotypical strong willed Italian woman.  Knowing that shortly after that call, she would develop dementia was sad.  She passed away in 2007, at age 83.  Hearing her say “I love you” one more time on the phone – was priceless.

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A Recovered Memory

I must have been doing a phone topic about teddy bears.  There was probably a story about people sleeping with Teddy Bears or something, which led me to ask “Who still sleeps with a Teddy Bear?” or “Who still has their Teddy Bear from their childhood?”.  The calls were about bears and toys that they had growing up.  I don’t remember what the caller is talking about, but I respond about something I had growing up that I had totally forgotten about.  This has a tie-in to my grandma, who I just mentioned.

It is funny how you can forget about things.  I will forever remember a Teddy Bear that I had when I was little.  I had it with me in the hospital when I had my tonsils out at 3 years old.  The thing I had forgotten about is something I probably had around 5-7 years old.  It was a hand puppet of Ernie from Sesame Street.  Today, PBS has tons of kid shows.  As I remember, Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood were pretty much it on PBS.  On CBC there was Mr. Dress-up and The Friendly Giant, but that was it. Sesame Street was my “go to” show.  I think somewhere there is a picture of me with Ernie and Bert slippers!

What do I remember most about this Ernie puppet?  First, the head was not felt like the real Muppet.  It was a hard rubber/plastic.  This helped when you went to make him talk.  I guess I took him everywhere.  I remember I’d bring him over to my grandma’s house and she would tease me.  She’d put a lit cigarette in Ernie’s mouth and make him smoke.  I hated that!  “Ernie doesn’t smoke, grandma!  That’s bad for you!”  Grandma never said his name right.  She always called him “Arnie”.  I remember her telling me when I was older that when my brother and I stayed overnight there I used to make her kiss Ernie goodnight!  “I had to kiss that dirty old Arnie!”  I literally just chuckled out loud as I wrote that because I can hear her saying it!

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In Conclusion

I have CDs of my Honey Radio shows with my partner, Rob (https://nostalgicitalian.com/2018/04/26/get-a-load-of-this-guy/), which I listen to often.  I still laugh along with them.  He always made me laugh.  While I am sad that he has passed away, I think he’d be happy to know that I still listen to those shows and they are still funny 25 years later!

I’m glad that I decided to pop those CDs in and give them a listen.  Much like the CDs of Rob and me, these also made me chuckle, but also made me sad.  At the same time, they are a reminder of good friends and family, who continue to make ripples (see previous blog) long after they have gone.

 

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Eve Past (and Yet To Come)

Grandma and Grandpa E (2)

For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve was always spent with Grandma and Grandpa P. when we were kids.  I don’t necessarily know that there was any particular reason for this, I only know that from a very young age, this was the tradition. I also remember that dreaming of a White Christmas was hardly ever necessary.  If my memory serves me right, as a kid, there was maybe one or two Christmases that were we didn’t have snow.

The excitement for Christmas Eve was a bit different from Christmas Day.  Grandma and Grandpa always seemed to ask for our Christmas list early …. like July early!  She obviously planned ahead and shopped throughout the year, which must have saved her a ton of hassles finding things.  We usually were dressed and ready to go to Grandma’s house by 2 or 3pm. We would leave knowing at least one thing we were getting – a winter coat.  She got us one every year (which we hated, because she’d take us out shopping for it as early as October!).

Christmas Jackets

Christmas Eve dinner was always the same with very little variance.  Ravioli was the main dish.  There would be a feast that included breaded steak, sausage or meatballs, dinner rolls, and just about every other things you could imagine. Grandma prided herself on being able to make dinner that could feed an army! Grandma always made her Ammoghio (pronounced Moy-Gyoo) sauce to go on top of the steak.  This was made up of olive oil, tomatoes, some seasonings and a WHOLE LOT of garlic!  I never ate it as a kid, but as an adult – I love it!  Everyone who ate it smelled like garlic for like a week!

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There was always a dish with olives (green and black), sweet pickles, and veggies.  You would also find a big bowl with pistachios, and another one filled with nuts of all kinds.  The nuts were still in the shells, so you had to crack them open with the old silver nutcracker that was probably older than my grandma!  I can’t remember, but I think there was also a bowl or two of M&M’s and Hershey’s Kisses out to snack on, too.

For dessert – there were ALWAYS cannoli! Early on I think she made them from scratch (I may have her recipe somewhere), but I really remember her getting them from the Italian bakery.  There were also always plenty of cookies!  Grandma spent days baking them and by the time she was done, I think she had like 400 dozen!  She used to store them in these big tin cans that Better Made Potato Chips used to come it.  She always made chocolate chip for me, oatmeal for my brother, cut out sugar cookies and these little ice box cookies that none of us ate … well, I can’t say that … we fed them to the dogs and they seemed to like them a lot!

