The last words Dad said to me on the night of Christmas day were, “If it weren’t for you, Rog, I would be dead.” The macabre pronouncement startled me, and I wondered if it bespoke gratitude or chagrin, and whether I should feel satisfaction or dread. I know this: I could not answer him. This one day of all the year’s days had exceeded my strength to generate joy. Still single and alone and clueless about making a change. None of my seven children or four grandchildren with me. A loved one who will not speak to me. Reminders of my life’s great griefs. In response to Dad’s comment, I had strength only to slip from the room and to find my bed and sleep, without saying good-night to anyone. This holiday darkness has been gathering for weeks, and fully came over me on Christmas day. I have been contemplating how to illustrate depression with words. Perhaps this: imagine a claustrophobe tied up and wedged in a magnetic resonance imaging tube with the awful wretched throbbing penetrating shredding noise of a year-long scan. Or: a perpetual myocardial infarction gripping your chest, squeezing hard, and you think you might die, but somehow you do not. Joy eluded me, and happiness fled, and this despite Mom’s and Dad’s cheer and generosity, my siblings’ love and support, and my children’s admiration and friendship. My world had darkened and closed in around me, and I could feel only emptiness. I was in the MRI tube, holding my chest. In the dark underworld of depression, I cannot imagine any other life, in that moment, than a hopeless life. Disabled for a spell, yet I have always had a vague sense of a far-off entity whispering to me, “Hold on,” assuring me I will emerge. I cannot believe it in the moment. But I can keep going through the motions of living, and I can be still and wait. The scripture of my Church teaches that the light which shines in the universe, and the light which enlightens my mind and yours, all proceeds forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space and every human being in it. Truth also comes from God’s presence. Light and truth are one. God has put a measure of light and truth in the hearts and minds of all humankind. Through free will I can grow that light and be filled with that truth. That thing that whispers to me is light, dim and distant, but undeniably present. If I can but muster a mustard seed of strength, a farthing of faith, an ounce of compassion for myself, my strength will grow, and I will be able to hold on to the hope that light and truth can chase off the darkness and be mine. Sleep is a great mercy, and I slept, and I awoke the next morning to the fact that I had survived another Christmas, that yesterday’s darkness was behind me, that today I just might possibly find a shimmer of light and hope. I ventured onto the frozen trail, excited to try my new tool, my Kahtoola MICROspikes (pictured above), strapped to my hiking boots. All of the 50 hikers I passed wore spikes—I am very late to the party. But I have them now, the right tool, and I strapped them on and climbed mile after mile on snow and ice without once falling back or slipping up as I made my way slowly and steeply up the mountain.
I thought they were cute. Maybe others disagreed. But the notion of old glass dressed up and repurposed appealed to me. I made 78 of them, each unique, with patches and stripes and twists and belts in pastels and bright colors. My children helped me as we sat around the kitchen table with our diluted white glue and our strips of colored tissue, inventing patterns on the fly. I bought 78 plastic flowers from a dollar store and planted them in the jars, filled with gravel. I sold some. I gave some away as gifts. I put electric candles in them and arranged them to form a colorful lantern lane at Laura’s wedding. And I put the leftovers in boxes which I stored in the garage, which I brought with me to Mom’s and Dad’s house, and which have been sitting idle in their basement. The time had come either to throw them away or to give them away. Later this afternoon I would decide. For now, Hannah was playing in the wet snow rolling and assembling snowman parts, using Austrian pine needles as whiskers and pine cones for eyes, and an Olaf stick for a tuft of hair on top. And I knew this was my chance to play, to turn away from my infinite chores and to play, to play with my daughter making snowmen and a fort, a massive fort, founded with spheres of heavy wet snow too large for three adults to roll any farther, a five-gallon bucket making big cylindrical bricks for walls with battlements on top. And my son Caleb loved me enough to leap from the house barefoot and giggling to run madly in the snow and to tackle me with laughter and glee and rolling in the snow and throwing wet snow in each other’s faces and laughing like little boys—he loved me that much. When they left to spend Christmas elsewhere, I sank back into that dark lonely place, knowing that to claw my way out on this Christmas eve I would be wise to find a way to look outward from myself to someone else, and those dusty papier mâché mayonnaise and pickle jars in their basement boxes came to mind. While Mom made a list, I rushed to a dollar store for fresh plastic winter flowers and a bag of cheap gravel, and made 20 homemade vases to deliver on Christmas eve. Mom beamed when I asked her to come with me and to navigate to her 20 chosen homes, where in the orange wisps of sunset I set the vases on doorsteps to be found on the eve or on the day of Christmas.
