wheeler bike, a baseball glove and a ball, some puzzles, and even a dump ...
Those words saturated with rejection are seared in Elmer's memory to this .....
Songs like “Joy to the World” and “This Christmas” had a whole new meaning
St. Paul’s Anthology of Christmas Stories and Poems, 2013
St. Paul’s Anthology of Christmas Stories and Poems
“The Punchbowl” by Joan Miller……………………………………………………………2 “One Christmas Present for One Special Person” by Dale Hollenbach……………….4 “Is That You, Santa?” by Lois V. Stilwell…………………………………………………..6 “The Cuckoo Woodpecker” by Vivian Burnish……………………………………………9 “Christmas: The Joy of Giving” by Dori Hoch……………………………………………..10 “The Christmas Calf” by Pastor Pat Morris………………………………………………..12 “Our Christmas Miracle, December 2012” by Kathi Fry………………………………….15
The Punchbowl by Joan Miller
The punchbowl may have been the trendy women's Christmas gift of the year, like the Nook eReader in 2009 or the bread machine or George Foreman Grill some years prior. Or maybe it was just something that appealed to my Mom that particular year; my sister, Judy, and I remember a punchbowl centered on our classy Aunt Elda's formal dining room buffet, so perhaps that image conjured up this Christmas gift wish in Mom's mind. My Mom, still living a postdepression lifestyle in the early 70s, never asked for much. "I really don't need anything, Floyd," we heard her say or "We just got that area rug for the living room back in the spring." So the fact that she even responded with "a punchbowl" when asked what she would like was unusual from the start. My Dad, not being much of a shopper, probably struggled with deciding where to get such a thing and more than likely was in and out of one store in a matter of minutes, surely taking advantage of the gift-wrapping service. The large, heavy, wrapped box appeared under the tree as soon as it went up in early December. My sister and I knew our dad could be a teaser, so we giggled when the lone box appeared. In the weeks that followed, the three of us noticed a certain eagerness in my Mom. We watched her lift the box and gently shake it, as if to indicate its heaviness. She said, "I think I know what this is." She carefully vacuumed around it and moved it in order "to clean more thoroughly." Once, we caught her struggling to hold it up to the light as if to somehow see through the gift wrap. Finally, one sunny weekday afternoon, my sister and I flew into the kitchen after the bus dropped us off. There, placed on the end of the long farmhouse table was the punchbowl, unwrapped! It absolutely glistened with its scalloped edges and sculpted glass. The numerous matching punchbowl glasses were arranged around its base with care. I don't remember Judy or me remarking about the punchbowl at all. But I know we were both thinking how Mom was going to be in BIG trouble. Several hours later, Daddy came through the kitchen door after being dropped off by his workday carpool to and from Mack Trucks. He too was quick to notice that the table had more than the usual four place settings for the 5 p.m. family supper. He appeared puzzled, but his look changed quickly and we noticed a twinkle in his eye. But unlike us, he did say something. In the tone of a parent gently reprimanding a child, he asked, "Helen, did you open your Christmas present before Christmas?" With a noticeable tremble in her soft voice, she answered, "Yes, I did." "But why?" asked my dad. After a considerable pause, and with a more obvious quiver in her voice, she responded, "Because I need it." Still with a twinkle in his eye and the beginning of a smirk on his lips, Dad replied, "And why is that, Helen?" She answered, "Because I need it to entertain." 2
"Before Christmas?" he asked. "Yes," she said. "And who are you having?" My mom paused again and then said, "Why… my sisters." Nothing more was said. Mom did an about-face and began dishing out the dinner menu. My dad, sister and I caught each other grinning uncontrollably and barely concealed our laughter. Later that night, we overheard Mom on the phone extending the invitation to her sisters all three of them... not your typical punchbowl-sized crowd. They arrived one afternoon at the start of our school Christmas break and before Christmas. The punchbowl was a hit, and all Mom's sisters gawked and raved about how much they wanted one too. We enjoyed sand-tarts and chocolate chip cookies and a red berry punch made with ginger ale. I still recall thinking how the beverage somehow tasted much better coming from the punchbowl and served in the dainty, ornate cups. The punchbowl wasn't used that often, as my mom was rather quiet and more the smallgroup entertainer. I remember its being taken out of storage in later years for special birthdays, wedding showers, and then again for baby showers and other milestone events in our family's life. When my mother passed away in 2004, my sister and I had already purchased punchbowls for our own households. Still, when we sorted through her belongings and the back-and-forth picking began, my sister got the punchbowl. She was the older after all and Mom's was punch bowl was bigger than hers. I distinctly remember the punchbowl being one of the earliest items selected out of all the family heirlooms. I think this Christmas my sister and I need to break out the punchbowl-Mom's punchbowl-even if it is just for the two of us and our three girls. It is high time our daughters heard the story of the punchbowl! Mom’s punchbowl with sister, Judy Koller
