Thursday, December 26, 2013

Best Christmas Memory

I was just reading posts on Facebook, and I came across one from a friend, Harlan Barnhart.  Essentially, he was asking what everyone’s favorite Christmas memory was.  I smiled as I read the comments about the childhood memories people had shared at that point. Obviously, it made me start thinking, and that thinking eventually lead to me write a blog about it.
Flocking around Santa at the Annual Cook Christmas Party

Immediately,   I was taken back to 7th grade and the pile of skis, poles, and boots that were found under the tree that year. I also had quick visions of my freshman year at Slippery Rock and my very first Penguins jersey, it was a gift from my sister, Amy.  I also remember opening my first box of Lego’s, and to this day, I still love sitting on the floor, amidst a pile of assorted pieces, while I look for the perfect one to finish whatever I am building at the time. And the Radio Shack TRS-80 that was supposedly a joint gift to be shared by my two sisters and me, but somehow became the prized possession of my dad, he even built his man cave around it. Then I was ashamed that I had overlooked the greatest gift I have ever gotten, my dog Brady.  And as I sat there smiling as I reminisced about all of the wonderful gifts I was given over the years, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe I was missing Harlan’s point.
I loved this drum!

I shifted  mental gears and started thinking about the perfect (in my mind) gifts I had given (or was about to give this year).  After all, they always say it’s better to give than to receive, and I’ve always taken pride in my ability to come up with great gifts for the people around me.  As I let myself start to travel down this path of thinking, in the back of my head I knew this wasn’t even what I should be looking into. Harlan’s post was about sharing our favorite Christmas memory.  After a stroll down memory lane, it was rather apparent that one memory stood above all others as my favorite Christmas memory to share: Christmas, 1983.
That was the year our house burned the day after Christmas. Now, your immediate impression may be that I must have fallen and hit my head during my recent trip to Ray’s Indoor Mountainbike Park.  But nothing like that happened, and if you look at it from the right perspective, it makes complete sense. That was the year we piled into my dad’s version of the Family Truckster and headed for the coast of Maine to spend the holidays with my mom’s parents. And Christmas was awesome. The thing I remember most was that my grandparents had a live tree and planned on replanting it that spring. At the time, I had never heard of anyone doing such a great thing, and as I grew up and saw more and more people doing that, I just assumed that they had copied my grandparents idea. The other thing I remember was that on the 26th we were making plans to go skiing at the SnowBowl in Camden, ME.  At that point, I had never been skiing before and as you can imagine, I was thrilled at the prospect of what layed ahead of me.  I remember how difficult it was to sleep that night, almost more difficult than on Christmas eve.  And the next morning I remember buzzing around the house with tremendous expectations. If we were going to go skiing, it was going to have to be that day, because there was a storm coming.  Well, the storm came early, in the form of a phone call from Bob Faddis. (see #13)
Yes, this is Chrsitmas in Maine... not much snow, but still it was snow!

Bob is arguably my dad’s best friend.  And the only phone call I EVER remember my dad getting from Bob in all the years of vacationing was regarding when Joe Cook (also see #13) fell off a ladder while doing some roofing at the Greene County Museum.  I remember being in the basement when the phone rang. I believe my grandfather answered it, and when he called out “ Gary, its Bob Faddis”, I knew something bad was about to be announced.  I even had a fleeting thought that our house had burned but I quickly dismissed that as nonsense. We weren’t even there to make THAT happen.  But I was wrong, and that was exactly what my dad shared when he got off the phone.  We went from packing for a day of skiing heaven to packing for a trip from hell. Within an hour, the car was packed and we were piling in to head back south to Waynesburg. My Dad’s parents lived in Chatham, NJ so we would go that far before we would continue on to complete the trip the following day. It was going to be tight because my Aunt Gayle was there for the holidays with 3 of her 4 boys as well as my Uncle Glenn and his girlfriend, Claire. The tiny 3 bedroom house was packed to the gills with 7 adults, 3 teenagers, 3 preteens, and a dog. My parents stayed at a neighbor’s house around the corner, because there just wasn’t enough room in the inn.  I was sleeping on an air mattress or couch in the basement with both my sisters and my 3 cousins.  Throughout the night, the storm hit and instead of being pounded by a foot of snow, it turned out to be an inch of ice. You literally could not move outside without falling down because everything was covered in a thick layer of ice.  We were stuck and not able to go anywhere. We spent the next couple days trapped in a house that hadn’t seen a new toy since the early 50’s and we forced to find ways to entertain ourselves.  It was a challenge to keep from getting in trouble because we were literally tripping over each other in the small house.   But it had to be a more of a challenge for the adults to have to put up with all our shenanigans and not want to kill us.  And there were lots of shenanigans. I mean lots.
Newspaper Clipping from the Democrat Messenger


Flames out the basement door

Fire Truck parked in front of the house

All buttoned when we got home from Maine/New Jersey

Essentially the view from my bed (see foot board on the bed) looking into mom and dads room

Bikes in the basement. Believe it or not, my Grandfather rebuilt 2 of these and the last I knew, these were still being ridden.

Shenanigans... as if you doubted me (actually taken the following Christmas and the only other year I got to spend Christmas with my cousins from New Hampshire)

It was the first Christmas that I got to share with any of my cousins.  While the catalyst for the occasion was among the worst possible ideas one could imagine, we made the best of it. I’m sure mom and dad wanted nothing more than to hurry home to see the damage done and begin the hard work needed to create a new home for our family.  But for me, I wanted nothing more than a few extra days of making memories with my cousins, and that’s what we were blessed with.  I look back on that time knowing that while it changed our lives, it ultimately changed them for the better. 
Merry Christmas from the Big Guy himself, as well as from Amber, Mackenzie and Santa Claus!

So Harlan, that’s my favorite holiday memory, and thanks for inspiring me to really reflect back on the 41 past Christmases. If I wasn’t already in the holiday spirit, I know i would be now.  I am excited to start making another round of memories with my family this year. While the gifts we get and give are exciting in the present, it’s the memories we make that are important for the future so we can look back on our past.  I’d like wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy new Year, and I leave you with just one question…


What’s YOUR favorite Christmas memory?