Dad turned 87 years old today. Which means, he said, the day was the first of his 88th year on this planet earth. Eighty-seven is just an arbitrary number to me, but its numerical value in a human-life context does imply advanced age and all the ailments and challenges and wisdom that accompany. And 87 seems awfully close to 90, which everyone knows is old. But to me, Dad is just Dad, whatever his age. He refused my recent suggestion that we move our traditional Baker Christmas Eve party from the 24th to the 23rd—he would not countenance celebrating himself in juxtaposition with the Celebration of Christ. What’s more, he shares a birthday wish Joseph Smith, born in 1805, to whom the Father and the Son manifested themselves in fiery visitation and through whom They revealed a restoration of the gospel and church of Jesus Christ. No, Dad would not set himself up for celebratory propinquity with the Son of God and His great latter-day Prophet. I conceded the point and informed him of the family conveniences of celebrating Jesus and Joseph and not him on the 23rd, and that any festivities would be purely coincidental and all pointed heavenward. So, the family gathered, and we ate a hearty meal, and we sang Christmas carols and hymns, and Dad narrated the story of the birth of Jesus in the company of animals and the humblest of people, and how even the earth’s great scholars from eastern lands came to honor and endow. Two great-grandchildren, Lila and Gabe, arranged the animal and human figurines as the story played out in their three- and four-year-old minds. And, yes, we sang happy birthday to Dad, by which point he could not escape our ebullient attentions. And he received our gifts, some wrapped in gold paper. Now we are two days from Christmas. People in politeness persist in asking me if I am ready for Christmas, to which I answer “almost.” But I wonder if I am ever ready for Christmas, if any of us are ever really ready for Christmas. I did manage to purchase all the gifts and mail all the cards which convention and family require. I helped decorate the house and the yard and helped cook the meals and bake the pies. I joined in the board games and snowman building and the Christmas-movie watching. But is my heart ready for Christmas? Is my heart ready for all seven of my children and their spouses and children to be elsewhere for Christmas? Is my heart ready to make Christmas special for Mom and Dad, the objects of my awkward caregiving, and I in turn the past and perpetual object of their careful childrearing? Am I ready to be humble and kind and generous? Am I ready to forgive and to move forward with courage into newness? I want to answer, Yes, I am ready, or will be in time, but the silent truth is, I am not ready—not really—but I’m trying. I was ready enough to stand around the piano with the family group and sing my part, and I was ready to join the friendly snowball fight with the children and to be tackled by my barefoot smiling son in the snow and to roll frostily around grinding snow in each other’s laughing faces, and I was ready to say “I love you” to my cherished ones.
(Pictured above: my Nutella French Silk Pie, in a Julia Childs pie shell.)
(Below: glimpses of a celebration, with birthday boy under the light of the lamps.)