One Christmas Present for One Special Person by Dale Hollenbach I am going back to the 1940’s to give only one Christmas present to one special person. First, I will describe the character of this person. He was my mentor from the time I was born. This person had worked hard all his life as a youth and young man on the various farms his parents rented and owned. Later as a teenager he went by foot and bicycle from his parents’ farm east of Walnuttown, where Willow Creek Elementary School is located today, north on Richmond Road and east on 222 to Moselem Springs to work and learn the automotive repair trade in the auto repair shop operated by his brother in a garage which stood where the Sheetz station is located. Imagine the journey, going every morning and returning each evening in all kinds of weather. Then during the 1920’s, he worked in the Fisher Body Works in Fleetwood; after the demise of that industry he worked at an auto dealership in Topton. Finally in the early 1940 this man opened his own auto repair shop along route 662, one mile north of Fleetwood. This had been his goal since 1931, when he had had a new home built along this main artery. Repairing cars can be very challenging work both mentally and physically. Many procedures have to be done underneath the car. This requires a good jack and jack stands. But even then the work must be done lying on one’s back on a creeper, a flat platform with small metal wheels. This method must be used every time the oil is changed; it is also used for transmission and axle repair and engine repairs which require the lowering of the oil pan. He often spoke of a device which would make all these under-the-car tasks more convenient if not easier. A person would be able to stand upright under the car to make repairs and to change oil. One of these devices would cost thousands of dollars and require a renovation of his auto repair shop. The concrete floor would have to be opened for the supporting post, and the ceiling would have to be raised to install the device. So after years of pondering this project, he decided to switch from general auto repair to cutting and installing auto glass. But still his personal cars and the used cars which he bought and sold had to be jacked up, and he continued to use the creeper to gain access to the underside of the car to change oil and make repairs. Every time I change my oil I think how convenient the task would be with this device. In recent years I have seen this device used in a private garage, and it can be set up on the garage floor without disturbing the concrete. This portable lift consists of four vertical steel posts, to each of which is attached the lifting portion, over which the car is driven between the posts and is raised and lowered by means of a hydraulic pump powered by an electric motor, with the four posts serving as the tracks for the lifting device.
So the gift I would give to my father in the 1940’s to make his life better would be a hydraulic lift. My belief is that any present given is only a true gift if it makes life better for the person receiving it.
Dale and his father Melvin M. Hollenbach August 25, 1953
“IS THAT YOU, SANTA?” by Lois V. Stilwell I was in second grade in 1960, and I loved my teacher, Miss Lee, so I didn’t mind getting up for school that year. I shared a room with my sister Phyllis, then 13, and we were awaked by our clock radio playing songs like “Cathy’s Clown” by the Everly Brothers, and Elvis’ “It’s Now or Never”. The top forty would usually run through my head in an unrelenting loop all day at school, and I would skip home from the bus stop singing one of the hits. Afternoons would find me downstairs in the rec room, as we called family rooms in those days, learning new dances from American Bandstand with my brother Carson. He was fifteen at the time and too shy to dance with girls his own age, so I was happy to have him as my dance partner. The biggest dance sensation that year was “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, a South Jerseyite like we us. My birthday is only about five weeks before Christmas, and I got a new Barbie and some beautiful outfits for her from my parents, so a Barbie for Christmas would have been a redundancy. The main thing I wanted for Christmas that year was an amazing new doll that talked in sentences, not just saying “Mama” when you turned her over like her predecessors. Her name was Chatty Cathy, and she could say eleven different phrases, most notably, “I love you”.
