Mollie and John Married August 21, 1904

There’s a narrow gold wedding band I wear on my left hand along with my own. It is my grandmother’s wedding ring that was left to me when she passed away many years ago.

Inside is engraved* my grandparents’ initials and the date of their wedding … August 21, 1904 … 118 years ago.

John Francis Osborne was from Grayson County in southwestern Virginia. Mollie Beatrice Kennedy lived just across the state line, on the other side of the New River, in Allegheny County, N.C.

The two young lovers met at an all-night dance, a tradition during those days in the mountains where young people would meet at someone’s house for a dance party. The social gatherings would last all night because folks lived such long distances from one another, and it was difficult and dangerous to travel through the mountains after dark.

I don’t know how long they courted but my grandmother, whose father was a prominent store keeper and farmer in the Turkey Knob community outside Sparta, NC, consented at some point to become my grandfather’s wife, and moved away from her family. Because John was such a stern man in his older years, I have tried to imagine him as a star-crossed teenager smitten with Mollie.

The marriage license was obtained in Virginia so my grandparents, along with the wedding party, walked to the Virginia-North Carolina state line and were married in the middle of the road, according to one of my late aunts, probably where it crossed the New River. There is no one left to tell us all about that special day.

Did Mollie pick wildflowers along the way to hold during the brief ceremony? Was it a hot, humid mountain day? Or did the clouds roll in and they found themselves dodging thunderstorms? My mother said those types of weddings were common at that time, and certainly a lot cheaper than the opulent occasions that are so popular these days.

As two teenagers beginning life together like generations had before them in those isolated, hard-scrapple mountains, John and Mollie didn’t have money for a fancy wedding. It would be needed for the tough days ahead as they settled into a small cabin on the side of a mountain near an area known as Mouth of Wilson, located in the shadow of Grayson Highlands and Mt. Rogers in the days before those scenic areas became part of the state and national park systems.

Their property was sloped and rocky … the elevation was over 3,500 feet … and to walk it today makes me wonder how they were able to survive in the harsh winters and difficult summers. With only two uninsulated rooms to live in, they began raising their family that would eventually include 10 children. My mother, who passed away two years ago at the age of 90, was the youngest and last surviving of her immediate family.

My grandfather farmed with a mule and plow, piling rocks on the hillside under the trees, and to this day the rocks are still in the same place he piled them over a hundred years ago. For me, to touch those stones is almost to touch him.  It was extremely hard manual labor for the tall, lanky man who had a growing family to feed. Below the remnants of the cabin, a small creek still tumbles down the mountain, a source of water during the days they lived in those cramped, sparse conditions.

They were surrounded by family. Our relatives are all through those hills, most staying close as they grew into adulthood, married, and raised families of their own. My grandfather’s parents lived in a log cabin on the Knob, the family place near a mountain top. The hand-hewn logs included two rooms and a fireplace on the ground floor, and one large room upstairs, just a short distance from John and Mollie’s cabin.

Because my grandparents were tough and made their own way, they set a work ethic that continues to this day for those of us who followed. And, as I once again look at the gold band on my ring finger, I think about how it all began 118 years ago when John and Mollie became man and wife.

*My grandmother lost her wedding ring when I was a baby so my mother replaced it and had the initials and date engraved; that would not have been on the original. My grandmother left the ring to me, the oldest of her youngest child’s children.

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

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America Is Mourning Again

“I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to devastated families that are out there. I’m tired of excuses. I’m tired of moments of silence. Enough. There’s 50 senators who refuse to vote on HR-8, which is a background check rule that the House passed two years ago.” -Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr (5/24/2022, press conference)

“Most of us are appalled. But not enough of us are sufficiently appalled to cast our votes to halt it.” -David Frum, The Atlantic (5/24/2022)

America is mourning once again because of yet another mass shooting.

This toll from Tuesday’s mass shooting stands at 19 children – 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders – and two teachers slaughtered at an elementary school in Texas. The 18-year-old gunman is dead.

Families in Buffalo, NY, are still burying their loved ones who were killed by another teen shooter who gunned them down in a supermarket 10 days ago because of their skin color. They were parents and grandparents and neighbors. And that shooting had already faded from the headlines.