December 17. Twelve degrees Fahrenheit. I am hiking to Bell Canyon Falls. But I am not alone this time. My son John read about my December 4th loneliness and invited me to hike with him today. Dad slept still when we left, but Mom asked his questions for him, about whether we had water, food, good boots, warm gloves, our hiking poles. We pushed past where I had turned around two weeks before, pushed up to where the slow lay three feet deep beside the trampled trail. We talked about life and love, relationships and challenges, joys and dreams, and I rejoiced quietly in his conversation and his character. Cold in my bed two nights before, I had dreamt of death, a peaceful dream in which the presence of Death descended gently to touch those whose time had come to return—a soft, benign touch, not threatening, but caring and compassionate, possessing a perspective large as a universe about our journey through an eternity of time in an infinity of space. Still, when I awoke in the dark, I felt compelled to check on Mom and Dad, to see if the dream had been prophetic or merely a macabre play on my anxieties. As I stood in their bedroom doorway, the nightlight on the wall behind me cast an enormous human shadow on the wall before me, and I thought of the grim reaper, only I was grimless, and guileless, and I was not a messenger or a harbinger, but a steward and a servant and a son. Dad snored calmly, and Mom’s sleep had sunk beneath his snores. Throughout the week, groups of neighbors and church members had stopped by to wish Mom and Dad a merry Christmas. A group of six young women and their adult advisors came to carol. Dad had wanted to greet them in the formal living room, but he could not walk that far—he may never walk that far again. So he smiled and joined in the singing from where he was, holding the large gift basket in which lay a loaf of cranberry walnut bread, wool-blend socks (even a pair for me), and mint truffle hot cocoa mix. A bunch of boys with their adult advisors came to deliver a puzzle and oranges and blonde brownies and Andes mints. Couples delivered a pineapple, whole wheat bread, peach freezer jam, a poinsettia, ornaments for the tree, and green bananas (because Mom told them Dad likes green bananas, not the brown blotchy sweet ones she enjoys), each gift an expression of love and regard and caring. This is what I thought about as I slipped and rolled clumsily but harmlessly down the steep snowy mountainside, snow sticking to every inch of me, still with no spikes on my boots, still in the mountain’s cold shadow, my knees complaining loudly, the moisture from John’s breath frozen stiff on the whiskers of his mustache, my water bottle frozen in my coat pocket. And then sunlight struck the tops of the snow-laden trees and worked its way warmly down to the snow-covered sagebrush and the deep snow drifts and the path and two hiking men with their poles swinging in easy rhythm.
On Christmas Eve 1941, Dora shooed Nelson (barely turned 6) and his siblings, Louise (7) and Bill (4) up to bed: “Santa will not come until after you are in your beds asleep.” After sleeping for some time, Nelson awoke and, thinking it was morning, woke his siblings: “It’s Christmas morning,” he whispered. “It’s time to go downstairs.” In fact, Nelson had awoken after being asleep for a very short time, perhaps one-half hour. The children stepped quietly down the stairs to see the presents Santa had left for them under the Christmas tree. Instead, they saw their mother putting presents under the tree. The main object they observed was a new Flexible Flyer sled. Dora turned from the tree and saw the children spying from the stairs. “You get back upstairs and go to sleep!” she bellowed. When morning had really come, the children came down the stairs to see their new sled. Christmas night had brought new snow, which the morning’s cars had packed down on the Millcreek Canyon road. Dora bundled the children up and drove them to the top of a straight portion of the inclined road. She instructed the children that she would drive to the bottom of the hill and signal when they could safely launch. From the bottom of the hill, after the several cars had passed, she waved at the children, and they took turns flying down the icy road on their new sled. Whichever child had sledded down would pull the sled back up the road. Bill, being small, had the benefit of sliding down on each run and being pulled back up the hill by his older sister or brother. Sometimes a car would begin to drive up the road after the sled run had begun, and the rider would have to steer off the road to avoid the car. Thirty years later, Mom and Dad bought a Flexible Flyer for my siblings and me, and we passed many shrill happy hours racing down the hill at Johnson Park, in Piscataway, New Jersey. Whether sitting or prone, we could twist the cross-bar to navigate handily around tree trunks, though once Dad took us down the hill on an old wood toboggan that did not steer well and he crashed us into a tree. We all tumbled off, thrilled with the adventure and mishap, but sad for the cracked toboggan.
Pictured above: the Baker Flexible Flyer, still in use after 50 years.
My ten-year-old hot-desert-weather Arizona niece Amy came to visit for the New Year holiday week, bringing my sister Jeanette with her. The night their airplane arrived (actually one o’clock in the morning), a dark wall of low purple clouds dumped six inches of new powder on the valley, just in time for Amy to take us sledding. Jeanette had dug their winter clothing out of her attic and checked a suitcase-full on the flight, so the girls were prepared. Continue reading
A number of years ago, Tooele City, where I have worked for 28 years, began to host craft workshops for the locals. A color flyer showed the projects, often holiday themed, and we could order them online. On the appointed evening, we gathered to collect our crafts, mostly preassembled, to paint and decorate them. Several times I took one of my children for a crafting date—Hyrum made a small sledge. I have made snowmen, scare crows, pumpkins, pilgrims, and Easter bunnies. Often more than 50 people would come—and I was always the only man there! Covid-19 shut the program down temporarily, but then it resumed, with the public picking up their projects from city hall, and taking them home to finish. This Christmas season, I ordered a winter village scene (pictured above), which my daughter Laura and I painted during her short trip from Houston. Mom ordered a wood block nativity set (pictured below). These crafts have been an important activity for me, for the chance to socialize with nice people, and to exercise what little artistic inclination I have—not to mention having fun holiday decorations to exhibit on the front porch or on the dining room table. I appreciate my town for providing this enriching quality-of-life activity, and for finding a way around a pandemic to keep the program going.
