For the past eleven days, I’ve subjected my social media followers to the décor madness that abounds at Casa Simonetti this time of year. From the themed Christmas trees to the homemade decorations, I’ve had fun posting on FaceBook and Instagram and loved hearing your comments. But as a wise old Grinch once said, “Christmas doesn’t come from a store….Christmas…means a little bit more.”
I know this is true but I didn’t learn that from Dr. Suess.
I learned the true meaning of Christmas from Dorothy Reed.
Mrs. Reed was a friend of my mother’s. They met in 1961 when my dad and Col. Reed were stationed at the Air Force Base in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The Reeds lived two doors down from us in Base Housing. The Reed’s youngest son was my age and I have fond memories of building snow forts with him.
Military life being what it is, the Reed’s were eventually sent in one direction and my family was sent in another. But when Col. Reed and my dad retired, both families landed in Sacramento and the friendships picked up again where they left off.
Mrs. Reed was originally from Wyoming and she was a common sense farm girl to her very core. She planted a vegetable garden with the sweetest tomatoes you have ever eaten. She baked cookies and made bread. She loved animals- there were always two or three dogs and cats running around their house. She was an artist, too- oil paintings as I recall. But the best part about Mrs. Reed was she was warm and friendly and always glad to see you. And she always had a pot of tea and freshly baked cookies ready just for you.
The Reed’s had been stationed in Germany a couple of times and their home boasted some fine antique sideboards and cuckoo clocks. They also adopted the German Christmas traditions. Mrs. Reed baked pfeffernusse cookies and made strudel. Colonel Reed made a mean hot cider and they opened their doors to friends and family every year for a Christmas party. Their decorated home looked like a scene out of a Nancy Meyers movie- all mistletoe and holly and tinsel and good cheer. And nutcrackers lined up like soldiers. The sideboards groaned with ham and turkey and and fixin’s. The desserts went on forever. People came and stayed for hours.
It was magical.
Col. and Mrs. Reed were the perfect hosts, chatting with everyone all over the house but meeting each other at the front door when the bell rang. Watching the Reed’s engage with their guests yet manage to answer the door together was like watching a couple who had been married forever dancing on a ballroom floor- perfect timing and seemingly effortless.
One year, the party was in full swing when the Reeds entered the living room with a young couple in tow. Mrs. Reed got the crowd’s attention by putting two fingers in her mouth and letting out a whistle loud enough to call the cows in from the pasture (remember, she was a farm girl). Everyone shut up. And wondered what this was all about.
The young couple were strangers to us all. He had the shaved head of a newly inducted serviceman. She was dressed in pants and a top that stretched against a pregnant belly. Neither of them looked old enough to drive, much less be old enough to serve in the military. Or be pregnant. And they looked scared to death.
Mrs. Reed introduced them by saying, “I met these two in the line at the commissary. This is their first Christmas away from home and I want you to make them feel welcome.”
So we did. Before you can say “Merry Christmas” the couple had plates of food, a place to sit and a host of folks welcoming them to Sacramento and asking how they got there. And that is when I learned just what lengths Mrs. Reed went to in order to make those kids feel welcome.
The ‘commissary’ is the grocery store on a military base. Back in the day it was pretty basic in what it offered but the prices were good and there was no sales tax. The downside was the lines to check out were slow. You could be born, live and die in a commissary line- military joke there. You could also meet someone and learn his or her whole life history while waiting. Which is just what Mrs. Reed did.
She met the couple and starting chatting with them…did I mention she could talk to a rock? She learned they were childhood sweethearts from Alabama and married after graduating high school. He enlisted in the Air Force, she got pregnant and the Air Force sent them to Sacramento. They were eighteen years old and had never spent Christmas away from their families. Mrs. Reed enjoyed the chat and wished them a Merry Christmas.
By the time she got home, she had second thoughts. She knew what it was like to be away from home on Christmas. It was hard enough when you were an Officer’s wife and had the benefit of a comfortable income. She felt badly that those two kids would be all alone on Christmas and trying to make ends meet on an enlisted man’s paltry salary. So she decided to do something about it.
In her chatting up, she neglected to get their names. But she knew where they were from and what he did for the Air Force. This was in the mid-70’s- no Face Book searches or online checking back then- so she got out the Base Telephone Book and called the Guy in Charge of Enlisted Men- technical military code there. She somehow managed to convince the guy that she wasn’t some kind of nut. She told him that she wanted to invite them over for Christmas. She used that Wyoming farm girl charm. And she pestered him enough that he passed her along up the line- military protocol there.
She pestered enough of the military chain of command that she eventually got the Base Commander on the phone. Yes, the Base Commander. Himself. This was akin to getting the Man on the Moon to come on down to earth to tap dance for your company party. In other words, she moved heaven and earth to get in contact with two kids she didn’t know so she could make their Christmas a little less lonely.
She didn’t stop at the Christmas party, of course. The kids came over for Christmas dinner, again for Easter and she held a baby shower for them.
Peace on Earth.
Goodwill to All.
That, my friends, is the True Meaning of Christmas.