Are guns that precious to us that we continue to put up with this? Or have we misinterpreted (or purposely abused) the intent of the Second Amendment that was probably never meant to be a free-for-all in the modern world?

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke for many at his pre-game press conference last night as he angrily addressed the shooting that had taken place just hours earlier, and advocated for the passage of a background check gun law that has sat in Congress for two years waiting for a vote.

How many more bodies do we need to sacrifice to the gun gods before sensible gun reform laws are enacted amid the growing number of mass shootings in America? And, no … no one is coming to take away anyone’s guns.

I’m not being hysterical. I’m tired. This goes on and on and on … and nothing happens. We all become outraged for 30 seconds after each shooting incident … and then return to our lives, while those affected by each tragedy are left to deal with shattered lives.

Many of my fellow Republicans think anyone who dares to call for any kind of gun reform is hysterical. You know how children put their fingers in their ears and say, “La-la-la-la-la-la,” when they don’t want to hear something? That’s what the GOP reminds me of every time the issue is raised about actually doing something with gun laws.

I’m a 2A supporter. I grew up with guns, learned how to responsibly handle and shoot them while young, took the NRA gun safety course while attending school in Chesterfield County, and have enjoyed target shooting over the years. My dad was a hunter. I have nothing against reasonable gun ownership. Nothing. But I’m met with anger from Republicans when in discussions about any curtailment of laws. A wall goes up; they don’t want to discuss it, or they present a series of whataboutisms.

In 1999, as part of leadership in the local homeschool group, the most calls I ever received from parents asking how to pull their kids out of public school came when the Columbine High School shooting occurred in Colorado. They were frightened and concerned. I wonder if homeschool leaders are fielding such calls again today. Sadly, Columbine wasn’t the last school shooting.

“When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” -President Joe Biden (5/24/2022)

Republican lawmakers are afraid of the gun lobby and they are afraid of their one-issue gun constituents who would turn on them in a heartbeat and vote them out of office. Two years ago I had a Republican angrily say to me that he would shoot anyone who tried to take his guns. That’s how ingrained this issue is in the GOP.

I’m a mom before I’m a Republican. I’m an American before I’m a Republican. It is time to find our way out of this dark place in America, hopefully in a bipartisan manner. Or we could just wait until the next mass shooting and do this charade all over again.

Enough is enough.

Background:

-The Atlantic: Robb Elementary Shooting: America’s Hands Are Full of Blood
-Austin American-Statesman: Live: Uvalde, Texas school shooting updates on victim names, suspect
-Moms Demand Action: About – Moms Demand Action (started by Shannon Watts after Sandy Hook)
-CBS: Texas school shooting: At least 19 children, 2 adults killed at Robb Elementary School
-ABC: Texas school shooting live updates: Nation mourns ‘carnage’

Loss of Naomi Judd to Suicide: It’s Not as Infrequent as You May Think

“Be free, my beautiful mother. Be free.” -Ashley Judd after the death of Naomi Judd

The country music world was rocked Saturday with news that superstar and Grammy award winner Naomi Judd, the mom from the singing duo “The Judds” with daughter Wynonna, had died at the age of 76.

A survivor of Hepatitis C that she contracted early in life through her job as an RN, my first thought was that it had somehow affected her health and was the cause of her death.

But as I read her daughters’ statement, my heart sank.

“Today we sisters experienced a tragedy. We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness. We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory.”

We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness.

I immediately thought, suicide. But surely not … not with Naomi. Not this strong woman who had been a single working mom who raised two daughters on her own, broke into the music industry and sailed to the highest success with daughter Wynonna, and survived Hepatitis C while battling everything else life threw at her.

What I didn’t know was that she had been battling depression for years.

Her death was one day before she and Wynonna were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. They also had plans to take The Judds back on the road in September.

Daughter Ashley, in her public remarks at Sunday’s induction ceremony, lamented through tears that she was sad her mother couldn’t hang on one more day.

The timing of suicide is theirs alone.

I remember hearing Joan Rivers talk years ago about the suicide of her husband Edgar who, if I remember correctly, was packing his suitcase and told her he was going on a business trip. Only he didn’t go on a business trip. He went to a hotel where he downed pills to end his life.