My seven-year- old heart ached for that doll! So, not surprisingly, when my mother asked what I wanted Santa to bring me, Chatty Cathy headed the list. Mom would always tell us that we could ask Santa for as many things as we wished, but with the understanding that you may only get one of them. “After all,” she’d say, “poor Santa has to take presents to children all over the world, so you really can’t expect to get too many things.” There were always wrapped gifts from Mom and Dad under the tree, but Santa’s gifts were usually unwrapped, because if they were wrapped, he might possibly leave you the wrong thing. Our stockings were filled with unwrapped little gifts like Slinkys, Duncan Yoyos, Chinese jump ropes or other small toys, and holiday candies like clear barley sugar “toy” lollipops, candy canes and chocolate coins. I never doubted that Santa would come because I was a very good little girl, and that was the prerequisite back then. The other requirement was that you were sleeping because Santa couldn’t come until you were asleep. How he knew that was beyond my comprehension, but if my mother said it was true, then it had to be true. The entire family attended the Christmas Eve candlelight service at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in Riverton, New Jersey, a beautiful old stone church with arched, jeweltoned stained glass windows. We stood side by side, sharing hymnals as we sang much-loved Christmas carols, with Mom singing the alto harmony and Dad belting out the bass line from the choir loft. Returning home, we were permitted to open one gift from someone outside of our home, usually Aunt Jean, who lived in North Carolina, or Uncle Brian and Aunt Jackie, who sent packages all the way from Florida. Gifts from Gram, who lived downstairs and inevitably gave us a new handkerchief for which we were supposed to be overjoyed but weren’t, and Great Aunt 6
Maud, whose room was across the hall from my sister and me, were exchanged on Christmas morning, after we had opened Santa and parent gifts. That one gift was supposed to tide us over until the morning, but in my case, it just started my adrenaline pumping right before bedtime. Since I was a night owl by nature anyway, Christmas Eve was doubly difficult for me. I was excited that Santa was coming, hopefully bringing Chatty Cathy to me, was stressed over not feeling in the least bit sleepy, and was fearful that Santa would just skip us because I was still awake. On that Christmas Eve, I lay with my eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling in my darkened bedroom. Phyllis, who was always asleep before me, had silently left our room to go to the bathroom, I assumed. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard a high-pitched voice say something, followed by Phyllis’ belly-laugh that carried easily up to our room. I bolted upright in bed. Could that be my Chatty Cathy? Was Santa downstairs right now with everyone in the family except me? I hopped out of bed and ran to the bedroom door, opening it to the bright hallway. Stopping at the top of the landing I tried to predict the consequences of running down to the living room. Would Santa greet me or vanish in a huff because I interrupted his visit? I tentatively crept down one step, paused, then descended to the next one. My mother suddenly emerged from the kitchen doorway to the right of the bottom step and hastened up the stairs to me. “Hello, Honey! We better get you back to bed so Santa can come, okay?” she said, hustling me gently but firmly back to my bed. She tucked the covers in around me and sat on the edge of the bed. “Mommy, I heard something that sounded like a talking doll, and then Phyllis was laughing,” I hesitated, unsure how to phrase what was really eating at me. Mom sighed. “Phyllis was helping to put some gifts under the tree, but I’m not sure what she was laughing about, maybe some joke she was sharing with Daddy.” Mom and I had a very close relationship and I could sense that she was hedging her answer. She had always told me that I should never be afraid to ask her about anything, so I whispered my deepest, fearful question to her. “Mommy, is Santa Claus real?” The question hung there for a moment as she stroked my hand and composed her answer. She cleared her throat. “Santa is the very real embodiment of the Christmas spirit . . . which is pure love.” Still holding my hand, she asked quietly, “Does that answer your question, Honey?” All I heard from her answer were the words “very real.” I felt vastly relieved. I nodded in the dark and yawned. “I think I’m getting sleepy.” “I’ll go downstairs now, but I’ll leave the door open for you. Goodnight, Loie. I love you!” Mom whispered, and after kissing me on the forehead she silently left the room.
I can’t tell you if Chatty Cathy was wrapped and under the tree or unwrapped and waiting by my Christmas stocking. She was mine, with her dark blond hair, freckled nose and red pinafore, and I was overjoyed!
It really didn’t matter if she was from my parents or Santa. Either way, she was a gift of love given to me in the Christmas spirit.