We moved our Baker extended family Christmas Eve party to December 23 this year. My (former) wife and I began the tradition in 1992 when we lived with my paternal grandmother Dora, in the basement of her little house, after our return from Portugal, where I had been a Fulbright student. We enjoyed a simple “shepherd’s meal,” with bread and cheese and nuts and fruits and cold meat. We recounted the birth of the baby Jesus, and we sang Christmas carols. Dora, a cute 83 years old, dressed up as Mother Mary and held on her lap my two-year old son Brian. This year Brian brought his two-year-old Lila as we continued the tradition with Mom and Dad and our extended family of Baker siblings and their posterities. We moved the party from December 24 to December 23 to add Dad’s birthday to the Christ-child celebration. We had planned the move for last year to celebrate Dad’s 85th birthday, but Covid-19 dictated otherwise. So, we rescheduled for 86. But Dad would not allow us to celebrate his birthday at the party. Though December 23, this party, he insisted, was to celebrate the birth of Jesus, not the birth of Dad. He grudgingly allowed a few gifts, but focused on his Savior, and on another notable birth, also on December 23, the 1805 birth of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet who established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to whom the Father and the Son appeared in 1820. Those two birthdays counted, Dad said, not his. We rebuffed him with a respectful, “Yeah, whatever” and added Dad’s birthday to the trifecta celebration. Card tables and folding chairs accommodated the crowd, which passed by the kitchen island for plates of ham, scalloped potatoes, and my French glazed carrots and parsnips touched with ginger. And Sarah’s perfect homemade whole-wheat bread. We sang Christmas carols and rounds and hymns. We played a matching game with carol names and lyrics. We played again our indispensable traditional “Left-Right” game in which the group sits in a circle, each person with a wrapped gift, and passes the gifts to the left or to the rights as those words appear in the story Mom narrated about the “Wright” family, with laughter and chaos and flying wrapping paper—one never knew what gift one would receive. And Brian read the Birth story in Luke 2. And Dad blessed us again with his Christmas message of love for his Savior and love for his family and how the two inseparably embrace. The time came for everyone to disperse from whence they came, and Mom, Dad, and I felt content and happy and relieved that the Christmas Eve Birthday party—our 29th annual—had been a success, having celebrated the births of Jesus, Joseph, and Dad: quite our favorite trio.
(Pictured above: a family service project with Mom and Dad.)
My thoughts and feelings on Christmas are bittersweet. Since divorcing seven Christmases ago, the season brings sadness and uncertainty and a nagging sense of failure, along with the traditional excitement and joy and love. I ruminate on knotty questions: Do I pull my children away from their mother? Will their mother pull our children away from me? How do I plan? What activities do I undertake? How do I think about gifts and meals and parties? My seven children are mostly grown and gone, but orbit back frequently. They are my life’s joy. At Hannah’s holiday choir concert with the Millennial Choirs and Orchestra, six of my seven children were present, with their spouses and granddaughter Lila, even Caleb and Edie on the night before their wedding. I am grateful for such times—they become joyful memories. The children’s mother and I are peaceable, both devoted to the success and happiness of our children. We have found ways to share the Christmas celebration together, to not pull the children apart, but to give them the best broken-family experience we know how. “Broken family” is the 20th Century’s nomenclature for our family status, but I loathe the label. We are still a family, and there is nothing broken about us, just different, a bit challenging, like in all families. We are doing our very best for the family, for the children. So, I try to set sadness aside, and work to find ways to give and to enrich, to find ways to remember Jesus, our loving Savior and Redeemer, who gave us the example of giving and forgiving. I look for ways to celebrate Christmas. So, I watched the children open their gifts, enjoyed the traditional strawberry waffles, talked and plunked the guitar, and played card games and board games and laughed. And Hannah affirmed in a letter, “I love you so very much Daddy! I am so blessed to have you as my father.” Ways to celebrate Christmas.