It hits all facets of life. Locally, a forty-something friend’s twin sister committed suicide more than 20 years ago when they were 15 years old.

More recently, a political friend who had been instrumental in volunteering at the local GOP headquarters and serving as precinct captain committed suicide in 2015, likely because cancer had returned.

A year ago, a twenty-something young man who had volunteered at local GOP headquarters as a kid with his older sister during the George W. Bush years was lost to mental illness.

Many other families have also been touched by suicide. Including my own.

Over a decade ago, as I was blindsided at being falsely accused by a leader in the Sixth Congressional Republican Committee of something that never happened (and was later exonerated after the intended anguish and loss of reputation had been accomplished), my brother-in-law committed suicide in RVA.

My husband’s brother. The funny one who was always cracking jokes.

Interesting how the funny ones are often those most in pain but silent about it to the world. Robin Williams comes to mind.

We never had a clue.*

So I missed a Sixth District meeting (which inflamed the accusations since I wasn’t there to defend myself) because my family had a funeral to attend and a broken family to embrace.

But politics marched on….

With all the political turmoil going on at the time, I’ve never completely processed that suicide. And I’ve never talked about it.

Just be kind. You have no idea what is going on with people you attend church with or work with or volunteer with or see every day. Who knows … you could be their lifeline.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Background:

‘River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope‘ by Naomi Judd

*I read this post to my husband who gave permission to expose a very private part of our lives.

‘We Are the World, We Are the Children’

The news out of Ukraine becomes grimmer by the day as Russian missiles pound cities and towns. Kyiv. Kharkiv. Odessa. Dnipro. Mariupol. Donestk. Kherson. Mykolaiv. Voznesensk.

We are now on Day 24 of war. Or is it Day 25? A little over three weeks ago Ukrainians were still living their normal lives – work, school, church, soccer, ballet, opera.

As the bombs drop, casualties grow. There is widespread destruction with some areas facing mass graves, no food, no water, no heat at a time when temps are sub-freezing (some sub-zero) with snow. The toll on Ukrainian civilians is growing into the thousands. Among the casualties are children.

Each day brings more video – injured children, dying children, dead children, and children buried in mass graves. The number of deaths and injuries of the most innocent in all of this is increasing. News coverage shows heartbreaking images of mourning parents, grandparents, doctors.

In Kyiv, rows of empty baby carriages were lined up in a town square to signify the dead children. Addressing members of the U.S. Congress Wednesday, President Zelensky noted sadly, “Now I’m almost 45 years old. Today my age stopped when the heart of more than 100 children stopped beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths.”

At some point my mind flashed back to the 1980s and the first line in the video, “We Are the World,” a vehicle used to raise money to feed the hungry in Africa: “We are the world, we are the children.”

At Clarksville Elementary School in Indiana, students recorded the tune last year and it now seems very appropriate at this time of war as the world nervously watches Russian forces bomb the hell out of Ukraine, killing innocent victims – young and old, alike.

Sit back for five minutes and listen to these talented kids because, as the saying goes, from the mouths of babes….

Famine in Africa, war in Ukraine … Americans have always been generous, and it’s going to be a long haul during this latest assault on civility and peace.

Listening to the students at Clarksville Elementary sent me down memory lane so I then pulled up the original “We Are the World” video with the original cast of top vocalists from 1985.

Go ahead … take a listen and see how many of these artists you remember.

Just as the musicians raised over $100 million for the African famine, today Ukraine needs our help. My husband and I have been making donations to World Central Kitchen because we like the way they are first on the ground for disasters and the way they work with local resources wherever they are for whatever disaster. WKC are in numerous locations around Ukraine and neighboring areas as well as delivering meals and food into the country where it’s needed including Kyiv, Kharkiv, and today they were sending food to Odessa.

There’s also the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and many religious organizations helping Ukraine.

While we’re at it, that brings to mind a song from the 1960s, that violent decade that the 2020s appear to be trying to emulate….

And from 1971 as the world escaped from the 1960s and hoped for peace and love comes “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)”….

Which of course reminded of Hands Across America.

