Letter to the Editor

The reason for the season

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I was recently asked to prepare a story about something that held a special Christmas memory for me. The choice was easy. In 1972, Bruce and I were stationed at McCord Air Force Base in Washington State, miles from our families in Wisconsin. Although sad to be alone during the holidays we decided it was time to establish our own family traditions.

With very little extra money we purchased three small statues of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a cradle. They were made of hard molded rubber, selected for durability because we wanted Andrew, our 10 month old child to be able to touch them and move them as he pleased. The baby Jesus was made separate from the cradle which made it possible for us to leave the cradle empty until Christmas morning. We had no way of knowing how important that would be in the years to come.

Our daughter, Amy soon joined the family and was introduced to the nativity set that by then included additional purchases of shepherds, three wise men, a donkey for Mary and an angel. A cow and a camel were later purchased. Unfortunately the camel became the victim of one of our dogs. With the tail end chewed beyond recognition, it was necessary to position the camel in such a way that the damage was hidden in the crèche that Bruce built to hold all the characters.

During the toddler and pre-school years more and more animals and items miraculously appeared in the crèche. Among other items, a mother pig and piglets from an abandoned play farm and some sheep that were disproportioned in size to the other animals. At some time a tiny little boy...who knows from where, showed up and was promptly identified as the "Little Drummer Boy." It didn't matter that he did not carry a drum.

Each year as the children grew the significance of baby Jesus not appearing until Christmas morning became more and more important. So important that the children's first stop before going to the Christmas tree for presents was to check the cradle to see if baby Jesus had in fact come during the night. This became their personal quest; each wanting to be the first to find the baby.

With the children grown, in a moment of weakness a few years ago I purchased a hand-painted porcelain nativity set. It is a beautiful set, however, it will never have the same meaning for me as the battered, paint peeled, mismatched set of characters that fill the handmade crèche. As I unpack each item the years melt away and I am reminded of the faces of childhood innocence.

May your holidays be filled with precious memories to cherish.

-- Terri Shipshock is executive director of the Community Hospital Health Foundation. Her husband, Bruce, is retired from the U.S. Air Force.

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