In many ways, I am glad this portion of the holiday season is over. I am always amazed to hear the stress in the voices of others as they prepare for this season. I hear how others agonize over shopping and wrapping – several friends writing me after I arrived in Indiana, telling me how stressed they were. Of course, my friend Doug, a Methodist minister and single father of four sons, was more overwhelmed due to the fact his organist had a fall and was unable to play for Christmas Eve services – and he still had not finished all his shopping, etc. Other musician friends were behind in their preparations due to all the concerts and their own performances…

Several years back, I decided I would not allow the stress of the season to invade my life. Yes, with two sons performing in choirs and/or show choirs, as well as students (and four schools also decided the three weeks of December were ideal for musical auditions to further add to the stress of the students and faculty!), it is still busy – however, I stay in control. My cards were prepared right after Thanksgiving and sent out the first week of December; all my shopping was completed and wrapped by December 16 so it could be sent home with my sister when we met to trade off my nephew; and I literally stayed in control of my family calendar so that we were not overwhelmed with activities. It was great. And, I refused to allow the stress of others to envelope me or the boys. It was very pleasant, and so enjoyable. The best part was spending so much time with our family friends prior to the holidays.

Christmas Eve morning we woke early to be at my sister’s for the annual family breakfast buffet where other family members, friends, neighbors, classmates, teachers, co-workers, ploice officers on duty (or off) – well, it seems as though the entire city of Elwood belches through the front and side doors for this event. Many look forward to this, and Dena, the ultimate chef and caterer, has the best spread prepared for this event. I always enjoy seeing neighbors and friends from my youth, and spending some time chatting. A neighbor of my parents’ – and now my sister who lives in the old family home – was there, and we had our doubts as to whether she would physically be able to attend. Brenda has been battling cancer for several years and the hideous disease has reared an even uglier head, depleting her of her energy. However, Brenda walked over to the house, and enjoyed herself immensely.

The day was spent visiting with family and friends, and I even worked in a two hour nap. My sister, Autumn, returned from Muncie and her youngest son, Michael, 18, a freshman at St. Joseph College in northern Indiana, arrived. Michael is majoring in biology but is wanting to switch to art or graphic arts. He is a fantastic artist, and he pulled me aside to discuss the pro’s and con’s, which I appreciated. I told him to do what he wanted to do. My dad, though well meaning, is excited that Michael was considering a career in medicine; however, it is ultimately Michael’s decision. It was getting close to dinner time and my 17 year old nephew, Justin, Christopher’s son, had not arrived from Alabama where he had visited his birth mother. Autumn’s daughter, Kelli, 22, had driven down to the airport in Indianapolis to get him, but they were running behind schedule. Dad was wanting me to chat with Justin about his career choice – theatre. Dad said, “I want my grandsons to do what they enjoy what they do, but I am worried about trying to make a life in theatre…” Then he looked over and said, “I know you have done well, but you were always more of a director – the ‘take-charge’ fellow… Justin isn’t.” Since I did not get to chat with Justin I will try to do so before I return to Ohio.

In the evening, Mother, the boys, Dena, my nephews and I drove to Muncie for a Chinese supper. Christmas Eve 2000, Mother and I discovered she and I were the only ones remaining home so we drove towards Indianapolis, finding a Chinese restaurant open. That has become our traditional Christmas Eve haunt. This year, we made a change in venue since Dena and the boys were joining us. We returned to Elwood with several hours of down time before our Christmas Eve services at the Christian Church. I began going there in 7th grade, as a guest of my band director, Paula Simmons, and the junior high secretary, Jeanette Fortson, who passed away this fall. We would finish up our family Christmas Eve gathering, head to Ford Street United Methodist Church, and Paula would pick me up for the East Main Street Christian Church’s service which always began with thirty minutes of special music at 10:30pm, the cantata/candlelight service starting at 11:00pm. This year, for some reason, did not feel like Christmas Eve. I think the boys and I both would have preferred to be back in Dayton, attending CE services where we have been attending regular Sunday worship. After this year’s CE service, it felt even less like Christmas Eve! The special music in previous years, was always beautiful. This year a projection screen lowered and a lady at the baby grand led the congregation in familiar tunes, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and “White Christmas” and several other familiar melodies which, to me, were terribly inappropriate for the service. Each year, the minister seems to grow more and more evangelical, almost to the point of portraying a pentacostal, and by the end of this year’s service I was prepared for him to thrash about the alter speaking in tongues. I just felt as though there was little preparation and planning, and the service fell short of what we generally experience. When we were with Jeff and AJ Friday, I almost asked if they minded us attending services with them.

Christmas morning Mother went to Dena’s to watch the nephews unwrap their presents from Santa. Since I had finally fallen asleep around 2:00am due to a fantastic History channel presentation, I took this opportunity to sleep in. After showering, everyone descended upon the house for gifts and dinner, which was delicious. Dena, Destin and I had a quilt designed for Mother will all our photos on it – and we had been so careful with not divulging anything… well, Dena, Destin and I unwrapped very similar quilts Mother had hired the same lady make for each of our families! The best laid plans… I also got a digital camera from my sister, many nice sweaters, and a ton of other wonderful gifts. And of course, my sons were flying high with portable DVD players, lazer tag games, clothes, Hummers…

Christmas Eve night was quiet. Dena had all the nephews for the night and the house here was quiet. I almost called Jeff and AJ, but decided they were probably busy. Around 10:30pm I discovered I had left my cell phone in the car and when I retrieved it, I found a four hour old message from Jeff. But, I felt it was too late since they were leaving for Lee Summit, Missouri to spend the remainder of the holiday with Jeff’s family.

I woke this morning to begin taking down all the decorations. I called Jeff and AJ, who were on the road, and learned that I could have spent Christmas Eve with them, as well as last evening when I had some down time. Dena brought my freshly showered sons back here and we completed the transformation by noon.

Thus, the celebrations of Christmas 2005 has come to a close. Tuesday night we celebrate my nephew, Jon’s 8th birthday and we return to Dayton with two extra boys -Jonathan and Andrew. We will go to the Air Force Museum, the Cincy Zoo, the Newport Acquarium and some other things; Thursday I will teach a few students; Friday, I will find some New Year’s Eve event like we did last year (seeing Dora The Explorer at Riverscape since Jonathan loves Dora). Sunday, we will attend services and then return to Indiana to drop off the boys. I am hoping to spend some time with some friends, as well.

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