On May 25, 1986, for 15 minutes at 3:00pm, Americans from the Atlantic to the Pacific formed a human chair, hand to hand, for “Hands Across America” – a plea for us to come together as a country, and to raise money to help in the battle for domestic hunger and the homeless – that was joined by President and Mrs. Reagan at the White House.

My husband and I traveled from RVA to our appointed location in northwest Washington, D.C., standing in front of Vice President George H.W. Bush’s residence on Massachusetts Avenue and clasping hands with hundreds along Embassy Row. My sisters, living in Colorado, joined the human chain in the middle of the country. The journalist sister covered it from Tucumcari, N.M., for the Washington Post, describing the efforts in sparse populations of the country to keep the chain unbroken.

At 3pm EST everyone across the land “We Are the World,” “Hands Across America,” and ended with “America the Beautiful.”

America. Generous with all we have, and willing to share with the world and those less fortunate. There is yet anothe wave of that generosity we’ve seen throughout the years going on now as Ukraine continues to suffer death and destruction, both from the U.S. government and from U.S. citizens.

Sadly, we seem to be slipping backward and repeating history that some have already lived through. Where is the off exit to repeating the 1960s….?

Background:

Russians are using VPNs to access the truth about Ukraine. It’s leading to fights between friends and families – The Washington Post

Hands Across America might have been the most Eighties thing to happen in the 1980s – The Washington Post

Hands Across America … 30 years later (I was there) | LynnRMitchell.com

George W. Bush, Bill Clinton Lay Sunflowers at Ukrainian Church in Solidarity with People of Ukraine

Former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush (R) and Bill Clinton (D) visited Sts.Voloymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ukrainian village in Chicago on Friday, March 18, 2022. Bipartisan … working together … leaders. This is America.

Background:

Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush pay secret visit to Ukrainian church in Chicago in social media video – ABC7 Chicago

Bush and Clinton visit Ukrainian church in Chicago to show “solidarity” (axios.com)

First Day of Spring. Get Your Hands in the Dirt.

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It’s the first day of spring. Get your hands in the dirt … time to plant spring flowers and garden vegetables.

It’s an opportunity to escape from the drama of politics and enjoy the solitude of the outdoors.

Dirt … spring … planting … sunshine … outdoors.

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Window box choices.

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You can never have too many clay pots.

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Lavender and rosemary.

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It’s spring … time for hands in the dirt.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell

National Random Acts of Kindness Day

“If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we might just set the world in the right direction” -Martin Kornfeld

Today is National Random Acts of Kindness Day. I suspect many do little acts of kindness all the time.

I’ve heard of numerous people who have picked up the check for someone in a restaurant – often a military person in uniform, pay at a toll booth for the vehicle behind you, pay at an event venue for those behind (we once had someone pay for our entry to Tweetsie Railroad at Halloween when my kids were little) …

… giving way more tip with meals and services is another way, take someone’s grocery cart back with your own, paying for the Starbucks customer behind you …

… let someone behind you in line go ahead of you, stop by a small business and pick up an item or two, pass along coupons that weren’t used to someone just starting to shop …

… pay for that young person’s pizza, help by reaching an item on the top shelf, pick up an item someone with full arms has dropped, hold the door for a mom with littles or pushing a stroller … and perhaps one of the easiest of all: smile. It’s amazing how a smile can brighten someone who is feeling down.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” -Aesop

A Valentine’s Day Message for My Children

A Valentine for my children…

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together … there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart … I’ll always be with you.” – Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)

1/6: Saying Trump Has ‘Hijacked’ the GOP, WY’s Rep. Landon Brown Stands with Liz Cheney

Another Republican has criticized Donald J. Trump and, in the process, expressed his support for Rep. Liz Cheney.

Republican Wyoming Rep. Landon Brown said Saturday that former President Donald Trump has “hijacked” the GOP and that he is “unfit” to serve in office for a second term.

Speaking on CNN, Brown added that the Republican Party is currently being run by a “fringe” group of far-right conservatives. He also issued his support for fellow Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who was recently censured for serving on a House committee tasked with investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

“I think what’s happened here at this point is we’ve seen a fringe group that is on the far right of our party, has taken over our party, and they are the ones that are pushing this narrative. They’ve been working behind the scenes to come out and come against Liz Cheney since day one with her support of this January 6th panel,” Brown said.

