-- Editor's note: The Herald's editorial board members have a Christmas tradition of taking a break from commenting on the issues of the day to offer personal reflections on the holiday season. This year, members take a cue from the recession and reminisce about less affluent -- if no less joyous -- Christmases past.
Christmas miracles don't come on 2 wheels
As a kid, 1969 began as a great year for the Friday family. My mom brought into the world her ninth miracle child -- a girl -- and the Friday "gang" was complete.
The rest of us were thrilled. A new bundle of joy always meant that Christmas was going to be filled with a bounty of toys for the newborn, and we would be on the receiving end of neat toys ourselves. For me, that English racer bike was certain to be by the tree.
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Fast forward to November. The restaurant where my dad had worked as a kid and after his tour of duty in World War II (pretty much running the joint as cook, dishwasher, server, bookkeeper) was sold. The new owner made immediate changes. His first was making the comment that, "No nigger was worth paying $75 a week here!" (Remember, it was the '60s and the South was home.)
Subsequently, my dad was without a job and Christmas was weeks away. Mom was working at the textile mill on second shift making $65.60 a week, but it took both of their salaries to maintain the household of nine kids and our blind uncle who stayed with us.
Up until this time, I had my hopes set high on getting that green and white English racer bicycle with the curly handlebars and streamers from the handles. My other brothers and sisters had high hopes for prime gifts as well. This was "the new baby year Christmas" and we always aimed for the elite gift requests from Santa those years.
However, that year we only got what I called "dime store" toys from Santa and not what we really wanted. I later asked my mom to recall that year too. She told me how hard it was on her and my dad and how Dad felt that he had let us down.
She also reminded me that it was the same year that our neighbor, Mr. Manuel Hickman, provided us with boxes and boxes of food for Christmas, recalling that my dad could not come to grips with killing the chickens that he raised because they were just like family to him.
As I reflect on the state of our economy today, the struggles, sacrifices and hardships that are being felt all over the country and in our community, one thing comes to mind about 1969. Even though we did not celebrate Christmas in the material way us kids wanted to, my mom and dad made sure that we celebrated the real reason for the season, the bountiful blessings that God had provided them with -- a newborn daughter, a neighbor who cared and gave, and a family bond that had withstood many recessions like these over the years.
It makes me thankful for this wonderful caring and giving community that I and my family call our "home away from home." Merry Christmas all.
-- Rufus M. Friday
Gift brightens Christmas for new bride, home, job
We moved to the Tri-Cities from Helena, Mont., in 1976, the year perhaps best known as our nation's bicentennial.
My wife Patti and I don't remember much about that. We remember a hot two-day drive with a free overnight stay at a Lake Coeur d'Alene campground.
I started work a day after our arrival as the Herald's new city editor. Within two weeks, we were married in Walla Walla by her former religion professor at Whitman College, George Ball.
Within six weeks, we had bought a new house, gotten our loan approved and moved in without furniture, which arrived late because the moving van had crashed.
And by the time we observed son Jess' third birthday on Sept. 6, we were close to broke.
So close, our favorite treat was buying two ice cream cones as we sweated through the Tri-Cities' summer heat. Two cones because we wanted Jess to have his own. Patti and I shared one because we didn't have a spare 50 cents.
We weren't broke, but it was a near thing.
It hadn't taken long to discover my Herald pay covered about all our expenses, except groceries. Just before our meager savings disappeared, Patti found a job at First Federal Savings & Loan in Richland.
With her pay, we started to gain a little ground as fall arrived and winter loomed. Still, it seemed unlikely there would be enough spare money to cover cold-weather expenses for snow tires, some new cold-weather clothes, a snow shovel and Christmas.
While we pondered what could wait and what could not, the first week of December arrived.
My co-workers at the Herald were all looking forward to that, and I supposed it was just part of the Christmas season.
Then Associate Editor Jack Briggs told me what everyone really was looking forward to -- the annual Christmas bonus Publisher Glenn C. Lee paid employees a couple of weeks before the holiday.
I could expect nearly two weeks pay, I learned. And Glenn came through with checks a few days later.
He subsequently told me the money served two purposes. Carefully spent, it provided an ample Christmas and a New Year without debt.
And it sent his nearly 200 employees off to Tri-City stores for a spending mini-boom merchants appreciated. It was, Glenn said, a way to thank both his employees and his advertisers.
