As a child, my longing for Christmas began in earnest with the last bite of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Every December, without fail, our parents returned to their ancestral roots. Dad indulged his merrymaking Irish self, while mom called upon her Scandinavian traditions to rejoice in the winter darkness itself by filling our house with warmth and light. Together they filled the entire month with pure magical delight.
The shuttered windows of our advent calendars began opening the first day of December. Each morning revealed a tiny image of a wreath, a candy cane, a star, a snowflake––we knew each object and more would soon appear as our house transformed into Christmas. Holiday music was strictly forbidden before Dec. 1. But on that day my little sister and I rushed home from school to break out the collection of holiday vinyl: Bing Crosby, Christmas with Conniff, Andy Williams and much later Barbara Streisand. We knew every word by heart as we sang and danced circles around the big coffee table in the living room for hours.
It was a different time. Two incomes weren’t mandatory. Our mother stayed home full-time and our father worked in sales. The world ran at a slower pace.
My father loved the holiday season more than anyone I’ve ever known. Kind-hearted and gregarious, he was filled with unexpected surprises––like the year he brought home a lonesome hitchhiker, U.S. Army Private Joe Klee, only 19 years old and on his first holiday away from his Arkansas home. It was as if our house was the set of a 1940s holiday classic movie where a sentimental tune was just around the corner. Anything could happen.
The Key Peninsula is a lot like that too: where things happen serendipitously at just the right moment. There are heartwarming stories to be discovered, all-around us, just beneath the surface. We hear about them from you and witness these unsung gestures of kindness ourselves time and again.
An older man is paying for his groceries in cash, but finds himself short a couple of bucks. He checks his pockets for more, then begins surveying what items to return to the shelf, when the young man standing in line behind him reaches to touch the old man’s arm. “Hey gramps, I got it. You keep your money.” Seeing the quizzical looks on the faces of the old man and the checker, the young man says, “Karma. I’m just paying it forward. Glad to be able to do it.”
There are more spontaneous, unsolicited, random acts of kindness surrounding us than our busy list-driven minds allow us to see. When focused in the moment to what is actually happening in real time around you, you’ll begin to notice far more of these courteous gestures than you think. Whether it’s helping an older person carry groceries to their car, or being mentally present enough to notice the person behind you in line with nothing but a head of garlic and a frantic look. Suggesting they go ahead of you, with your full shopping cart, is a small act of courtesy that not only adds up but also multiplies.
Some of us, myself included, have lived through years when a dark melancholy sets in that makes the holiday season feel shallow and empty. Even holding on to sweet memories of Christmas past, the fun and color seem absent. But like most feelings, good or bad, they come and they go. You will feel better again.
These darkest days of winter are a time for slowing down, to focus on the inner light of the people you love the most. May your holidays be filled with wonder, and an enduring awareness that the most satisfying gift of all is the time we spend enjoying each other.
My dad has been gone many years now, but I can almost hear his voice in the back of my mind suggesting we all be on the lookout for “a weary traveler who longs to be home for the holidays too.”
In my unofficial holiday handbook, the most wise of all are those who understand that life can change in an instant; we will remember and cherish the times we spent playing together far more than the mountain of gifts we can no longer recall.
Demonstrating that good things really do come to those who wait, we are bubbling over with gratitude that Ted Olinger returns to the Key Peninsula News as Associate Editor. Ted exponentially raised the bar for KP News with his work as Executive Editor and his addition to our team in this new role is the best gift ever. Our thanks go to the readers who strongly supported community journalism to make this dream a reality.