“The Republican Party had the opportunity to stand behind her and they left that, and unfortunately that shows too many people across this country that Trump has hijacked the Republican Party,” he added.

The lawmaker is the only Wyoming House Republican who has publicly issued support for Cheney amid an ongoing divide within the GOP. Last week, the Republican National Committee (RNC) voted to censure both Cheney and Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger for their involvement in investigating the January 6 insurrection, as well as for their criticisms against Trump.

Republicans are walking a tightrope during the Trump era but after last weekend’s RNC censure of Rep. Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, more have stepped up to criticize the former president (see my post RNC: ‘1/6 Was Legitimate Political Discourse’). Whether it’s a watershed moment remains to be seen.

Neil Cavuto Pleads, ‘Life’s Too Short To Be An Ass. Stop the Deaths.’

Take the political speaking points and toss them. I beg you, toss them.” -Neil Cavuto

Take a listen to Fox News host Neil Cavuto on the network Sunday, by video, after his positive Covid-19 diagnosis last week.

Video: <a href=”http://https://video.foxnews.com/v/embed.js?id=6278610478001&w=466&h=263<noscript>Watch the latest video at <a href=”https://www.foxnews.com”>foxnews.com</a&gt;

“… for God’s sake, think of the bigger picture here. Get outside yourself and think about those you work with. Think about those around you. Think about just keeping them safe,” he said.

Cavuto, who started with Fox at the beginning and hosts Your World With Neil Cavuto, has faced serious health issues over the years – cancer in the 1980s, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1997, and heart surgery in 2016. Now he has tested positive for Covid-19 as has his wife.

Fully vaccinated, he noted that half the break-through cases are those who are immunocompromised, as he is, and urged others to get the vaccine for themselves and for those around them.

“In the end,” he noted, “if you can get vaccinated and think of someone else and think of what that could mean to them and their survivability from this, we’d all be better off.”

“Think of the bigger picture.”

Background:

-Washington Post: Fox News host Neil Cavuto pleads with viewers to get vaccinated after breakthrough case

-Fox News: Neil Cavuto talks battle with COVID, urges vaccinations: ‘Take the political speaking points and toss them’

-USA Today: Neil Cavuto COVID: Fox News host urges vaccines after testing positive

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

Happy Birthday, Trixie Averill! Celebrate by Wishing Her a Great Day!

Trixie! We worked together in Virginia politics for years so it’s a great pleasure to remember her on her special day – October 27. Please join us in sending her birthday wishes!

Here’s a sample of the hundreds of photos I took of her over the years – activist, campaign worker, 6th Congressional District Republican Committee Chairman, State Central Committee members, 6th District Committee member, longtime magisterial district chair, Director for Americans for Prosperity, candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates …

… mom to Amy and Marcus … and Olivia, Katy Rae, Colin, and Little Mac, and the new one whose French name I cannot remember … and wife of Dan who has supported her endeavors, travels, and everything else that goes with an outgoing wife!

Thanks for ALL the memories and hard work, GOP Girl. Happy birthday, Trixie!

Trixie Averill – Past Chairs Tourism Excellence Award – 2015
Republican Party of Virginia Convention – Harrisonburg, 2018.
With Lt. Gov. John Hager and RPV First Vice Chair Mike Thomas

with Donald Williams (left) and Ben Dessart, State Central meeting, Staunton
Happy birthday, Trixie! (from left) Mildred Scott, Dexter Gaines, Dolores Switzer, Trixie Averill, Lynn Mitchell
Trixie and Gov. Bob McDonnell on his last day in office, State Capitol building
I very well remember this day at The Greenbriar for the U.S. Senate debate between Sen. Mark Warner and GOP candidate Ed Gillespie.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell, 2000-2021

Homeschoolers: Introduction to American Government at George Mason University with Bill Bolling

GOVT103: Introduction to American Government

Hurry! The deadline to register is August 15.

A new homeschool dual-enrollment history course can help you get a leg up on college. Earn three hours of transferable college credits through the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University—at nearly half off the regular tuition price!

Introduction to American Government is a fascinating course, presented by Virginia’s former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and George Mason University visiting professor! HEAV has worked with the lieutenant governor during past legislative sessions. He has been a supporter of homeschooling families during his extensive service to the Commonwealth.

