The Tri-City Herald Editorial Board has a Christmas tradition of taking a break from commenting on the issues of the day to offer personal reflections on the holidays. This year, we welcome new General Manager Todd Frantz, who joined the Herald just three weeks ago. Since this will be his family’s first Christmas in the Mid-Columbia, it sparked memories for the rest of us. Here are stories of our first Christmas in the Tri-Cities:
Christmas Yet To Come
“I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?” said Scrooge.
Most readers are familiar with A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. In this classic novella, Ebenezer Scrooge meets up with three spirits. The first is the Ghost of Christmas Past, the second, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and finally, of course, comes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
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And as this coming Christmas will be my first in the Tri-Cities, the latter is where I will begin.
Not to say that I am to be equated with the infamous Scrooge. Though my 13-year-old daughter might occasionally view me as a penny-pincher at times, I don’t think she would call me Scrooge. I certainly hope not, anyway.
Throughout my newspaper career, we have moved around the country numerous times.
We’ve spent Christmases in Texas, Utah, Ohio and California, just to name a few. And now we will be spending our first Christmas in the Tri-Cities — a holiday that I am very much looking forward to for several reasons.
First, after a month apart, my wife and daughter will be arriving right in time for the holiday. On top of that, however, I will have the opportunity to show them around our new home — the Tri-Cities.
While we will have missed nearly all of the area parades and festivals that lead up to Christmas, we will be together, which is the greatest gift I could ask for. Add to that a new area to explore and much anticipated (by my daughter, at least) Christmas shopping spree, and it is sure to be a fun time.
Christmas means different things to different people. Faith, love, joy, and hope, among others. For me it is all of those things and more.
When first asked to participate in this piece, I wondered how I would write about something that hasn’t yet taken place. How do I convey a memory yet to come?
As I considered this topic, I realized that the old adage “Home is where the heart is” is true. Clichés often are. That’s how they become clichés.
I will take the liberty of modifying that adage to “Christmas is where the heart is” and my heart is looking forward to spending the holiday with my family in our new home in the Tri-Cities.
— Todd L. Frantz, General Manager
1976 was a year of almost head-spinning change for my wife Patti and me. After I had been offered the job of city editor at the Tri-City Herald in late April, we had carefully listed all the potential advantages.
Then we made a list of what we would give up by leaving our hometown of Helena, Mont. After discussing both lists thoroughly, we decided to sell the house, pack up the three of us — I was a single parent with a 2½-year-old son — and move the 450 miles to Kennewick.
And then we would get married July 11 in Walla Walla, where the late Dr. George Ball, Patti’s religion professor at Whitman College, would handle the ceremony. Then we’d find a house, and start a new chapter of our lives — for the long haul.
By today’s standards, the wedding would be shockingly small. Only about a dozen people attended, and it was arranged on a shoestring budget of a couple hundred dollars. But it was held in the beautiful (and free) Cordiner Glen on the Whitman campus.
Afterward, Patti’s mom, Ruth Ayers, bought a wedding dinner for us, my parents, my brother Greg and his wife. And my dad bought champagne.
Our honeymoon and wedding lasted a whole weekend, with much of Sunday spent ferrying my mother-in-law to the Walla Walla Airport for her flight back to Helena.
And then we were on our own. We soon discovered my paycheck covered the mortgage, the utilities and most other expenses. But they didn’t stretch far enough to pay for groceries. Luckily, Patti found a job at First Federal Savings & Loan in Richland before our meager savings ran out.
Even with both of us working, as the holidays approached it looked to be a lean Christmas. We figured we had enough for some holiday food, a tree and a few presents.
As the days of December ticked past, we caught a financial break. Glenn C. Lee, the Herald’s publisher and one of its founders, announced he again would pay a Christmas bonus to all Herald employees.
I hoped it would be something more than the 12-pound turkey I’d received the year before from my former newspaper in Helena.
And it was — a check for about $400, enough to cover Christmas and all the trimmings, plus pay some bills above and beyond our holiday spending. In addition, I’d just gotten a nice pay raise.
Afterward, I thanked Glenn for the bonus money, which prompted him to tell me why he had started the holiday bonus. He said something like:
“Most folks work hard all year, pay for Christmas on credit and then struggle for months afterward to pay for it. When I pay a bonus, they don’t have to go in the hole and worry for months about paying off Christmas. They can stay focused on their work.
“They’re happier at work and at home,” he added. “And when the Herald’s employees go out into the community to spend that money, it benefits the people who advertise in the Herald, and they feel better about the Herald.”
The Tri-Cities was a much smaller place then, with perhaps 80,000 people, and merchants often knew where you worked. If not, they might not take your personal check until they found out. Thus, 250 or so members of the Herald staff went out and cheerily spent their salary-based bonuses of about 4 to 5 percent — roughly two weeks pay.
It was a sudden injection of $100,000 to $120,000 into the local economy, and virtually all of it got spent, I would guess. In today’s dollars, that’s roughly $420,000 to $500,000.
It made our first Tri-City Christmas a lot brighter. And I would bet that by the time that money circulated through the community several times over, it reached far beyond the Herald’s employees and their families. We certainly were a happier lot without the worries of trying to pay for our holidays until March or April.
That holiday bonus also helped Patti and I survive our first few years in the Tri-Cities — and helped root us here for 41 years.