Christmas: The Joy of Giving by Dori Hoch It was the 23rd of October. I hadn’t even thought about Christmas. How will I ever get everything done? Oh, how I dreaded the routine of thinking of what to get for those on my list. How much stuff do we need? Will my gift make any difference at all? What’s the point? Had I become a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge? That was what I was thinking and feeling as I headed off to the Berkshire Mall the next day with a hastily scrawled list in hand. As I was searching madly in my brown leather wallet for my Bon Ton coupon to nail my first purchase of the day, I looked up to find a familiar face behind the jewelry counter. “Hi, Jean! Boy, I haven’t seen you in a long time.” Jean was the parent of one of my former students at Richmond Elementary School. “Yes. It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it?” she replied. “What’s Bobby up to these days?” I asked, always interested in how my first grade graduates have fared. I could just picture Bobby as a tall six- year-old with his light brown flat- topped haircut and his huge jack-o-lantern smile complete with a missing front tooth. “He’s working for a plumber. He’s married and has a little boy and a baby girl.” “Wow! That’s great! How about your daughter? Where is she?” “Amber lives in Oley. She’s a waitress at Olive Garden. She’s married too, but doesn’t have any children yet.” “I am so happy to hear that. You sure did a great job raising your kids. You can be so proud of them.” “Yes, I am proud of both of them,” she smiled. “Their father never had anything to do with them after he left us. It wasn’t always easy, but we made it. I work for Sam’s in their maintenance department at nights and work here part time. As I left the store, I thought about Jean and her two children. I remembered during many of my years at Richmond, a collection was taken around Thanksgiving and money was given to families who would not have money for Christmas presents for their children. It was always done quietly, by word of mouth. If you wanted to help, you simply gave to the cause. During Bobby and Amber’s years at our school, our Richmond “Santa” was always there, making sure these two children would feel the magic of the season under their tree each year. Thinking about this some fifteen years later made me smile. For many, there simply isn’t a special Santa that can make that Christmas magic a reality. That thought reminded me of the story my Uncle Elmer, 82, had just recently related to me about an 10
event that happened in my mother’s family one Christmas. During the 1930’s and 40’s, there wasn’t any extra money for gifts at Christmas in their household. My grandmother, a single mom, would take the girls dolls and hide them away over the summer. For her, Christmas shopping meant clandestinely making new dresses from flour sacks for the dolls and slapping a different colored coat of paint on their one and only toy truck. That particular year Elmer, aged 16, painted that dilapidated vehicle blue for his five-year-old brother. On Christmas morning, Charles was delighted with his “new” cobalt wonder. A few days after Christmas, Charles went to play at the home of Frankie, his friend from church. When Charles came home, he wailed, “Santa Claus likes Frankie better than me. He got a two wheeler bike, a baseball glove and a ball, some puzzles, and even a dump truck. All I got was that blue truck!” Those words saturated with rejection are seared in Elmer’s memory to this day. It will soon be that time to pick a name from the angel tree in our church narthex. This year, rather than seeing it as one more chore in the frenzy of Christmas shopping, I have been reminded that my gift giving can make a huge difference for children like Bobby, Amber, and Charles. The joy of giving generously to those in need of that magical touch of love is what Christmas is all about!