“Can we come around 7:00?” she asked. “That would be lovely,” I answered. And they came, on a very cold Tuesday night, a small group of church youth with their leaders—two young women and two young men. “Merry Christmas!” they cheered. Mom and Dad brought them into the living room, where the group sat visiting on the sofas. The leaders sparked up a Christmas carol, and the youth sang in shy murmurs. Until Mom joined, that is. Though the youth came to serenade her, she jumped right in with her cheerful choral charisma and had the small group singing enthusiastically. After half-an-hour of caroling, the group called again, “Merry Christmas!” and filed out the door, Mom and Dad waving, everyone happier for the visit. “We had so much fun,” Mom beamed when I came home late from work. The youth left a beautiful gift basket with a poinsettia, various fruits, a loaf of Great Harvest cinnamon-raisin bread, Stephen’s mint truffle hot cocoa mix, and two pair of warm winter socks.
Steven and I pulled the black garbage bags off the high closet shelf. Each bag held a section of the Christmas tree. Boxes of ornaments and lights followed. My brother Steven was visiting for the week from North Carolina, visiting his beloved, elderly parents. We spread and fluffed the wire branches, wound bright tinsel ropes, strung strings of white lights, and hung red baubles and ornaments. Many of the ornaments were homemade, some decades ago in our New Jersey childhood home. Ornaments made from the lids of frozen orange juice cans, punched with nails in patterns, and painted by little children. Steven was two years old when I left home for a university 2,200 miles away. How does an adult brother have a meaningful relationship with a distant two-year-old in the 1980s when long-distance calls cost as much as mortgage payments? He doesn’t. But I am in my late 50s now, and he in his early 40s, and the ages no longer matter. We are brothers, sons of common parents, and we are friends. Steve laughed as he hung a particular ancient ornament, a humble thing belonging only on our family tree. We turned the lights on with pleasure, and stood back and looked at the Christmas tree with pleasure. And Mom’s and Dad’s faces lit up with love and smiles to see their little boy all grown up into the best kind of man.
Our church held a neighborhood Christmas party on Friday. The poster announced the location: Whoville. The cultural hall (aka full-court gym) had been transformed into the snowy town from which Mr. Grinch had attempted to steal Christmas from the Whos. The setting including an ice skating rink for kids in stockinged feet (the rink enthralled my two-year-old granddaughter Lila), a genuine snowless alpine sledding slope, the Whoville Charities booth accepting new winter coats, boots, gloves, and hats for the Boys & Girls Club, the Whoville Post Office where visitors could send cards to young people serving church missions abroad, a Who-house chimney into which little Whos tossed wrapped gifts that tumbled down into the house, the Whoville Hair Salon, a cookie decorating station, the Whoville Photo Studio taking pictures of children with the Grinch, and the Whoville Sweet Shop where children lined up for banana and orange and berry cotton candy faster than I could spin it. Wisps of sugar gossamer tickled my face and clung to my hair and clothing. Three-year-old Gabe exercised his insider privilege and stood on a chair spinning his own cotton candy, with a little help from me. Lila, too, helped herself to the sugary puffs. Mom and Dad brought a large bag with their donations, happy to have helped children who need warm winter clothing. Mom and Dad sat smiling with mirth as Whoville teamed with happy little Whos running around in their Who pajamas. Mom declared it to be “the best Christmas party I’ve ever attended.” Our Mr. Grinch already possessed a big warm throbbing heart, and made friends with all the children. In fact, the Grinch is Gabe’s new favorite superhero (so long Spiderman). A framed 8×10 of the duo sits prominently on Gabe’s nightstand.