— Ken Robertson, retired Executive Editor
The Christmas Dog
Recounting one of my first Christmases after moving to the Tri-Cities involves a confession.
I was single and managed to get a few days off to fly to Billings, Mont. It was where I grew up but my parents had moved away while I was at college. They had just returned and were renting a small house.
Since I had no husband or kids, I took a “grand-dog” to visit my folks. Mickey was a fluffy, black shih tzu mix and she flew hassle-free to Billings in her dog kennel.
That year I had a great gift idea for my dad. He needed a dog, too. So, I found a black chihuahua mix named Bernie through a classified ad in the Billings Gazette.
Bernie clearly had a rough start in life but was sweet.
When we got him to his new home, though, he was overwhelmed. There was Mickey and a house full of strangers and all the chaos of a typical Christmas.
It was just too much for little Bernie. He didn’t warm to my dad and startled my grandmother with his barking. It was clear he hadn’t found his forever home. But I wouldn’t consider taking him to a shelter.
That’s when I called my boyfriend (and future husband) on the verge of tears, begging him and his roommate to take in Bernie if I could get him back to the Tri-Cities. They didn’t refuse.
It seemed like a simple prospect but the holidays made it impossible to get the right paperwork from a vet in time to fly Bernie home — legally. I had to smuggle him.
Bernie and Mickey fit comfortably in the same kennel. Both were black and I gambled that anyone looking inside the dark crate wouldn't see the stowaway. I was in luck. No one noticed the illegal, canine cargo.
That’s how Bernie became a Tri-City Christmas dog.
And it’s a good thing that after nearly 30 years the statute of limitations for dog trafficking has run out.
— Laurie Williams, Executive Editor
My first Christmas in the Tri-Cities was also my first Christmas married to my husband and my first away from home.
The year was 1987 and Christmas fell on a Friday. Although I had accrued no vacation time at work, the long weekend made it possible for us to travel back to Olympia where both sets of parents lived.
I remember we left early enough on Thursday so we could celebrate Christmas Eve with my folks and Christmas Day with his.
Even though I knew we were going out of town, I still wanted to get our own Christmas tree and decorate our tiny two-bedroom rental just to get in the spirit of the season.
Being from the west side of the state, we both agreed we wanted a cut tree that would make the house smell of pine. So we bought one from a lot in town — not too big, but still a nice size.
It was after we bought it, however, that I realized how expensive it is to start Christmas decorating from scratch.
After buying gifts for family and each other, a tree stand, lights and a tree skirt, there wasn’t a whole lot left in the budget for anything else.
I remember looking for ornaments and finding a few discounted boxes of glass balls, which I purchased. But I knew there wouldn’t be enough of them to cover the tree.
And then I saw a shelf of candy canes.
I realized I could buy dozens of them for less than a dollar (back then, anyway) and I thought: “Perfect!”
So our first Christmas tree was covered in candy canes and strategically placed blue and red orbs. I also managed to buy a gold star to put on top.
It turned out lovely – simple, yet festive.
Over the years we gradually have added to our collection of Christmas ornaments. For a while my mother, bless her heart, would send some every year knowing we didn’t have much.
In 30 years we have gone from owning zero Christmas decorations to enough to fill a cardboard box that once contained a television — when TVs were big, square and awkward and not slim like they are today.
We are fortunate now to have precious home-made treasures that the kids made when they were little. These are my favorite.
But I still have a particular fondness for seeing candy canes on our Christmas tree, so to this day I add them to the branches.
And when I do, it reminds me of that first Christmas away from home and on our own and how candy canes made everything better.
— Cecilia Rexus, Editorial Writer
The Pull of Home
As the only native of the region on the Herald editorial board, my first Christmas here was not memorable.
While I’m sure it was great, I was not yet a year old and don’t remember a thing.
I was born at Kadlec and raised in Block 20 in north Franklin County. I have spent every Christmas Day of my life on the family farm, whether that meant flying in during an ice storm and landing just before the clock struck midnight when I lived in California, or battling over Snoqualmie Pass in a blizzard in my Seattle days with tractor counter-balance weights tucked in my trunk for traction.
And while the Tri-Cities has been my home now for many years, there was always a special pull to make it back for Christmas, unlike any other holiday.
Over the years in this Christmas letter, readers have learned about Lancaster family antics from the Santa Claus trap to the propensity for us to forget the rolls in the oven until it was too late to save them or the recent tradition of target practice in the pasture once the presents have been opened.
New traditions have come into the mix as well, including toasting a dear friend whose birthday falls on Christmas Eve with a glass of champagne each year.
It’s important to take the time, no matter how busy or frazzled you may be, for those who mean the most to you during the holidays and every chance you get during the year. Time flies and the unexpected can change life in a heartbeat.
Cherish the memories you have and make new ones along the way.
While I can’t remember my first Christmas here, I can remember something about nearly every one since.
What has made the holiday brightest in my memory has been the blessing that our family has always been able to be together. We are lucky in that regard, and even luckier this year.
We’re not getting any younger and as we all age, some must fight the ailments that come with that. To still have three generations under one roof to celebrate the season means everything.
I count my blessings each and every day, and especially this Christmas. There’s no place I’d rather be than here in the Tri-Cities.
For those of you not originally from here, here’s hoping you find the same joy and affection for Christmas in this community. Merry Christmas!
— Lori Lancaster, Editorial Writer