Back in the Day: Celebrate the magic of Christmas

By Tony Wade
Published in the Fairfield Daily Republic on Dec. 19, 2014

It’s easy to get cynical about the commercialism surrounding Christmas, but still, there is something about this time of the year that can bring out the best in people.

The following great stories from locals are about Christmases past, but like one of Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghosts, I hope all of you also have a great Christmas present (pun kinda intended).

Judy Anderson Engell: For many years my mom, a church choir director and music teacher, took a large group of kids (including her own six) to go Christmas caroling through the neighborhood, and then over to local convalescent homes. As a child, it was such an eye-opener to see all of those older folks sitting there without much to do and some without visitors. I felt proud that they smiled and enjoyed our singing/visits.

Donna Ingram: My son Chris has bilateral coordination problems and has issues with things like jumping jacks, swimming and riding a bike. Still, his father insisted on buying him a bike when he turned 6. He rode it once, then threw it down and said it was easier to just run. When Christmas came, my son decided he wanted to donate his bike to Toys for Tots. We went to the fire station where the fireman questioned Chris on if he was sure it was what he wanted to do. Then he took Chris on a tour of the station! He put a helmet on him and let him sit up in the driver’s seat of their brand-new hook and ladder. When we got ready to leave, the fireman asked Chris one more time if he was really sure. I don’t know who had the better Christmas, the boy who received Chris’s bike or the fireman who was so astounded by my son’s generosity!

Deborah Arsich: Christmas 1970 was going to be the worst for our family. My dad was in Vietnam, and we had just moved back to Fairfield to wait for his return. My mom did her best to make it special, by taking us up to cut our first real tree in three years. It was huge and we strapped it to the top of our station wagon. Putting it up was thrilling. The biggest thrill? Our dad came home for a short R and R, arriving Christmas morning before we woke up. Mom knew he was coming, but never said a word. It ended up being the best Christmas instead of the worst!

Jaime Smith-Meyer: In 1981, when I was 11, I was living in a less-than-perfect environment with my biological mother and my stepfather. It had been about four years since I’d seen my dad, who lived in Fairfield and was extremely stable. Things came to a head with my biological mother around Christmastime. I went to a neighbor for help and she called CPS. I spent a few days in the system, and on Christmas Eve, they told me I had a visitor. I didn’t recognize my dad at first, but once I figured out who he was, I was ecstatic. It was my Christmas wish come true! As we were driving to his house, we stopped for lunch at Denny’s. Why is this important? Because we went to Denny’s on Christmas Eve every year after that! After he retired and moved to Arkansas, we sent Denny’s gift certificates to each other.

When I was 12, I wanted to give him a “thank you” gift. I found a Macy’s box to put the gift in, but we were out of wrapping paper, so I taped a bunch of ribbons to the box. It became the “anniversary” box that we exchanged every year for 32 years (shipping it after he moved) up until last year when he passed away on Dec. 30.

In his later years, he actually came to resemble Santa Claus and was frequently approached by small children. He always had time to talk with them. He taught me to love the spirit of Christmas and the joy of the season. Everywhere I look in my house, I am reminded of the wonderful man who answered my Christmas wish.

Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at toekneeweighed@gmail.com.