Christmas Past

James M. Rohner | December 2015

    When the open house popped up on a recent Sunday, my sister and I had to go. The house where we spent our junior high and high school years was up for sale. We dragged along a couple of members of the next generation and went over to inspect. Shiny hardwood floors had been installed where a rainbow’s worth of bad carpet used to be. The basement that used to flood had been optimistically furnished. The realtor quickly realized that we were not going to buy.
    As we finished our nostalgia trip, my mind drifted back to the many Christmases we celebrated on that street. Our biggest tradition was a round of enthusiastic caroling on Christmas. We came equipped with a metal violin, a trumpet, and my trombone that did not like temperatures below 32. The carols came from 1960s set of books arranged by our grandfather (Instrumentalist founder, Traugott Rohner), complete with a slightly trippy cover. The cast of characters changed yearly as various friends and relatives joined the fun. If you did not bring an instrument (or it froze), you sang. 
    Two memories stand out from these musical adventures in the winter wonderland. First, for a family of musicians, we were pretty terrible singers. Intonation on the instruments was rough enough in the cold, but our choir sounded positively tone deaf at times. We definitely made up for these deficiencies with our enthusiasm as many houses invited us in for cookies after our song. The most touching part of event each years was driving over to play for our grandparents. In later years, my grandfather suffered a stroke, and it meant so much to him to hear several of his grandchildren play using the carol books he had arranged so many years earlier.
    My other strong holiday memory from those years was selling Christmas trees for my Boy Scout troop. For many of the boys and their parents, working on the lot was an unpleasant chore. The kids spent their two-hour shifts looking for various types of mild mischief. For reasons that escape me, I loved it. There were three basic types of customers. The indecisive ones  made you stand up every tree in the lot before doubling back to the first one you found. The harried parents who came often wanted to pick a tree and escape before their young kids started hitting each other with stray tree branches. The easiest were those customers who were already shell-shocked by over-zealous holiday employees at the mall and wanted no help.
    One snowy Saturday, an elderly woman showed up and wanted to purchase eight or nine trees and have them delivered to her house. The adult on duty quickly replied that we didn’t deliver, but the woman won us over. She recalled the magical Christmases she celebrated with her son, who had long ago moved away. That year, he was coming into town, and she wanted to recreate the sparkling holidays of the past. We made the delivery.
    I enjoy the holidays ever more as I get older. When you are a kid, the thought of getting a new bike or the latest toy can be all consuming. I know one young boy who eagerly mailed off his list to Santa by mid-November. I am drawn to the redemptive quality of the holidays. It is a chance to take stock of the year, to forgive yourself  and make amends for mistakes during the year. Some years, the list of mistakes and regrets is long, but not this year. May the holidays be magical for you and your families!

James M. Rohner

(P.S. Santa, can we try again on that Cubs World Series? I’ve been very good.)