-- Ken Robertson
Surviving stupid acts is my Christmas miracle
Considering how many Americans are out of work and living with less, our hard-luck Christmas memories seemed like an appropriate theme for the editorial board's annual columns.
I'm not expecting a lot of self-pity from my colleagues. In fact, most told me early on that they're having a tough time remembering a Christmas that fits our hard-luck motif.
That leaves me to to break out the violin.
For nearly a decade between high school and college, I drifted through a series of jobs, all of which should have alerted me to the value of a higher education. But I'm a slow learner.
I spent a few Christmases in my youth far from family and too broke to buy gifts. Sometimes a phone call was the extent of the season's festivities.
But that's nothing to snivel about. Usually, I was flush enough to buy a few modest gifts in keeping with my earnings -- a new sweater, a record album or a book for a few close friends and family.
Good times, and perfectly affordable, except the year I decided to give myself the present I really wanted. I don't remember what components were included in that stereo system, but I know how much it cost -- everything, all my earnings and what little I had saved.
Until my next paycheck two weeks later, I ate only what I could find in my freezer, which was just two things, both in great quantities -- smelt I'd dipped from the Cowlitz River the previous spring and acorn squash produced during a poorly diversified attempt at vegetable gardening that summer.
No doubt, talented chefs exist who can turn smelt and acorn squash into something delectable. I'll never know. When payday finally rolled around, I vowed never to eat another bite of either food.
It's a promise I've kept for more than 30 years.
A better hard-luck Christmas tale would say something profound about hope. Hope, after all, is the essence of Christmas, made evident by the birth of a child in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago.
And hope is our greatest need in trying times.
But on that Christmas, I just hoped to never see another smelt.
I did take away one hopeful lesson, although I've had to relearn it since. It's possible, I discovered, to outlive the consequences of my own stupidity.
-- Chris Sivula
Gift of nothing reveals Christmas' true meaning
I took time out of my college education to be a missionary for 18 months, and during that time all of my worldly possessions fit into two suitcases.
My missionary Christmas was lean -- mostly because my needs were few and my resources were limited.
Even though missionaries don't need much, mothers of missionaries can't stand the idea of their children being away from home on holidays. At least, my mom didn't like the idea very much.
To cope with her problem, Mom always was generous with her care packages. (Anyone wanting to ship a batch of homemade cookies might want to know that an empty Pringles can makes a great mailer.)
Of course, one key to delivering a well-timed package is for the recipient to be at the same address on Christmas Eve that she was on the week before Christmas -- not always the case with someone living out of a couple of suitcases.
I was transferred to a new area the week of Christmas.
I found myself in new surroundings with not much more than the clothes on my back and little bit of faith. (So really I had everything I needed.)
Christmas morning -- for the first time in my life -- Santa Claus did not visit me. (I don't think it was because I was naughty.)
Nobody snuck downstairs during the night and filled my stocking. There were no packages under the tree. Even my mother's well-timed care package was delayed at my previous address.
It was absolutely the best Christmas ever.
I spent a quiet day listening to Christmas music, reading about Christ's ministry and writing in my journal. A neighboring family invited us to share their meal that evening.
It was a simple, beautiful way to celebrate a simple, beautiful life.
Twenty-five years later, I'm a wife and mother. Other people depend on me to sneak downstairs and fill their stocking, wrap gifts for under our tree and cook their Christmas meal.
I don't begrudge their expectations. I'm grateful that I can provide for those I love, and I'm thankful to be surrounded by family and friends. But I will, again, carve out some quiet alone time for myself and my Savior on Christmas Day.
Christmas, specifically, and life in general have never been as focused and meaningful for me as it when I was a missionary. I miss having nothing.
-- Shelly Norman
Lifelong good fortune crosses the Atlantic
This year's Christmas letter theme reminds me of a trip to the doctor's office.
You know, when they present you with a page-long list of ailments and you have to put a cross in the box showing what's wrong with you.
After checking so many "No" boxes, you realize how very fortunate you are -- regardless of why you're at the office in the first place.
Being asked to write about my hard-luck Christmas forced me to review my 77 Christmases and realize how very fortunate I have been.
I don't think I've ever had a "hard-luck Christmas."