I recall the year that my grandmother bought my brother and I every Star Wars Figure that was out.  There were one or two that were very difficult to find, but she found them.  We each got a set!  Then there was the year she bought us the Atari 2600!  This was long before the fantastic graphics of Play Station or X-Box.  The games on this thing were very primitive as far as graphics went!  Oh, the hours I spent playing Sea Hunt, Pac-Man, and Pitfall!!  Even after all of the gifts were open, there was always an envelope for us.  For many years there would be a crisp $100 bill in it.  $100 was a LOT of money and I was always amazed at how new the bill was – it was almost like she had printed it herself!

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One Christmas Eve I remember particularly well.  Unlike previous years, when we came in the house, we were ushered immediately downstairs.  Usually, we went into the sun porch off the back of her house, where tables would be set for dinner and food would be out.  This year, dinner was in the basement.  We hardly EVER went in the basement, so I wasn’t sure what was happening.  In the middle of dinner, we heard a noise from upstairs.  Someone was walking (actually stomping, I think) around upstairs.  I think she had my great Uncle Ralph some in and do it.  My grandma said that Santa was probably up there leaving presents.  It was well before midnight, and you know how kids are – we knew that Santa came at midnight and we questioned it.  Grandma said she had called and “made special arrangements with Santa”.  Looking back on it now, I can totally see Grandma like Don Corleone of the Godfather making “special arrangements” with Santa!  At any rate, soon after the noise was gone, we were allowed to go upstairs and into the porch.  I am sure I am over exaggerating when I say that the porch looked like Toys R Us!  It was loaded with presents and a bike for both my bother and me.  I don’t even know how we got the presents home!

After dinner and presents, my brother and I would go watch movies, play the video games, or with our toys, while the adults went back into the porch to smoke and play cards.  Pinochle was what they usually played, although I seem to remember one year they also played gin rummy.  Depending on the people who were present, sometimes dad will play his guitar, Uncle Sam would play his accordion, or grandma would sit on the old Hammond organ and sing songs and play. Grandma played by ear and had no sense of tempo (or time signature for you musical folks), so she was either hitting wrong notes or playing ahead or behind everyone else.  From a child’s perspective, the music wasn’t very good, so my brother and I would go to another room.

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When I had finally learned how to play pinochle, I was a welcome addition to the card table.  My dad played, but he was usually done after a few games, so I gradually took his place as a “regular” at the table.  I LOVED this!  We could play forever!  Grandpa and mom were always partners.  He would often over bid my mom because he thought he had a good hand, then they would lose the hand.  They would get so mad at each other.

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I remember before I started playing, they would play cards until well after midnight.  My brother and I would be struggling to stay awake, our job was to remind mom and dad of how late it was getting – God forbid Santa not come because we weren’t home and in bed! Dad would constantly remind us that he paid for Santa to bring toys, and Santa would “circle the house” until we were home and in bed before delivering the toys.

When I began working in radio, it seemed that I was always on the air on Christmas Eve.  One of the “on air” traditions that I started was to call grandma and ask her how the preparations for dinner were coming. She would go into detail about what was on the menu and what time dinner was.  She would often razz me on the air and warned me not to be late.  She was an instant hit.  It was amazing how many people would call and ask if I was gonna check in with Grandma!

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Over the years, the faces of Christmas Eve changed.  Some years there were more relatives than others.  Aunt Rose became a staple after Uncle Sam passed away.  After Grandpa passed away, friends of the family often came by and the pinochle games continued.  As the years passed, there seemed to be more reflecting on Christmas Eves of the past with laughter and sadness.

Over the last few years, Christmas and Christmas Eve has undergone many more changes.  While many of the voices of Christmas Eve have been silenced, those wonderful memories warm my heart.  I look back at the memories fondly, and I also look forward to the new memories that will be made.  This year, my two amazing sons will be with us Christmas Eve morning to open presents with us.  They are older, but still full of excitement.  When they saw the gifts under the tree their reactions were typical for their age.  Dimitri, 11, saw the big box and said “Whoa, is that for us?”, while Dante’, 16, said “Is this all of the presents, or will there be more?”

I sit writing this as everyone in the house is still asleep.  Sam and I have joked around at what is in the big box under the tree more than once.  The camera is ready to capture the moments from this Christmas Eve, ready to provide them both with memories to look back on themselves in years to come.  I hope that someday, they will look back at Christmas Eve as one of their favorite holidays, just like I do.

Mom Dad Keith and Chris 1980