This is a unique opportunity for homeschool high school students to learn from a conservative who knows the inner workings of government by personal experience. Developed specifically for homeschoolers–and limited to homeschoolers–his online course is essential for anyone who wants to learn more about how our government operates…or sometimes doesn’t operate; how the political system operates…or sometimes doesn’t operate; and how to be a responsible citizen.

HOW TO REGISTER

Homeschool Dual Enrollment

DEADLINE IS AUGUST 15

Click here to register!

Click here for instructions for completing the online application. They are detailed, but they will tell you exactly what to do.

  • Step 2: Pay all required fees for the three-credit hour course. (See STEP 2 on attached directions)
  • Step 3: Submit your student’s official transcript to Rachel Cleaver at rcleave2@gmu.edu. (See STEP 3 on attached directions). 

If you have any questions about the applications process, please feel free to contact Rachel Cleaver at rcleave2@gmu.edu.

ABOUT THE COURSE:

The homeschool dual-enrollment course will consist of weekly video lectures, which your student will access from the secure Learning Management System (Blackboard) at George Mason University. Students will have a unique GMU email and student ID that will enable them to access the Learning Management System.

These video lectures will be supplemented by a weekly Zoom meeting to discuss course content. Zoom meetings begin on August 26 and take place on Thursday mornings from 9 a.m.-10:30 a.m

TOPICS COVERED

  • Critical Thinking and Political Culture: Becoming A Responsible Citizen
  • Constitutional Democracy:
    Promoting Liberty and Self Government
  • Federalism: Forging a Nation
  • Civil Liberties: Protecting Individual Rights
  • Equal Rights: Struggling Toward Fairness
  • Public Opinion and Political Socialization: Shaping the People’s Voice
  • Political Participation: Activating the Popular Will
  • Political Parties, Candidates and Campaigns: Defining the Voters Choice
  • Interest Groups: Organizing for Influence
  • The News Media and the Internet: Communicating Politics
  • Congress: Balancing National Goals and Local Interests
  • The Presidency: Leading the Nation
  • The Federal Bureaucracy: Administering the Government
  • The Federal Judicial System: Applying the Law

A Valentine’s Day Message For My Children

A Valentine for my children…

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together … there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart … I’ll always be with you.” – Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)

‘Twas Two Weeks Before Christmas

Our tree, Mom’s chair, the bookcasethe family memories that make the holidays precious.

[About seven years ago I took a break from holiday planning, gift wrapping, and addressing Christmas cards and, as visions of my own version, er, sad attempt, of “The Night Before Christmas” danced in my head , I sat down and popped out a few verses before getting back to work. It’s Christmas in the Shenandoah Valley….]

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and all through the house
Every creature was stirring including the mouse.
With plans for family, friends, and neighbors, too,
To celebrate together … there was much left to do.

Last touches on the tree, a wreath on the door,
The presents were bought except perhaps just one more.
Gingerbread baked in the oven with care,
Looking forward to when our guests would be there.

Cleaning the house and planning the meals,
And scanning the ads for those last-minute deals.
Gift wrap was piled deep on the floor
To decorate gifts and candies bought at the store.

A Shenandoah Valley Christmas is what we’ll celebrate
With everyone here, this holiday’s sure to be great.
Two weeks left, we’re almost done
Then it will be time to enjoy all the fun.

December 2013

Christmas Offers a Time to Show Appreciation for Those in Our Lives

When I was a little kid, Christmas was a magical time to pick out a special something for my sisters and parents to show how much they meant to me. Today the same applies for family and friends who are the reason my life feels complete.

While growing up in Bon Air across the James River from Richmond, shopping opportunities were few for two young sisters with limited financial resources. There were the Buford Road Pharmacy and the Bon Air Hardware, both a short one- or two-block ride on our bicycles, so that’s where we did our shopping.

Two very patient older gentlemen worked in the Bon Air Hardware and I’m sure they probably chuckled to themselves as my sister and I walked among the rows of familiar plumbing supplies, carpenter needs, and other materials necessary for the upkeep of a house. Our young eyes wandered up and down the shelves as we searched their contents, hoping to find just the right gift for our parents, that was within our price range. The gentlemen offered kind suggestions for us neighborhood kids carrying only a couple of bucks in our pockets.