Mostly that's because, as a child growing up in World War II in England, expectations were very, very low. And in recent years, though I have cried poverty to my wife and pleaded for cutting back at Christmas, she has ignored me. Thank goodness!
As a child of the Depression, with a father who in the First World War was crippled by a gassed lung and a shot to the head, we never had much. But neither did the families around us. So our Christmases were never hard-luck ones.
They were caroling with the local Church of England choir, gathering around my aunt's piano while my brother and I delighted (I think) our family with our soprano voices, and opening a stocking Christmas morning.
I served my two years national service in the Royal Air Force, came to the States in 1959 and found a job as a sports writer within two weeks in Nampa, Idaho, and moved to the Tri-Cities in December 1960, for a 33 percent pay raise to the princely sum of $133 a week.
Even that Christmas wasn't bad. Herald publisher Glenn Lee gave me a $60 gift certificate to a merchant who hadn't paid his advertising bill and thereafter gave out hefty cash Christmas bonuses every year -- which took away any "hard-luck Christmases."
As I worked my way down the journalistic career ladder to Herald editor and then publisher, I can't remember any Christmases that weren't merry and jolly. I had good friends, loving family, excellent work companions -- and a full and expanding belly.
I've been lucky. My Christmas wish would be that everyone else would be that fortunate.
-- Jack Briggs
Christmas in the Basin never lacking for joy
One of the most enjoyable benefits of working with the editorial board members is the diversity of our backgrounds and the wealth of life experience each individual brings to the table.
As the only Mid-Columbia native on the board, my life experiences are like many others who grew up here, though I did escape for a decade and a half to the bright lights of a few big cities. But just like a boomerang, I came back to my roots a few years back.
And because I grew up and went to school here, I count myself lucky. I cannot remember a Christmas of hardship or tough times. My parents were pioneers in the Columbia Basin, settling in the blocks north of Pasco in the middle of the last century when irrigation made farming this arid land a real possibility, and some Korean War veterans were given the opportunity to try to tame a piece of that desert.
Though farming was not always a profitable venture, my mom was one of the few who worked outside the home, making a middle class existence possible even in the toughest of times.
Plus, growing up on a farm, entertainment came easy and little things were exciting at Christmastime. Being pulled on a sled behind a tractor in a snow-covered field was cheap and seemingly endless entertainment. A newborn calf coming earlier in the winter than expected was always a wonder, especially if the calf needed to be warmed up and made a visit to the laundry room in our house. A new piece of tack for a horse or a game the whole family would play made many Christmas mornings bright.
Simple, but good.
That's a mantra we should all try to remember as we head into the New Year. It's easy to get caught up in the materialism that comes with the season.
But a lot of times, it's the little things that make lasting memories. And that's something money can't buy, whether you've got it to spend this year or not.
-- Lori Lancaster
Ingenuity overcomes wartime shortages
I cannot remember a Christmas I ever thought was scanty, even though I grew up during the Depression and World War II.
Our Christmases were more about food, anyway. My mother typically made about a dozen different kinds of candies and a rum-soaked fruit cake. My favorites were candied grapefruit peel and butterball cookies. I licked Mixmaster paddles 'til my teeth ached.
My older brothers and my sister probably experienced hard times, though. I was the youngest, born in 1934, when they were 12, 10 and 7 -- so they were all born before the Depression started.
But money was still tight, and in those years between my seventh and 11th birthdays, there also was a war on.
The Christmas that many people, looking back from today's perspective, might think the poorest was to me a triumph.
I got exactly what I wanted in 1943.
There was no metal available for toys. (I got my picture in the Jacksonville Journal for my scrap drive abilities when I found about 1,000 pounds of old junk, including a flat-top Coca-Cola cooler, in the northern Florida woods.)
A toy company came out with a flimsy mounted wooden machine gun. I ached for one of those things and made no secret of that. It had a wobbly tripod and one moving part, a crank on the side that made a satisfying noise by snapping a thin sliver of wood against a cogwheel.
I was ever the brave Marine or soldier with that thing, as long as it held together, which was not that long.
The year I got my first bike also stands out.
It was way too big for me and had been assembled out of parts from several pre-war junked bicycles at Jake's Bicycle Shop on College Street, then freshly painted.
I thought it was wonderful.
Of course I eventually grew into it, and delivered the same Jacksonville Journal that had made me, years before, world famous.
-- Matt Taylor