The Christmas Calf by Pastor Pat Morris
Bessie made her way down the pathway to the barn, and the switch of her tail kept perfect rhythm with each step. Ed walked behind her, tapping her ever so gently on the rump with a twig he had picked up along the path. And following along there was Smokey, Ed’s jet-black collie mixed with who-knows-what, his bright red tongue glistening in the fall sun. It was milking time, actually the last milking for Bessie. After she was milked this morning she would spend the next 6o days being “dry.” That’s what farmers call the two months of waiting when a milk cow gets ready for the birth of her next calf. As Ed walked along in step with Bessie, he was thinking how much he was going to enjoy a break from the two-a-day milking. As the oldest son at home the responsibility of caring for the animals on the farm fell to Ed. His brothers were younger and could help out occasionally, but never with the morning milking. That was Ed’s job, so with stick in hand and Smokey walking in step, the trio marched to the barn for what had become a morning ritual. “Sixty days,” Ed thought to himself. “That will be right around Christmas. Maybe Bessie will have a Christmas calf this year.” But sixty days seemed like a long way off. There was a lot to do between now and then . . . . The Morris household was alive at 4:30 in the morning. It was Thanksgiving Day and everyone was up and dressed, ready for a full day. But it would not be a full day of turkey and dressing and football. In the Morris household Thanksgiving Day was a day for butchering hogs – six hogs to be exact. Dad was busy starting a hot fire under the scalding pan. The kettles were being put in place, and all of the supplies were being gathered for what would be a busy day. And Bessie stood and watched with her head hanging over the fence, wondering what all the commotion was about. . . . It snows in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Sometimes it snows a lot. I remember the time it snowed so much that Dad had to hire a bulldozer to clean our lane. Most of the time our little Ford Ferguson would do the job, but not this particular time. The snow was so deep one could hardly walk through it. But it was no match for the bulldozer. . . . It was Christmas Eve and Ed was preparing a stall for Bessie. He broke open the straw bales and fluffed them up, making a cozy place for Bessie to give birth to her calf. As she watched from a distance she seemed a bit nervous. Her stomach was huge and her swollen udder was tight between her hind legs. “There you go, ole girl,” Ed said as he tapped her on her rump. “ A nice, warm stall for you and your baby. You won’t have to worry about the snow tonight.” As we dressed for church the man on the television was talking about snow. In fact the snow the man was talking about was a big snow, and it was coming sometime during the night. 12
We suggested to Dad and Mom that maybe we should stay home from Christmas Eve Communion. Maybe it was going to start snowing and we would not be able to make it home. Dad and Mon would have none of it. “Hush your mouth and get dressed, we are going to church!” they told us. We couldn’t wait for morning to come, and it finally did. We awoke to a white Christmas, and not only was it a White Christmas, but it was still snowing and still snowing hard. As I looked out the window on the back porch, I could see a set of footprints leading from the house to the barn. But there was only one set: whoever had gone out was still out there somewhere. “Your brother went out to the barn early this morning to check on Bessie.” “Can I go to the barn to see what’s going on?” “Not now, son. Breakfast is on the table and there are presents to unwrap.” Ed was shocked as he turned on the lights in the stable. The door to the stall where Bessie had been penned stood wide open. There were slight indentations in the snow where Bessie had left the barn, and Ed followed them until they disappeared into the snowy landscape. Ed looked down at Smokey as if to say “What do we do now?” And Smokey glanced back as if to say “Let’s go!” So off the two of them went, breaking a trail through the snowy Christmas morning. “If I were a cow, where would I be?” Ed thought to himself, and just as quickly he had his answer: “Back in the barn in a warm, dry stable.” But that was not Bessie’s plan. Sometimes we forget that animals on the farm are still animals with an instinct derived from thousands of years in the wild. Sometimes that instinct drives them to do things out of the ordinary. It was that instinct that took Bessie from the barn to a safe place where she could give birth to her calf. As Ed and Smokey walked through the pasture, Ed thought of the perfect place – the grove of cedars at the far end of the farm. It was the very grove of cedars where he had cut the Christmas tree for the Morris home a week earlier. In the middle the grove was thick with cedar branches, and as he made his way through the branches, the air was ripe with the smell of cedar. And in the middle of the grove, there she was – Bessie with her brand new calf, a tiny, brighteyed Jersey heifer with drops of milk dripping from her nose.
“Come on, ole girl,” Ed said as he picked up the calf and placed it on his shoulders, “back to the barn for both of you.” Through the snow they walked: Ed, with the tiny calf slung across his back; Bessie, sniffing the air to make sure all was well; and Smokey, hopping his way through the white landscape of a beautiful Christmas day . . . in the mind of a farm boy from Virginia. Merry Christmas!
