our own two children I realize.
Yes, I remember those nights before Christmas when I listened for reindeer hooves on the roof and the sound of Santa climbing down our chimney, perhaps delighted over the glass of milk and plate of cookies I had left for him in front of the fire.
Like Ralphie in the "Christmas Story," I always asked Santa for a BB gun, but unlike Ralphie, it never came. What did come one year, however, thrilled me like no gift I had ever received before -- an electric train on a circular track controlled by a heavy transformer with a large switch on top that turned on the power and controlled the train's speed.
My grandfather was the one who really sensed how enthralled I was with the electric train, and as soon as the gift opening was finished, he sat with me on the hardwood floor of the dining room to assemble it. The train seemed to fly around the track as I pushed the switch as far as I dared. Naturally the train lifted off the tracks a few times before I got the knack of it.
Grandfather Hoody beamed at my delight and laughter, and as I went to bed that night I felt that nothing had been missing from Christmas; the presents, the tree, the family at peace for the day, and my grandfather sharing my delight in the train set. And, oh, I can't forget the wonderful ozone smell of that transformer when I pressed the switch as far as it would go!
The next morning came, and I rushed into the dining room to play with my train, but the transformer would not turn on, and on top of that the air had taken on the odor of something that had burned. My father, hearing my cries came in and, being an engineer, knew immediately what was wrong: "You left the transformer on all night, and it burned out." In a moment I had lost my most precious Christmas gift, and my father had that look on his face of disappointment, the one that wrenches the heart of a young boy.
Hoody came in and tried to resuscitate the dead transformer, knowing all along it was dead and gone, but also knowing I needed someone to sit with me while I absorbed my loss. Yes, I remember that my father had warned me to turn the transformer off, but my excitement had carried me to bed, thoughtlessly turning my gain into a loss.
Almost sixty years later, I can remember the sting of that loss, the look on my father's face, the gentleness of my grandfather's gaze. It was the beginning, or should I say one of the beginnings of wisdom, a lesson in the impermanence of things. The train was taken away over night, but two memories have stayed with me from that Christmas: The parents who made Christmas day the fulfillment of a little boy's dream and a grandfather whose love would inspire me to dream for more.
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Christmas, families, gifts, relatives, conflict, grandfather
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