I say the gift was for our “parents” but it was usually more suited for our mother, and our good-natured Dad just got his name on the tag.

One year I decided on a paring knife for them. A paring knife. The cost was within my paltry budget so I proudly took it home to wrap but it was so small that I decided to find the biggest cardboard box I could to wrap this prized gift to make it seem more impressive.

I rolled the knife in tissue paper, placed it at the bottom, and then proceeded to stuff the box with wadded-up newspapers. It must have taken an entire roll of wrapping paper to cover the thing and, of course, it had to be topped with a bow.

If my mother was disappointed on Christmas morning, she never showed it. Looking back all these years later as a mother myself, I know the corny saying is true … it is not the gift that counts but truly the thought. I had wanted to be able to give more so the box seemed to represent my desire and the lonely little paring knife was the reality.

Christmas cookies 1
Christmas cookies

There was the year one of my younger sisters wanted the Magic 8 Ball that was all the rage. I scraped together enough money to get that one special gift for her and stored it in the closet of our shared bedroom. Unable to contain my excitement, we ended up playing with it before it was wrapped and put under the tree. Ah, the impatience of youth.

My sister and I made a coupon book one year for our parents with each page representing something we would do when presented with said piece of paper, i.e., washing dishes, babysitting our younger sister, and other chores that we were actually already assigned to us. I don’t remember ever having a coupon redeemed, perhaps because we were already expected to fulfill those obligations around the house.

I find gift-giving to be easier with those we know well. A friend may have expressed a like for a particular quote so it gives pleasure to print and frame the quote and gift-wrap it as a surprise. I truly enjoy finding something that fits the person, although sometimes falling flat on my face with my selection, and sometimes over the years I’ve had to resort to the ready-made one-size-fits-all category.

When funds are short, ingenuity goes a long way. During the years when my children were growing up and we were a one-income family and very pinched financially, homemade gifts were necessary. If you don’t think you can be creative, try coming up with something made by your own hands for someone you love, respect, or appreciate. After all, it is meant to be a reflection of how you feel about the person and gratitude for their place in your life.

Homemade, or maybe handmade sounds better, for me has included everything from hand-dipped candy and festive decorated cookies to evergreen wreaths that I fashioned from greenery on our property, to hand-sewn items to arts and crafts.

One year with two young children and more time than money, I sewed two Christmas aprons for my mom — one red and one green — complete with holiday appliqués. Those aprons hung on a hook in Mom’s kitchen until the day they moved into a retirement home in 2017. Now that both parents have passed, they hang on a hook in my kitchen.

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Miniature wreath made of sweet gum balls.

On the farm where we lived in North Carolina when our kids were born, we had a huge old sweet gum tree beside the front porch that dropped hundreds of sweet gum balls in the yard every fall.

One year I eyeballed those pesky little things — they are prickly — and then smiled. That was the Christmas I collected and made dozens of miniature sweet gum wreaths complete with tiny bows and gave them to friends and family.

Another year I collected, husked and cracked open black walnuts from our trees and gave the shelled nuts as gifts.

I remember years ago when one of my sisters found herself financially strapped when Christmas rolled around. She was living in Colorado and working her way through graduate school with limited resources. Mom bought her an airplane ticket to fly home for Christmas in Richmond so we could all be together and, when she arrived, she came bearing gifts.

On Christmas morning, I opened my gift from her and it was a rattan lamp from her Denver apartment that I had admired. She didn’t have the money to buy items for us so she had shared her own possessions. That lamp still sits in my home.

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Handmade wreath

Maybe I learned over the years that to receive a gift — any gift — is a kindness of the giver who took the time, whether a few minutes to purchase something or hours to handcraft it, because they cared enough to show a gratitude for the people in their lives not only throughout the year but especially during the holiday season (see Gigi Engle’s Why the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the best time of the year).

Now I have to get back to work because there are some gingerbread men in the kitchen waiting to be decorated as gifts for a friend who absolutely loves the holiday spirit that comes through in that personalized holiday treat.

Enjoy the days leading up to a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Originally published in 2015.

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