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My Funniest Holiday Mistake

Do you have a holiday memory that makes you laugh whenever you think of it?

This article on avoiding disappointment at Christmas had me mulling about expectations and how we confine our enjoyment when our definition for a good Christmas is too narrow.  Point 7–on memories being made by mistakes reminded me of a funny story that happened nearly twenty years ago. (How can it be that long??)

We were having a jolly family gathering with my dad’s extended family.  The dining room and kitchen were crammed to the gills with thirty or more parents and grandparents and children, toddlers and teens. We’d stuffed ourselves with mashed potatoes and turkey, glasses had been filled and refilled, stories told, and please-pass-the-pecan-pie for just another sliver.

With bellies full we pushed back from the table–the men stretching and heading toward the comfort of couches and armchairs in the living room. The aunts scraped out serving dishes and discussed how tender the meat turned out and that there had been just the right amount of sweet potatoes. We girls stacked plates and collected silverware and glasses.

At my aunt Esther’s house they often poured the leftover tea, water and coffee into an empty pitcher then carried six or eight empty glasses to the kitchen in one trip. I guess having six children in one family makes you efficient with clean up. I emptied the glasses that day. On my way to the kitchen I passed my cousin Phil and asked him jokingly, “Aren’t you thirsty for a drink?” He laughed obligingly at my joke.

We washed the dishes quickly,  but really it was fun working together since we had so many cousins to work beside and talk with while we banished an enormous mound of dirty dishes through a pre-rinse, sudsy water, a quick rinse, a swish of a dish towel and finally placing them into the cupboards.

The afternoon was always fun with the whole gang of cousins. Most of us were teenagers and we often played board games, laughed uproariously until even the adults came by to see what was so funny, then got into some seriously fun debates. Dorcas snapped pictures for her photo albums, we all took turns holding the newest baby, and Aunt Esther set out clementines and nuts and mints to snack on during the afternoon.

In the evening there was more food, more talking, more laughing and game playing. We stayed up much later than the adults because it was a holiday.  After people started drifting to bed the girls would  group up by ages and settle in for slumber parties.

This night my cousins Julia, Barb, and I were sleeping on a floor bed in a tiny office–we would much rather improvise than spend the night apart. Before we settled in for late night talks we stocked up on snacks and drinks from the kitchen.

Jul crunched on a chips as she described the latest shocking tragedy. We unwrapped more chocolates–who was counting?  The tea was  so good. “Mmm,” I remember saying, “this tea is even better than it was at lunchtime. I thought it was a little weak then (I had made it, so I could call it), but it’s delicious now.” The others agreed and we went back to commiserating with poor Jul– her stories were so descriptive we were often laughing until we cried. We did our best to keep the noise down because as Barb reminded us, Grandpa was sleeping in the next room and had trouble enough sleeping through the night.

The next day always started a little groggily after our late nights, although my cousins always seemed a little unnaturally cheerful in the mornings. (I don’t know their secret, or I would share it.)

While discussing the plans for the day and assigning cooking duties to us girls, Aunt Esther mentioned that I could make tea again. “But make an extra gallon or two this time because we ran out yesterday.”

“Oh, but there was still half a pitcher left;” said one of my cousins, “we drank some of it last night.”

“No, we ran out.” more people chimed in. “I wanted a refill, but there was none left.”

“Then what….” Realization washed over us and Jul, Barb, and I stared at each other with mouths hanging open.  “No. No. No…..We didn’t.  Please don’t tell me….”

“We must have…”


“What???!” everyone in the kitchen wanted to know.  With horror we told them that we must have been drinking the tea from the pitcher that had collected all the leftover beverages from the table. Apparently, since both sinks were filled with dishwater, I had set the pitcher on the kitchen table to be emptied later, and while I was drying dishes someone else came by assuming it was tea and placed it in the refrigerator. That night we girls looked for something to drink and pulled out the same pitcher to fill our glasses.

Everyone shrieked with laughter at both our mistake and our dismay.  Between laughter and gasping for breath I managed to eek out, “And I said it tasted better than the tea we had a lunch! Remember that?”

“I know!” gasped Barb and Julia. There really was nothing we could do but laugh. Well, that, and make sure the pitcher of leftover liquids got dumped immediately after the next meal.

Most of Us Don’t Know Each Other’s Name

Last weekend we thoroughly enjoyed having the Whispering Pines youth down here for a mission trip.  We took them sightseeing downtown, they had a chance to pass out tracts and sing a little, and went along Sunday morning to help feed the homeless and pass out bundles they had brought along.

One of the highlights was watching the Children’s Christmas Parade Saturday morning.  While we were there, a homeless man struck up a conversation with Randy and Jolene.  They introduced me to him later, and he invited me to come downtown so that he could give me an inside look at his world, the world of the homeless.

So, this morning I dropped Christy and the boys off at the zoo and headed downtown.  I knew that he slept at the Catholic church, but all I knew to do if he wasn’t there was to ask others who might know him.  He had assured me that some of the others would know where he was.  In his words, “They know who I am.  Just tell them my name.”

I parked and set out to find him.  I went to the church, the park where we met, and a good bit of the area close by.  No go.  The people I asked seemed to have no idea who I was talking about.  In the end,  I did not find him, but I had a lot to think about.

As I walked the streets in the 40 degree cold and my hands started to tingle from cold (yes, I am a southerner!), I wondered what it would be like to depend on others for my clothing.  Walking past a gated open basement with a welcome heat blast emanating from it all I wanted to do was huddle down as close as I could get.  What would it be like to not be able to adjust the thermostat at will?  One man, loaded with his bundles, stopped for a quick rest.  When I asked if he could help me, all I saw in his eyes was panic.  Although it seemed that he was suffering from either a mental illness or some other cause, I realized that  he had no idea what I was up to or what I intended, and his distrust was obvious.  This was reinforced when the next man I asked said, “We (referring to the homeless) stick together, but we really don’t know most of each other’s names.  I doubt half of them know my name.  There are too many of us.”  A life of constant wariness, of uncertainty, is a stress that I find hard to fathom.  Seeing all the people that spend most of the day surviving for that day is so different than what I know.  I realize that a very high percentage are in their situation because of an addiction of some kind, whether it is drugs, alcohol, or another substance.  That did not change what I felt as I watched.  Knowing that many of them spend a large portion of their day going from one person to another, all while clearly being seen as inferior by the majority of those they meet, is saddening.  Their choice impacts them, but our response wounds them.  Watching so many of them interact with each other, mostly male-to-male, makes me ache for them, wishing they could have the family connections I am blessed with.  I can only imagine the depression I would struggle with if I were in their shoes.

I came away amazed at how positive so many of the people are I am blessed to feed.  I’ll never forget the time soon after I started when one of them looked at me and said, “You need to be smiling!”  This man was smiling then, and has every time I have seen him.

I also can only imagine the loneliness, the dependency, the inferiority that many of them feel.  I wonder how far a smile of recognition, a “hello,” an offer of help go.  I left wishing I knew more about Jesus’ heart for the needy.  But mostly, I keep thinking of the man who said, “Most of us don’t know each other’s names.”