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Leader Times readers share memories of Christmas

| Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, 7:48 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger
Busy as he was last night, Santa stopped on area porch for a quick photo just as the day was dawning. He is checking over his naughty and nice list while his sleigh is loaded behind him. By now, thousands of local youngsters have found the results of his travels. Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times

Editor's note: Each year at Christmas it has been a Leader Times tradition to offer the Christmas memories of our readers as sort of a Christmas gift to ourselves. We take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a very blessed Christmas Day. We look forward to serving you in the new year and hope you enjoy the following memories. — Michael O'Hare, news editor.

Baby Rachel

The friendly young saleswoman was showing me boots at the mall at Christmas time. She didn't complain about bringing out a quantity of them in order to find a pair that I like that fit. During that time, she chatted with me about recently completing her student teaching and graduating from a local university. I mentioned that I knew a particular professor at that school and she named him as her favorite teacher. Learning that I would be seeing him at an upcoming in-service meeting, she told me her full name and asked me to say “hello” to him to her.

Upon hearing her name, my mind traveled back in time more than 20 years to the day I had picked up a newborn baby girl at a Pittsburgh hospital and transported her to a waiting pre-adoptive foster home in a nearby county. It was my role at that county's child welfare agency to help single mothers plan for their expected babies, whether they would take them home and raise them or place them for adoption. The birth mother of this particular infant had chosen to relinquish her child to parents who could give her a good life.

The pre-adoptive foster parents were exceptional people who had welcomed several foster children into their family and I was well acquainted with them, having supervised the progress of two older children placed there. When I arrived at their home with “Baby Rachel” they were as excited and happy as if greeting their first child. They decided to call her “Sarah” during the time they would have her in their care, knowing that the adoptive parents might change her name.

Soon after that, I accepted a job in another area and moved away. I kept in touch with the foster parents for a while and learned that they had legally adopted “Baby Sarah” themselves. Eventually, I lost contact with them and many years passed.

On this day at the shoe store when the young woman told me her name so that I could remember her to her professor, I realized that I could be meeting the grown-up “Baby Sarah.” I asked her where she was from and whether she happened to know the foster parents who shared her surname. I merely explained that I had known these people a long time ago. She told me they were her parents and offered “Then you know that I was adopted.” I replied, “Yes, I brought you to your parents from the hospital where you were born.” It was an emotional moment for us both. She asked me if I could give her any information about her birth mother but, regrettably, all I could remember was that she had named her “Rachel.”

It was extremely gratifying to know that I had played a small, yet significant role in this young woman's life. I had placed her as a precious newborn baby into a family where she would thrive and grow to be the attractive, personable young woman I met at the mall at Christmas. I couldn't of asked for a better gift.

Mary Ann Peters

Bethel Township

Those we love at Christmas

Memories are precious when Christmas time is here. Each Christmas brings its blessings which are always near and dear.

We fondly think of lovely gifts and decorated trees, But also of the people, who mean even more than these.

Each person adds his special touch, his way of sharing love. God has given each a gift, a blessing from above. All gifts aren't wrapped, some come as smiles, or as a gentle touch. How great the twinkle in the eye on one who means so much.

The gift of understanding from those who know and care,

The gift of those who listen and who are always there,

The gift of those who help us with the burdens that we bear –

We cherish gift and giver, we hold dear the love they share.

What we recall from those we know, let's lovingly become. Let's be the patient, understanding, kind, and helpful one. The more we exemplify great qualities we've seen, The more that we can change the world; the greater blessing we can be.

Linda Keener

Virginia Beach, Va.

formerly of Fairmount City

Hometown Christmas

As one of four children in our family, growing up in a small community of two dozen houses, a church and one small “mom and pop” store which doubled as the resident's sun porch, there was no place I'd rather celebrate the holidays. The entire community contributed to the safety and welfare of each child. And the church was the heart of our little village. It was not only a place to worship, but also the community center where the Halloween parties, Christmas pageants and throughout the summer, thresherman style dinners were served every Wednesday to help raise the necessary funds to keep the doors open. Everyone pitched in to help and no one ever questioned why?

Surrounded by farmland and woods, with easy access to the local swimming hole along Mahoning Creek, all the children learned not only responsibility, good work ethics, the value of a hard-earned dollar and to respect our elders, but also how to have good, clean fun. The older kids always watched out for the younger ones and no one was left behind when it came to our outings. More often than not, the chores had to be done before we could head out to the swimming hole, the hiking trails, or the hill we all went sled riding on. Christmas was always the most popular time of the year as we prepared for the annual pageant. Costumes had to be made, candy treat bags were filled for each child and seemingly endless rehearsals were held at the church until every kid had their part down pat. When the evening arrived, we all dressed up in our holiday finery and with much excitement and anticipation, would walk, hand in hand, as fast as we could (without leaving our parents too far behind) the short distance to the church. As we gathered with our church family the feeling of love and compassion was overwhelming. Even as children we knew how special and important this time of fellowship was.

