|James P. Wilcox|
Love, joy, gratitude, contentment, happiness, and even a little sorrow are the emotions that surge through me when I think about my favorite holiday memories. Although I have enjoyed many, many wonderful birthdays, Thanksgivings, Fourth of July’s, and Christmases, three dates stand out as my favorite holiday memories: March 8, 1975, December 24, 1993, and December 25, 2002. Each of these holiday dates holds a special meaning for me, some for obvious reasons and some for not so obvious reasons.
The first date, March 8, 1975, was my third birthday (yes, as much as I hate to admit it, I am that old). This is one of my earliest, and happiest, memories of my childhood. Two things about this day stand out in my memory: my birthday cake and a stuffed turtle.
I distinctly remember that my birthday cake was a three layer, chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting, decorated with marshmallow men. My mom “created” the marshmallow men out of, well you probably guessed it already, marshmallows and toothpicks. She decorated their “faces” with icing, used gum drops for their buttons, and made each one a little, paper, cone hat. I don’t remember what the cake tasted like, but I do remember being joyfully amazed by the marshmallow men and I do remember that they were delicious.
The second thing that made this birthday so special was the stuffed turtle. It was birthday tradition in my house that we received one of our birthday presents right after waking up on our birthday morning, while we had to wait for the rest of the presents until after dinner. When I woke up that morning, my mom gave me my present: a stuffed turtle (she had knitted it herself). I was overjoyed with that turtle and I remember sitting at the dining room table, eating my cereal (Cheerios, if I remember correctly), and hugging that turtle to my neck. The turtle, which I appropriately named Turtley, became my constant companion and best friend in no time flat. He was with my through the good time and the bad of my childhood, “someone” I could talk to no matter what. He often served as my pillow at night and someone to play with during the day. I loved that turtle with all my heart and I am proud to say that I still have Turtley and he has been “passed” down to my youngest son. Although my youngest son doesn’t seem to appreciate the stuff turtle as much as I did as a boy, the stuffed turtle I received for my third birthday is still a special part of my life.
Christmas Eve of 1993 was a special night for me because that was the night I asked my wife to marry me. I was only 21 years-old and my wife and I had been dating for nearly five years (aaahhhh, how sweet, we were high school sweethearts). I had planned for this night for months. We were both home from college (I went to the University of Kansas while my wife attended Kansas State) and we had spent the day together. That night, we attended the 10:00 pm Christmas Mass with my wife’s parents. After mass, we ended up at her parent’s house where the two of us traditionally exchanged our Christmas gifts. This night, December 24, 1993, I gave my wife a glass rose, before I got down on one knee and presented her with a real rose. I had placed the engagement ring inside the rose and it took my wife a second or two to notice it. When she noticed the ring, I popped the question “Will you marry me?” My wife immediately burst into tears and threw her arms around me. After several minutes, I couldn’t take it any longer and had to ask, “So, is that a yes?” Needless to say, to did indeed say yes and made me the luckiest guy in the world.
December 25, 2002 is another Christmas I will never forget. This is the Christmas that I spent with my wife at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. This Christmas started off as any other, regular old Christmas. My on woke my wife up early in the morning, desperate to find out if Santa Claus had come (he was only 20 months at the time, but he was still pretty desperate). If wife and I got up and we headed out to the Christmas tree where my son proceeded to dive into his presents. After all the packages had been unwrapped, toys and boxes played with, and breakfast was served, my son fell asleep from pure exhaustion. We put him down for his nap and then got ready to head over to my parents house. We spent the afternoon with my parents, before heading over to my in-laws and spending a couple of hours with my wife’s family. After we packed up all my son’s new toys into the car, along with several unopened presents, we got him into his red, one-piece footie pajamas and headed out. We still had one stop to make before we could take my oldest home and put him to bed.
As we made the 15 minute drive down to Children’s Mercy Hospital, my wife and son were quite, my son dozing in his car seat and my wife lost in her own thoughts. When we pulled into the parking lot, my wife had tears on her cheeks. We finally found a spot (the parking lot was amazingly full that evening), my wife commented that it was sad that so many families had to spend Christmas at the hospital. My wife carried my son, while I grabbed the unopened presents and we headed inside. When we finally made it to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, NCIU, my son had woken up and was ready to meet his new brother. We walked to the “room” at the end of the hall and there he was, wrapped in a blanket, snuggled in warmer, with monitors beeping, and tubes snaking into his tiny body.
You see, my youngest son was born on November 26, 2002, 16 weeks early (he was due on St. Patrick’s Day, but was born the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, just to give you some perspective of how early he was), weighing 1 pound 8 ounces. Needless to say, he was very, very sick. He had already made it through two surgeries by this time (he would have a total of 16) and was still in the NICU (he would spend a total of 5 months there).
Although it may seem strange that this is one of my favorite holiday memories, this Christmas was very special because for a couple of reasons. First, my son had made it to his first Christmas, which was a miracle unto itself, as the doctors and nurses had prepared us for the worst from day one. This was also a special Christmas because this was the first time that my oldest son got to meet his little brother. Although my oldest knew he had a brother, he just wasn’t old enough to understand why his brother wasn’t at home with him. Seeing the look on his face when he peered into the warmer the first time, well, that is something I will never forget.
It was an amazing Christmas because when we were sitting in my son’s room in the NICU, watching the nurses stuff my oldest full of candy, as he padded up and down the hall in his red footie pajamas, all I could feel was love. Love for both of my sons, love for my wife, love for the nurses and for Children’s Mercy. As my wife and I unwrapped my youngest son’s presents and talked to him and read him stories, before finally kissing him good night, I was simply enveloped in a glow of peace and contentment like I have never experience before. It was during that visit that I knew everything was going to be all right. I am happy to say that everything did turn out all right. Although my youngest gave us several scares during his five months at Children’s Mercy and endured 16 surgeries, I am happy to say he is now a healthy young boy who recently celebrated his 9th birthday.
Love, joy, gratitude, contentment, happiness, and even a little sorrow, that just about sums up the holidays for me.
James P. Wilcox is the author of Sex, Lies, and the Classroom, The M-16 Agenda, and the recently released Musings of a Particular Bear: A Poetry Collection. James, a former newspaper photographer and writer, is currently a high school teacher in the Kansas City area, where he lives with his wife and three children. James is currently working on his third novel, tentatively titled Sacrificing Tyreshia. To find more information about James and his work, visit the official author website at http://www.jamespwilcox.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books are available through Amazon.com, B&N.com, and Unique Books and ebook versions can be found on Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords.com.