“Our Christmas Miracle, December 2012” by Kathi Fry
I never would have guessed that we’d get “the call” on Christmas Eve. Jim had just returned from his parents’ house where he helped to prepare the ziti for Christmas Eve dinner, replacing our traditional ham that was too high in sodium. Greg, his brother, had done some errands with Jim to get the shrimp at Super Duper and some odds and ends for the evening’s meal. He said we’d go back out to Kutztown to prepare dinner around four, but first he was going to sit and rest. Not long after he did, the phone rang. When he motioned that it was Nicole, the transplant coordinator, I immediately thought he was just messing with me. When he hung up the phone, I could tell that he was anything but joking. His eyes welled up with tears, and I could hear it in his voice, “They have a match.” I’d never expected we’d get the call already! It had only been two weeks since Jim was officially listed. We were told it could take up to three months before there would be a match. We’d known for years that Jim would eventually need a heart transplant due to his lifelong heart condition, and we had learned just months prior that he’d probably need a liver transplant as well because the medications that had helped his heart failure had damaged his liver. The past four months had been spent going through tests and appointments in order to qualify as a candidate for the transplant. I scattered around the house throwing things in a bag even though both our bags had already been packed and in the car since he was officially put on the list two weeks earlier on December 11. Since I was home, I figured I’d take even more stuff, knowing I’d be gone several days. Thanks to my dear friend, Margaret, who had spent hours helping me wrap gifts the Saturday before Christmas, everything was ready. Greg and Sarah had graciously agreed to fill in for Jim and me in our unexpected absence. We knew they’d take good care of the boys while we were gone. In the meantime, Jim called his family, and they came over within minutes to see him off. When I told the boys, Nick (age 11) burst into tears. Never before had he finished or ended a game on the PS3 so quickly. Zack (age 8), a little less upset, but just as serious, cuddled up to Jim on the sofa telling him how much he loved him. The call had come about 2:30 p.m., and by 3:30, Jim and I were on our way to HUP (Hospital of University of Penn), leaving his family members with the boys in tears in our living room. Although he was shaky and scared, Jim preferred to drive rather than putting me behind the wheel. The closer we got to the hospital, the more nervous he became. We’d hoped that this was a good match and not a false alarm. The heart and liver would have to come from the same donor, so both had to be in good condition for the transplant. As we neared the King of Prussia exit, snow flurries appeared. They’d predicted a white Christmas. Jim was admitted just before five p.m., and after drawing some blood and doing other preparations, they told us he’d be going into surgery around ten. The nurses said, “It’s a transplant thing-you hurry up and wait.”
While waiting to be taken to the operating room, Jim had a card and gift for me. He’d told me on our anniversary, December 20, that he had a gift and card, but it would be a joint gift he’d give me at the right time. He’d made me a really special, sentimental card that showed how much I mean to him as well as a beautiful, silver heart made with white diamonds with a smaller blue diamond heart inside of it. I will cherish both the card and gift forever. Meanwhile, Greg and his wife, Sarah, helped to cook our traditional Christmas Eve dinner at Jim’s parents’ house. The Schearers, Jim’s sister’s family, couldn’t make it because their oldest daughter, Sammi, had come down with bronchitis and was advised to stay home so as to not get anyone else sick- specifically Jim, or Sarah who was expecting her first child in March. Danni, Jim’s other niece, also had a cold, and Christy, Jim’s sister, wasn’t feeling well. She was still recovering from a recent surgery on her skull to relieve pressure on her brain and hopefully eliminate her migraine headaches. It had been quite a year for the Schearer and Fry families. While waiting at the hospital, another patient was in the OR getting a transplant. The donor of Jim’s new organs was on life support in a nearby hospital. First, we thought Jim’s surgery would be at ten which seemed like an incredibly long wait from five p.m.- especially for Jim who was so very nervous and scared for the outcome. Later, they pushed the surgery back to midnight, and then again to two a.m. Apparently, the person before him had complications which made surgery take longer than expected. My parents had arrived at the hospital around eight p.m. to wait with me. Originally, only my mom was going to come but with the flurries already falling, they felt it was best that she not drive alone. They waited from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. in a little waiting room that was beautifully decorated with a seashore theme for Christmas. The tree had lovely decorations of shells, sand dollars, plastic globes filled with tiny shells and sand, and blue accents like the waves. On the wall hung a huge mural painted with a lighthouse and beach scene. On the table was a tiny tree with tiny flip-flop ornaments. A full size