There was a special person among us that would dress up as Santa Claus and visit each home just before the big day. When we heard the sound of sleigh bells on the front porch it was hard to hide our excitement. Mom or Dad would greet our silent Santa Claus at the door, offering him a homemade popcorn ball in return for a firm handshake. My brother, sisters, and I would huddle up around Mom and Dad waiting for our individual greeting from this grand figure. His visits, year after year, would signal to us that each Christmas would the best ever and all would be right with the world.

The days leading up to Christmas were filled with activities such as baking, making popcorn balls, cleaning an decking the halls and searching for and harvesting the perfect tree from the woods near the house. Our home would be a cornucopia of great smells, numerous decorations and offerings of fruit, nuts, and a variety of Mom's special candy dishes, filled to the brim, but mostly reserved for the endless stream of holiday visitors.

Dad would plant the newly acquired pine tree in a huge ceramic crock filled with coal and water. Then he would encircle the tree with a string of very large lights, supervise the placement of brightly colored glass balls and bells, and the string of popcorn and cranberries and the garland strands. Then he would add the finishing touch of plastic icicles, carefully placed, one at a time. It seemed like it took forever, but when he plugged in the lights (if the fuse didn't blow) we tingled with joy as we looked in awe and wonder at this magical sight.

Getting ready for Christmas was always a labor of love and time for family togetherness. We each had our assigned jobs that went on for days, all culminating in the wonderous end result: another perfect Christmas.

When Christmas Eve arrived the grandparents usually did too. It wouldn't be Christmas without them, their warm embrace, kind words of wisdom and those special gifts that we were allowed to open that evening as a prelude to the great things to come. As the wrapping paper was flying off our gifts Mom, Dad, and the grandparents would relax with a mug of homemade eggnog and reminisce about Christmas' past. It may not have been evident to them, but we kids learned a lot about how tough things were for them and how thankful they were for the simple, but important things in life such as home, family, friends, church, and community.

Christmas would begin early as my siblings and I would quickly emerge from our long winter's nap, congregate in the upstairs hallway and anxiously await Mom's permission to proceed down the stairs, through the dining room to the grand spectacle awaiting us in the living room. Somehow Dad and our grandparents were there, dressed and sipping their morning coffee.

The excitement was almost unbearable and I often wondered how the adults could stay so calm admist all this magnificent Christmas magic. The day would be filled with a seemingly endless parade of yuletide visitors, aunts, uncles, cousins, and the occasional neighbor and family friend.

I and my siblings may not have been aware at the time, but the gift of love for family that the adults shared and taught us, through their examples, would end up being the greatest and most lasting gift of all.

The memories from those Christmases as a child would remain with me to be shared with and passed along to my children and grandchildren. I find it impossible to single out any one particular Christmas as being the greatest. Through the years of being parents and grandparents my wife and I have experienced so many great holidays. We now know how the excitement that seemed lacking in our own parents and grandparents was there, indeed, in the most unnoticed “twinkle” in their eyes that we now experience.

We are also aware that the best Christmas we ever may have may well be the one yet to be experienced.

I am so thankful for the 62 years given me and the all –inclusive mass of memories and lessons from each and every Christmas experience. May the true warmth and compassion of this holiday season be with you and yours, making it one of the best ever.

Dave Foreman


New Christmas memories

Last year I walked into the most wonderful church.

Justin Lamison, our pastor, was the first person I met. There he was with a big smile and an even bigger hug.

The feeling there was amazing. There is no doubt that Jesus is here. The members of our church are just like family. Their love and strength is all around.

We had our Christmas dinner on Dec. 9. It was just like home. The wonderful smells and all the laughter.

Standing at the sink drying dishes reminded me of last Christmas and how wonderful it felt to be here.

This Christmas is even more wonderful. These new Christmas memories will be with me always. Come visit us, and you can have new Christmas memories too.

NuMine Bible Fellowship of the Nazarene in NuMine.

I guarantee Justin will be there with a big smile and even bigger hug.

Dene Szul

Rural Valley

Christmas 1945

A moment in time, that will last forever, Christmas 1945:

Amid a wonderful youth, I was privileged to have a most memorable holiday experience.

The light of day had just turned to the darkness of the evening, on this day of Christmas Eve. My mother was busy in the kitchen, in preparation for our evening meal. Anticipation filled my mind, for what was to come the following morning.

