“A Grownup Kind of Christmas,” column for Dec. 9, 2014

If you think Christmas is just for kids, you’ve probably never had the pleasure of knowing my friend Fred.¬†Fred loves Christmas. So do I. Maybe you do, too. But Fred takes it to a different level.

If loving Christmas ever qualifies as an Olympic sport _ which, come to think of it, seems at least as likely as synchronized swimming or curling _ you and I might duke it out for a bronze or maybe even a silver medal. But Fred would bring home the gold.

Even more than he loves Christmas, Fred loves kids. Not just his own kids and grandkids and great-grandchild. But all children in general, yours and mine, even ones he’s never met.

They say it takes one to know one. Fred knows a lot about kids mostly because he’s a big kid himself _ not in age or any lack of maturity, but in the way it matters most _ at heart.

I wish you could know him.

I met Fred years ago when we worked for the same newspaper. He was an editor. I was a reporter. He made everything more fun, from sharing a laugh over coffee to writing a 90-inch feature I didn’t want to write but had to finish on deadline.

He had a gift for knowing a good story, how to tell it, and for bringing out the best in people, including, I’m glad to say, me.

The first year we worked together, Fred told me that when his children were small, he started a Christmas tradition, a special kind of Advent calendar that he put together just for them. He’d continued after they grew up, sending it to them each year by mail.

It worked like this. All year long he’d collect small gifts that seemed somehow fitting. Then, in November, he’d wrap all the gifts, number them 1-25, box them up and ship them off to each of his kids (and later, to his grandkids) to be opened one by one starting Dec. 1 and each day leading up to Christmas.

I thought it was a fabulous idea. I even considered doing it for my three kids until I realized that I’d actually have to buy and wrap 75 gifts. What I really wanted was someone to make an Advent calendar for me.

I used to tease Fred, “When are you going to make one for me?” And he’d just laugh.

OK, so maybe I mentioned it again, jokingly, of course, a few months ago when Fred and his wife visited my husband and me at our home in Las Vegas. Never did I dream he’d actually do it.

Imagine my surprise when a package arrived last month inscribed with a warning: “Do not open until Dec. 1!”

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wrong. I didn’t cheat. My husband wouldn’t let me.

One minute past midnight on Dec. 1, we ripped open the first gift: Two rubber chicken legs. Fred calls me that, “Chicken Legs.” Never mind why.

Day 2 was socks decorated with a bass (musical, not fish) for my bass player husband.

Day 3 was a Christmas book with ideas for decorations I’ll never make and yummy recipes for things we shouldn’t eat.

Day 4 was a pair of sachets to deodorize, well, never mind what Fred said they were for. Fred is not always repeatable.

The point of all that is to tell you this: We have yet to put up a Christmas tree, hang a strand of lights or wrap a single gift. But every time we open one of Fred’s Advent boxes, we’re like two little kids on Christmas Eve, excited as chihuahuas at a fireworks display, grinning like a pair of mules eating briars.

I wish you could see us.

If you think Christmas is just for kids, please think again. The spirit of Christmas, all the joy it can bring, is surely for children, but not for children alone.

Christmas is for that child that sleeps in the heart of each of us, waiting to be born anew.

I hope you see that child in the mirror this Christmas and every day of the year.

And I hope you always have a friend like Fred.

Comments

  1. Phil Erben says:

    Sharon,
    I love reading your column each time it runs in our paper here in Corpus Christi. Your unique, folksy writing style and method of telling your wonderful stories warms my heart and soul, sometimes bringing a laugh, sometimes a tear but are always a bright spot in my day. I hope you continue to pen your wonderful stories as long as you’ve a mind to and when you do finally hang up your pen I will avail myself of the archives of your column. I just recently discovered you so I have a lot of catching up to do.

  2. shashi says:

    It really made me laugh how Fred enjoyed Christmas sending something in mail not one gift but managed to send many in shifts so that each day becomes special . Happy Christmas to you Sharon and your family . Cannot wait to read another Christmas present that is your next column . Lot of love

  3. Jody says:

    I want a Fred! Where can I find one?

    Seriously though, certain people do have that touch throughout life. .. that one that makes others feel special. I am thankful for them.

  4. Pam Dozier says:

    Dear Sharon, I just loved reading your column about our friend, Fred. He inspired me many years ago to make “his” Advent calendars for my grandsons. What fun you must be having opening his daily gifts, replete with lots of laughs and a little irreverence, I’ll bet! Thank Mark for sharing the column on Facebook. I’d love to see him in his bass socks! Have a blessed Christmas.

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