surfboard stood in the corner with a Christmas message, and several light blue and white stockings trimmed with shells and tinsel hung on the wall. The room was actually an award winner. There must have been a contest. The theme continued throughout the floor in honor of Hurricane Sandy in an effort to bring awareness and raise funds. Once they took Jim down to the OR around 2:40 am, we carried our bags down to another waiting room lounge. Technically, the OR was closed because it was Christmas, but it was still open to transplant surgeries. We sat and watched a few Christmas specials. I can’t even recall which ones…David Archuleta and the Tabernacle choir, and I forget what else. My mind was so distracted. Time passed slowly. I opened my gift bag from the Andrew Maier Elementary faculty and cried after reading each card knowing how blessed I was to have such wonderful, caring people in my life and such a reminder of the many people who were all praying for Jim. The whole time we were waiting, we’d feared the transplant team would decide it wasn’t a match for both the heart and liver and send us home. But, sure enough, around 8:30 a.m., I got a call from the heart surgeon, Dr. Atluri. The transplant of the heart was finished. He said it was a beautiful heart from a young donor and all went well. But after they looked at Jim’s liver, they confirmed that his liver was bad, and he definitely needed a new liver. The new heart would be 16
too strong for a damaged liver, so they’d begin that surgery momentarily. First, the new heart had to settle in since he had been taken off the bypass machine. Around 11 a.m., I checked in with the nurse who would eventually be taking care of Jim, and she was in contact with the OR. They said they had begun the liver transplant around 10:15 Christmas morning, so it would be four to six hours from then. More waiting! I’d looked through some magazines but was in no mood to read. I just wanted to “veg.” During the heart surgery, my parents and I each napped a few hours on cots, but for the most part we were awake and keeping up with hundreds of texts from family and friends. We got breakfast from the café earlier and ate it in the lounge. The time seemed to pass so incredibly slowly, and while I was very nervous about the liver transplant because they said it was much more complicated and challenging than the heart transplant due to the tiny ventricles, I honestly was not scared. The surgeon doing the liver transplant was the world renowned surgeon, Dr. Shaked. From the start of the first transplant, which was the heart, I felt a great trust in God. I just knew that giving us this amazing gift of a new life for Jim- on Christmas Day- was a sign that it would be okay. I had such confidence in the hospital and the surgeons and faith in God that this was his way of telling us all in a very bold way, “Don’t doubt my healing power. Don’t doubt my plan…I am giving you this incredible gift on the holiest day of the year, Christmas.” Somehow with the increased faith in God and in prayer that I’d developed- well more like strengthened - over the past 5 months, I was at ease, trusting His amazing healing power to pull Jim through this event. While the wait was very long and time passed very slowly by, I was not only comforted by God’s presence, by carolers singing through the hospital hallways, and by my parents who were there by my side as loving support, but also by the continuous flow of texts coming in to my phone and my mom’s phone…”We are all praying for you and Jim.” So many people referred to it as “A Christmas Miracle.” Through it all, I couldn’t help but think of the poor family who had decided to say goodbye to their loved one on Christmas Eve, sending his/her soul to God and the angels above. I can’t thank them enough for this gift they’ve given to Jim, our family, and our friends this special Christmas. I look forward to the opportunity to be able to tell them what an incredible thing they have done for us. At home, it was a Christmas the boys will never forget. Snow fell on Christmas Eve, leaving a soft two to three inch coating. Zack had gone out and made a snow angel, and Greg took a picture and sent it to us. Jim got to see it before going into surgery. How many Christmases have you had the chance to make an angel in the new fallen snow? I can’t ever recall a time. This was heaven sent. After opening their gifts with Sarah and Greg on Christmas morning, they went sledding on the big hill and built a snowman in the front yard. We’ve never had a Christmas like this before: snow, sledding, snow angel, snowman…truly one we’ll never forget. Following French toast made by Sarah and hot chocolate after sledding, they headed to Kutztown for Christmas with Jim’s parents, grandparents, and family. Carl, Jim’s grandfather, had kidney stones and his surgery the Friday before Christmas had not been a success. Fortunately, Jim’s Aunt Diane and Uncle Dan had flown in from Chicago and were able to drive Jim’s grandparents down from Shamokin to celebrate Christmas with the family. Nick enjoyed 17