It was customary to have modest decorations around our very comfortable home in Bethel Park. There was no tree on this day, as Santa Claus would bring and decorate the Christmas Tree for all of us to enjoy the following Christmas morning.

As a young boy of of 4½ years, I stood near the front window in a near trance filled with anticipation. With my nose pushed against the glass, there appeared to my wondering eyes, a sight I had never seen before. Santa Claus was in our front yard, and riding a horse up to our front door. I quickly called to mother, “Mother, come quickly, I see Santa in our front yard, it's going to be Christmas soon.” As quickly as Mom came to share my sighting, Santa rode off into the darkness. “He is checking to make sure you have been a good little boy, before he makes his rounds later tonight,” remarked my mother, as she gazed through the glistening window with me.

This sighting in our front yard, with a new fallen snow, excited my imagination to the fullest. In my tender years, and the confidence of knowing I had been a good boy, peaked my imagination for the coming morning.

It was during our evening meal that I revealed to my father, my experience earlier in the evening. He assured me, that if I went to bed early and slept soundly, Santa Claus would again visit us, through the night.

Soon we were off to church, just down the road from our home, everything was a sea of lights with gold, green and red everywhere. I told everyone of having seen Santa earlier that evening, and was assured that it was as real as this night itself.

With the aroma of baking, and fresh cookies, my older brother and I set a plate with several of our favorite cookies and a glass of milk at the head of the dining room table. We went to bed early, as we anticipated another visit from Santa.

Thoughts of my earlier sighting were instilled in my head, as I laid awake, I had really seen Santa, and on our front lawn. Amidst my circling thoughts, morning came quickly, my brother and I went in to wake our Mom and Dad. It was the rule of the household, that we all would prepare ourselves for the day, and together we went down the stairs there to find the wonderment prepared by Santa. Such a beautiful tree, fully trimmed, and hung with tinsel, surrounded by presents for everyone.

Good little boys do get a Christmas visit from Santa Claus, and we were witness to this glorious Christmas Day.

It was many years later, as I retold my sighting to Mom and Dad, that I learned that Santa on the horse was Tom Hultz, a friend of the family. He was delivering the evening newspaper dressed as Santa. The Hultz family kept several horses, and often Tom and his older brother Jay, rode their horses on the newspaper route.

The explanation did not darken what I knew was very real. The memory is as vivid today, as it was then, as I laid in my bed on Christmas Eve.

While attending an anniversary worship service, a few years ago at the Bethel Presbyterian Church, I was approached by none other than Tom Hultz. After all these years, he recognized my mother and I, and we were very glad to speak to him. I could not resist the temptation, to inquire if he recalled having ridden his horse on Christmas Eve, dressed as Santa Claus, many years ago. Tom affirmed my inquiry, and I related my experience as a young boy. Having lived my alotted three score and ten, and a few more, I remain in the capture of the imagination of a young boy. and ....still a believer.

Roy Williamson


The Christmas fruitcake

One of my most precious Christmas memories is of my grandmother's fruitcake. I know the old stories of how terrible they are and no one ever like them; but hers was great. When the time came for her to make the fruitcake, there was always a lot of preparation. First we would travel to the old A&P Store (this was in the 1950s) and buy all the ingredients. My grandmother would let me pick all the dried fruits and nuts we would use, the most important being the red and green maraschino cherries for the top.

We would go home and get out all the bowls, spoons, and pans to make this Christmas delight.

I remember my grandmother having a nice mixer, but she always held that big bowl under her left arm and the beat the cake mix with her right. (What a woman!) Then into the oven and all the sweet smells that would flow through the house. When it was done and cool, we would then get to taste it. How wonderful it was. Not at all like the ones you bought in the stores. It was moist and delicious. That was about 58 years ago, and my grandmother Thompson has been gone a long time, but every Christmas I think of all the baking we did together. The cookies, breads, pies, and especially the fruitcake.

What a wonderful Christmas memory this is. It's one that I now share with my own granddaughter. I hope she cherishes our times together like I do the ones with my grandmother.

Merry Christmas

Cynthia Duncan


The Old Man's Song

“The following poem was written by me for my sister Judy in 1998. You see, Judy and her husband owned and operated a small general store in the Brick Church area back in the 1990s. I was visiting her at the store one particular day when an older gentlemen stopped in to buy something. Even though he didn't have much to say, the look on his face inspired me to write this poem. You could say, his face told a story that didn't need to be spoken. It left me wondering, what was his story all about. This is how I read it to be:”


The old man had a song, you see, it was written on his face.

He didn't have to say a word, he just hung around this place.

I saw him at my sister's store, he hung outside the door.

She gave him a cup of coffee, who could ask for more?

The old man had a song, I could see it on his face.

He came inside and sat down, I knew he liked this place.