Pictured above: Gabe and the Grinch
While I cooked dinner, Dad dressed in his gray winter coat and his pom-pommed snow hat and stumbled outside with a bag of rolled up strings of Christmas lights and a hot glue gun, a bag of glue sticks in his pocket. The temperature dipped into the low 30s. I wondered at the hot glue gun, thinking hot glue would not work well in cold temperatures. After near an hour, I thought I had better check on him, to make sure he wasn’t collapsed and freezing. But there he was, painstakingly gluing the light string to the brick every six inches. He was nearly finished, gluing the last six feet to the wall. “I didn’t think the hot glue would work on cold brick,” I commented. “Actually, the glue works better in the cold, because it sets faster, and I can move on to the next spot.” Just then he let out an “Argghh!!” as he pressed a fingertip into a dollop of hot glue. “I seem to be gluing my fingers as much as the lights!” he cursed. I reached in and held down each newly glued spot until the glue hardened, while he moved ahead to the next. I dipped my finger into the hot glue myself, and I rubbed furiously against the cold brick to wipe the burning glue off. “I see what you mean,” I commiserated. With the last section in place, we extricated ourselves from the tangled bushes and stood back to observe. “You did a great job, Dad,” I complimented. The white LED lights climbed one end of the brick wall, ran along its adorned top, and ended at the base of the other end. The next day we wrapped red and green and amber lights around the boxwood bushes. “Let’s get your mom,” Dad enthused as the sun sank and the cold set in. Mom was duly impressed, “You men did a great job with the lights!” Every evening, Dad flips a switch by the front door, contended at the cheery beauty at the corner of the front yard.
A Tree to Remember
At the time, I felt proud and childlike and utterly cheerful to plug in the new two-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree with multi-colored lights pre-strung—just slide it out of the box and plug it in—and skirted with a checkered flannel pillowcase hiding three plastic feet. I hung fragile little ornaments I keep in an egg carton. This lighted loaded twig brightened my living room, a quiet understated new friend demanding nothing of me, content to glow and keep me company. Continue reading
Amy helped decorate the family Christmas tree: with lights, ornaments, and…a lizard. Sunshine’s pretty color fits right in. Sunshine is such a good friend to Amy, and Amy to sunshine. Everyone needs good, loyal, supportive friends. As 2020 winds down, we can find someone to be a friend to, someone who needs our friendship, our kindness, even our love. We can do it. We should do it. Try.
I cooked for hours. Even though just yesterday I had roasted the annual turkey, yet today I had cooked for hours, for my children, who would arrive at 6 o’clock for dinner with dad. Tó Brandileone crooned in the other room as I kneaded five parts butter to four parts flour, simmered sliced leeks in butter and their own juices for a long time until totally tender, whisked eggs and cream, rolled out the cold dough and baked the shells in 10-inch springform pans—they would be enormous quiches, Continue reading
Amidst all the holiday gift-giving, certain gifts stand, gifts of more than things but also of the heart. My son Hyrum’s gift to his sister Hannah was one such gift, a gift to always remember. Hyrum (14) conceived of the idea, drew the idea, and saved his money for the materials. Together we engineered the structure, bought the materials, and began construction. His gift: a miniature barn with hinged roof. This series of photographs shows each step of the construction process, culminating with Hannah (10) opening her gift on Christmas morning. I think of Hyrum’s gift as a miracle gift, for he gave part of himself along with the present.
The base frame, 18″ x 18″, allowing for a two-story central main building with an attached lean-to on each side.
Adding posts to support the main barn roof.
Completing the barn and lean-to frames.
The completed frame with the interior floor installed and the wall siding begun.
Wall siding and lean-to roofing completed with lathe. The roof frame sit, hinged, on the main barn structure.
The completed hinged roof frame atop the barn.
The completed barn, prior to painting.
Hyrum painting the barn.
And . . . the completed barn project.
Most importantly, Hannah on Christmas morning opening her special gift, inside which Hyrum placed a wrapped bucket of perfectly-sized farm animals.
Hannah’s Christmas barn became my favorite Christmas gift, too. I enjoyed working with my son for weeks to engineer, construct, paint, and wrap the barn. I witnessed the joy on my daughter’s face (and on Hyrum’s face) as Hannah opened her special gift.
(Large rag rug crocheted by my mother for my kitchen–October 2015.)
