Susan Shinn: The gift of Christmas memories
Christmas is a season thick with nostalgia — so much so you have to brush the curtains of memory aside as each day passes. Days of anticipation, shopping, cooking, lighting the candles on the Advent wreath and finally sharing the light late each Christmas Eve, the sanctuary all aglow as we quietly sing “Silent Night.”
When I was a child, my mother woke me up early on Christmas Eve morning. We bundled up and set out into the chill. The back seat was full of treats. For days before, my mother had made chocolate-peanut butter balls, rum balls, double-decker fudge, fruitcake cookies and more. We’d covered leftover nut cans and coffee cans with felt, glitter and rick-rack, and filled them with yummy foods. There were names on each lid.
The first trip was next door, to see my Nana. We always gave her a coffee can — the larger size — full of “goodies,” as we called them. Then, we’d drive over the gravel farm road to Mrs. Corriher’s house. Mrs. Edith B. Corriher had been my kindergarten teacher at Mt. Zion. She was Edith Beaver Corriher, not Edith Beard Corriher. In that congregation, you had to be that specific.
Then we’d make our way “in town” to China Grove, for we lived “out in the country” in those days.
We’d drop goodies off for Hazel Dowless, who lived on Main Street across the street from Dr. Jim Fry’s optometry office (when Dr. David King came to town, he inherited me with the practice). The best parts of these errands, of course, were the visits, but one year Hazel was gone, and so we left the tin at her back door. When she got home, she proceeded to call Opal Shinn (Dr. Clyde’s wife) to thank her for the treats. Of course, that Mrs. Shinn had no idea what she was talking about (we’d signed the tag “The Shinns”). We laughed about that for years. After that, however, we wrote “The Ed Shinns” on the tag — and always called to make sure Hazel was home before we left.
Next, we’d drive around the corner to Mrs. Sandra Rogers’ house on Franklin Street. Mrs. Rogers was my beloved first-grade teacher, and I looked forward to seeing her every Christmas. More often than not, she’d still have on her green velour robe, and more often than not, her boys Greg and Geoff were there — and unbelievably, they were awake at that early hour. They must’ve been waiting for the chocolate-peanut butter balls, which were their favorites, and because of that, we added extra to their goody tins.
There was also a trip nearly to Landis to see Mrs. Ethel Eudy Bostian. She also got a large tin. Different people had different favorite goodies, but Mrs. Bostian liked them all. Every time our scripture readings mention the bent-over woman healed by Jesus, I think of Mrs. Bostian. She must’ve suffered terribly with her back, but she never complained. She was probably one of the smartest people I knew.
Over the years, we’d add my various teachers from China Grove Elementary to the list. One Christmas, we drove “all the way to Salisbury” to see Mrs. Jean Freeman, my fourth-grade teacher. That was just a one-time thing, though. Otherwise, we stayed close to home.
I was talking to Mother the other night, and we realized Mrs. Rogers was the only person left on our original list. The night of the 23rd, I picked up the phone and called her. Yes, she’d be home the next morning. Come on by.
It was not cold, but it was rainy, so I still bundled up. I’d fixed a small plate of white chocolate-peppermint bark (a big hit with son Andrew) and Mother contributed a bag of shortbread cookies. Mrs. Rogers and I settled down on the big red sofa and talked for a long time. It was a good visit. She showed me pictures of Geoff and his four beautiful children. Two will be going to college soon. Greg died in 1988, so those early-morning memories are even more precious to me.
That night, I sat beside my daddy in church, and we lit our candles once again and raised them high. For years, I was a choir orphan, so I was especially delighted we had yet another Christmas Eve together.
Christmas is a season thick with nostalgia. It’s a joy and privilege to add more memories with family and friends. On Friday, Mrs. Rogers told me she’d be expecting me next year.
The happiest of holidays to you all!
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.