My sister gave him food, he had a smile upon his face.

His body filled with laughter, and a song upon his face.

Because of good deeds from another, I learned something that very day.

That God takes care of sparrows, the very same way.

The old man had a song, it was written on his face.

Because he trusted in God, you see, and my sister's loving grace.”

Brenda Palmo

for my loving sister, Judy.

Making it special

This is a tribute to my childhood and all of the memories of Christmas that I recall. Our Mom and Dad made Christmas special; we may not have had a lot, but being together as a family was worth more than any gift we could have received. Our Dad worked long hours at Allegheny Steel mill and never complained. Our Mom would bake cookies, wrap presents, and decorated the house but she always found time to spend with us kids and the entire family, making memories.

I remember going to Christmas Eve service and then riding around Ford City looking at all of the decorated houses, each one different and unique.

We would then go home and our neighbor, Wally, would load us kids all in the back of his pickup and him and my dad would ride us up and down James Drive as we would take turns jumping out of the truck and placing a jug candle every few feet or so the whole way along the street on both sides. Then we would have to go and light them all with lighters and usually by the time we were done, a lot of them had blown out and our fingers were frozen.

We loved those times and the street looked magical all lit up, people would come from all around to drive by and see the candle-lined street.

Our Dad went home to be with the Lord on June 28, 2010. It's hard to believe that it has been more than two years since we've seen him, and although the holidays will never be the same without him, we know that he would want us to enjoy Christmas, celebrating the birth of Christ and spending time together as a family as he once loved to do.

He has a twin brother, Sam, who lives in Ohio and each year when we kids were young, Uncle Sam would come back and spend the holidays with us. He and my Dad would gather us together around the fireplace and tell us stories of when they were young, laughing so hard at all of the funny things they did. I loved hearing those stories each year, even if they were always the same ones. A lot has changed since my Dad died, my Mom had to put our childhood home up for sale and she moved to a new little place of her own. There are so many memories spent in that old house on James Drive and it will be the second Christmas since I was about 4 years old that I didn't go “home” for Christmas Day.

The changes are bittersweet, but I will never forget my childhood days at that house. Now it stands cold and empty, waiting for a new family to come along and love it as much as we did. I miss those times spent with my Dad and I miss my childhood!

Below is a poem that the Lord laid upon my heart to write, the first Christmas without him. I pray that all who read it will reflect on their childhood memories and remember a special loved one that they spent the holidays with.

Christmas time memories

It's Christmas time, Dad

You're favorite time of year!

But it will never be the same,

Since you're not here.

Sadly, there won't be much holiday cheer!

You and Mom always made Christmas Eve great,

Us kids would talk you into letting us stay up late.

We sat around the fire, until you made us go to bed,

Each one of us dreaming of the day that lies ahead.

Always trying to find the “perfect” tree,

Taking it home and decorating it as a family

You're train display, Dad, was your pride and joy,

You received it as a gift, when you were a boy!

We decorated everything with tinsel and lights,

And lined the street with candles on Christmas Eve night.

The days grew colder and the wind would blow,

We could barely wait for the first fall of snow.

We would go sled riding with you and Uncle Sam,

You would even help us build a giant snowman.

These are the memories from my childhood,

To have them all back, Oh, how I wish that I could!

Opening presents on Christmas morn,

Celebrating the day that our Savior was born!

Singing “Silent Night” and “What Child Is This”

These are the memories that I truly miss

I don't want to celebrate the holidays being apart,

The Christmas spirit, has somewhat left my heart.

I miss you so much Dad, I know I shouldn't be blue,

Because now each year, Jesus gets to celebrate His birthday with YOU!

In Loving Memory of our Dad, CHARLES L. SIRWELL

Your Children: Crystal, Charity and Curt

Poem Written By: Charity Edwards

War was over

I was recalled in Aug 2004 to serve in Iraq. After being trained up for combat and assigned to a unit I finally arrived in Iraq about Christmas 2004. Served overseas for about a year. This is my fondest Christmas memory:

Dec 24, 2005, Atlanta airport, 1 p.m., just released from active duty, given standby ticket by Army, waiting to get confirmed flight before calling home, didn't realize it was Christmas Eve.

Finally at about 10:30 my name is called, seat is available got to get on plane NOW no time to call home. Oops. Land in Pgh at about 2 a.m. Christmas day, still haven't realized it is Christmas, last few days were a blur. Call home and hear why the ... didn't you call?

Sitting in waiting to be picked up. Wife and daughter arrive.

It is then my daughter says I got what I wanted for Christmas, I WAS PRAYING YOU WOULD BE HOME!

My war in Iraq ended.

Dallas Bryan

Slate Lick, a native of Delaware

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