When my mother, Dorothy Lucille Bawden Baker, was a child, perhaps age 6 or 7, she accompanied her mother, Dorothy Erma Evans Bawden (born 1915), and her grandmother, Dorothy Ellen Beagly Evans (born 1895), to visit her great-grandmother, Elizabeth Esther Pierce Beagly (born 1875). Grandmother Elizabeth was crocheting an oval rug from strips of cloth cut from old clothing. My mother noticed it and told them she liked it. Looking back, what caught her attention most was the notion of making something so beautiful from practically nothing: rags. My mother’s matriarchs encouraged her interest and offered to give her a crochet hook and strips of cloth. Grandfather James Edmund Evans (born 1889) carved for her an oak crochet hook. Her mother cut some cloth strips from old clothing for my mother, and taught her the crochet stitch. After my mother’s marriage in 1962, she began her serious crocheting of rag rugs, for she and her new husband, Owen Nelson Baker, Jr., had no carpet or rugs in their home. For her first project, she sat on the floor and crocheted an enormous round area rug. After retiring and moving to Utah in 1998, she began crocheting again in earnest. She found her sheets at the Deseret Industries thrift store, and bought a cutting board and cutting wheel. Her rugs can be found throughout her home and the homes of her children. She has given away many rugs as gifts to family and friends. I recently asked her to teach me to crochet. These small rugs, intended as prayer mats, are my first efforts to crochet something from nothing. I made them for my three daughters and my daughter-in-law for Christmas (2015). I hope that my girls find enjoyment in them, and in knowing that they hold a humble work of art six generations in the making.
The beginnings of Hannah’s rug, with a sun at the center.
Ringed with a light sky, ready for a darker ring of sky.
The sky is complete.
Ready to be circled with dark, rich earth.
Hannah’s rug completed.
Laura’s rug: blue evening sky trending toward sunset and night.
Erin’s rug: sun, sky, and atoll surrounded by ocean.
When I was a boy, my father scrounged scraps of oak plank and made himself a beautiful shoe shine box, of his own design, with his initials “ONB” carved on one end and chiseled greenery on the other. He made a similar box for me, bearing my initials “REB”.
As boys, my four sons often watched me shine my shoes, asking me if I would please shine theirs. Then they began asking if they could use my shoe shine stuff to shine their own shoes. They have enjoyed using my shoe shine box during their boyhood years.
This Christmas I presented to each of my sons their own shoe shine box. It was time for them to have their own, to carry on the tradition. For lack of tools, time, and skill, I simplified the design. But I still find their shoe shine boxes elegant.
I had planned to make the shoe shine boxes over the Thanksgiving weekend while staying with my parents. Caleb (16) asked if he could stay one night with me, so I decided to let him in on the secret and help.
After Caleb left, Grandpa, the original shoe shine box carpenter, helped me finish the boys’ boxes.
My sons may be the only living boys to have such shoe shine boxes, in a three-generation genealogy of shoe shine boxes, made by their father and grandfather.
I hope my sons find years of enjoyment and pride in shining their shoes with their shoe shine boxes. And who knows: perhaps they will make such boxes for their own children someday.
I hope you will find a unique and meaningful way to connect with your sons and daughters, and to carry on the traditions of your generations.
(Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, PA)
Walking in the snow on Rabbit Lane I began thinking about Christmas bells ringing from church towers all over the celebrating world. I pondered the many emotions associated with pealing church bells. Happiness in marriage. Sorrow in death. Fear in disaster. Hope that “all is well”. The Liberty Bell rang in joyful celebration of America’s independence. I composed this song about church bells at Christmastime, attempting to embrace all of these emotions, especially excitement at the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the World. Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Church Bells.
My favorite part of Christmas is playing Christmas music all the month of December. For me, Christmas music brings out the Christmas spirit like nothing else. And I’m not talking about songs that celebrate a reindeer’s red nose and such, but about the hymns and carols that celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. My family gathers each Christmas Eve to recite the story of Jesus’ birth and to sing the songs of Christmas. I previously posted my little Christmas lullaby Nativity. With this post I bring you the happy song Christmastime. What it may lack in musical sophistication it hopefully makes up for in simple Christmas cheer. Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Christmastime.
The star on my 30-inch-tall Christmas tree is this Pysanky egg blown, waxed, and dyed by my daughter Laura (20). I treasure it.
The mere thought of adding to the Christmas repertoire intimidated me from making the attempt. But one quiet evening, as Christmas approached, I began to think of the baby Jesus, and to hum. I thought of the star and the heavenly choir, of the Magi and their gifts, and of Mary holding her child wrapped in rags. The Christmas lullaby “Nativity” arose from my musings. Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Nativity. Sing it softly to your own little ones as you put them to bed.