“city chicken” (breaded pork on a stick), and Zack ate two helpings of mashed potatoes. I worried that being away from Jim and me would ruin the boys’ Christmas, but they had a fantastic day with family. When I talked to Nick on the phone, I said, “I hope this didn’t ruin your Christmas.” “No, it didn’t ruin it at all. This is Daddy’s Christmas gift.” he replied. I spoke to Zack later, and he was so excited to tell me all about the cool cat ball and mouse snowman toy that Santa had brought for our cats. Greg sent pictures throughout the day for Jim to see once he was feeling stronger. All day long, Jim was still in surgery. My parents and I had a midday turkey dinner in the café for our Christmas meal. We said a prayer thanking God for this blessed Christmas gift. Surgery was finally completed sometime after 3 p.m. (Yes, almost 13 hours later!) Jim started to show signs of waking up at about five p.m. on Christmas Day. He could open his eyes a little bit, shake his head, wiggle his toes, and hold onto my finger. It took about three hours before he could keep his eyes open without drifting off. A few times, he gagged on his breathing tube or took too deep a breath for the machine, but overall the medical staff was extremely pleased with his condition. He was responsive, and his heart rate and blood pressure were all wonderful! Other than the breathing tube being uncomfortable, he wasn’t indicating pain. It was difficult to read his mind and/or signals since he couldn’t talk. His hands had been restrained, so he wouldn’t pull out his breathing tube when waking up. The nurse took it off his left arm so he could try to write a message to us, but his hand was so weak and shaky, we could barely make out his writing. Soon, the nurse brought in an alphabet sheet for him to point to the letters. He wanted his glasses and a drink, but she could only swab his mouth with a cold, wet sponge. That evening the TV was on and Jim was sort of watching “A Christmas Story”- a classic movie that for him makes Christmas Eve officially Christmas Eve. He had insisted on having it on the television in the preparation room while waiting to be taken to the OR. As I communicated with Jim between eight and ten p.m., with charades and his writing words in the air with his finger, I was able to ask him if he could feel a difference with this new heart. He immediately shook his head “yes” as his eyes bulged out of his head. He made a fist and opened and closed it. The nurse commented, “It’s stronger,” and he again nodded his head “yes” with great emotion. How amazing that he could feel his heart pumping better than before. His old heart must have really been giving out. I can’t imagine how that must have felt. I knew he was always exhausted and lacked energy, but I couldn’t imagine the feeling of your heart struggling to keep you alive. Anyway, the doctors were pleased, and Jim was doing remarkably well. I left his room around ten p.m. and went to the lounge to try to rest for a few hours. It was hard to relax enough to fall asleep. I was so pumped up from the day’s events - so grateful, so amazed, and still a bit worried. As my trust in God increased tremendously through this extraordinary Christmas Miracle, I was still intelligent enough to be realistic. There was still a long road ahead of us and surely there would be ups and downs along Jim’s journey to a healthy body. Outside the window of the lounge was the landing for the med-e-vac. As I closed my eyes to rest, the flashing lights flickered in the window, and I could hear the helicopter’s noise. 18
They were about to save another life- the power of God’s healing still at work. I said another prayer for the person(s) being rescued on Christmas and for the family of the donor of Jim’s organs who had said goodbye to their loved one on this very special Christmas Eve. After a few hours, I awoke and went to go check on Jim. I needed to be by his side. It was 2:30 a.m. on December 26. I got his phone and my mom’s earphones to listen to some Christmas music I’d put on his phone just days before. I sat and held his hand. He knew I was with him. Every so often I’d feel a squeeze. My one earphone kept falling out, so I finally decided to let it hang and just listen with the one. Jim noticed and I asked if it was bothering him. He gave a “thumbs up” because he wanted to listen to the Christmas music as well. I took out the earphones and laid the phone on the bed for him to hear. Songs like “Joy to the World” and “This Christmas” had a whole new meaning now. He held my hand and squeezed it during certain parts of certain songs. We had so much praise for God, so much to rejoice about! One song that was mixed in with the Christmas songs was our song, “I Believe in You and Me.” We both were a bit choked up during that song and were reminded how strong our love is. Some of the lines in the song fit the moment perfectly: “ I would never leave your side”…” I believe in miracles and love’s a miracle…” We have been through so much and had stuck together through it all - sickness and health, ups and downs, and now we had experienced a true miracle. The miracle that I’d been praying for years - for Jim to have a new chance at life with a healthy heart so he could enjoy his sons, have energy for them, and watch them grow – had finally happened. This amazing double transplant was the beginning of Jim’s new, healthier life; prayers were answered and answered by God in a big way. He sent a strong message on Christmas Day. He has the healing power. He has a plan. Trust in Him. Give all your cares and worries to Him. Lift them to the Lord because he is there for us. God loves us. We just need to trust in Him. His eye is on the sparrow and I know he’s watching over us!