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 were asked to reflect on Christmas transitions.
Giving new meaning to Christmas exchange
Christmas at the Friday abode will be more spectacular than ever! And it's not just Melody's "Christmas Wonderland" transformation that she traditionally performs to the house each year, although she did find time to buy a few more decorations.
We will be sharing the Christmas story this year with our new "daughter."
This summer, we welcomed Fatoumata Diaite "Friday" into our home and to the United States. Fatoumata arrived from the country of Senegal, which is on the west coast of Africa. She was awarded a foreign exchange student scholarship to study abroad for a year and was selected from hundreds of students from around the world. Fatoumata, like our daughter, Chanel, turned 16 in August. Melody, Chanel and I have learned so many things about and from Fatoumata. She speaks four languages, English, French, Spanish and her native dialect Wolof.
When Chanel and Fatoumata do not want us to know what they are talking about, they speak in French. She also enjoys horror movies, is a fan of the TV crime show NCIS and has taken a keen affinity to American fast food. It's been fun seeing her experience things for the first time, especially pizzas, tacos, hamburgers, french fries. We can't seem to get our food spicy enough for her, but one thing is for sure -- she enjoys American food, although she continues to be amazed at the large portions that are served at American restaurants.
There are many misconceptions about Africa that Fatoumata likes to clear up, and we are learning so much about her heritage, her country, her family and her religion.
She was quick to "educate" us on the facts that Africa is a continent, not a country; that Americans always talk about going to Africa, but fail to point out that the continent has more than 50 countries; all Africans are not alike; all of Africa is not jungle and bush country; all of Africa is not poor and destitute.
We have had fun sharing our culture and traditions with her, too. Her first birthday celebration American style turning "sweet 16," her first Halloween experience of which she really enjoyed dressing up and handing out candy, her first Thanksgiving spent in North Carolina with my large family that extended to 40-plus. Watching her reaction to seeing snow for the first time was a real treat as well. Now she is longing for the return to those 300-plus days of sunshine that we bragged about when she arrived in August.
She was somewhat shaken at first upon her arrival earlier this year. It was at the height of the enraged feelings and heated debates regarding the building of an Islamic center in Manhattan. Yet she has enjoyed attending church with us and reading from our Bible.
We have also enjoyed watching her embrace the Christmas spirit. As a practicing Muslim, Fatoumata has not exhibited a closed mindset, but one of curiosity, intrigue and respect.
She has embraced our reason for the season and has peppered us with many inquisitive questions about how and why we celebrate the birth of Christ.
We could not have asked for a better gift this year. One filled with so much to give and one that has taught us so much in the form of humility, kindness and thankfulness for all that we have.
Looks like the Friday family will be making a trip to Africa in the near future.
Who knows, next year's Christmas letter may be transmitted to you via Senegal.
I can see Melody now trying to transform the Diaite home to a "Christmas Wonderland."
Merry Christmas, all.
This Christmas brings break in family tradition
My family is ending a 30-year tradition this Christmas.
Our household celebration won't include a member of "the Greatest Generation" this year. Our last one standing was Edward D. Keeler, who died in April at 96.
His sister, Ruth Ayers, started the tradition in 1980, and my mother-in-law's Christmas visits quickly became a highlight of the year. She taught my wife Patti, son Jess and me about her lifelong love, contract bridge.
Ruth also revived a tradition from Patti's childhood, the game Tripoley, which now is reaching into a fifth generation.
We used a homemade game mat Ruth had created from oilcloth, carefully embossing it with card suits and denominations, plus marked-off spaces for the pennies we bet on each of the game's categories.
After Ed's wife died in 1994, he too made the annual Christmas trip to Kennewick, reversing most snowbirds' winter course and flying north from Redondo Beach, Calif. He and Ruth, who lived in Helena, Mont., coordinated their Christmas visits until her death in 1996.
When Ruth and Ed visited, our three sons collected far more than the pennies bet on Tripoley. They learned of Ruth's service with the State Department in Egypt, Palestine and Costa Rica during and soon after World War II.
And that she had flown around the Middle East on a British military officer's papers, carrying diplomatic pouches to places where female U.S. workers weren't supposed to go -- at least not officially.
From Ed, the boys learned bits and pieces about the manufacture of airplanes at Douglas Aircraft, where Ed worked for four decades. He started at 60 cents an hour when Douglas was building Dauntless dive bombers for World War II, and stayed through the Korean and Vietnam War eras when Skyraider attack aircraft were built. His last job was working on the tail-mounted engine housing of the jumbo DC-10 jetliner.
Some of their stories were far more mundane. Neither of them ever ate anything with fins.
Their distaste for fish was rooted in the Great Depression, when their father, an enthusiastic angler, took the family trout fishing virtually every summer weekend. Their family of five could take home a limit of brook trout -- 40 fish each -- from the streams near their Harlowton, Mont., home.
Because Dad was a railroader, he could get ice blocks from the Milwaukee Road's ice house to chill their catch in a basement tub to keep it fresh until the next weekend outing.
Even on ice, the fish soon lost their appeal.
But the story of all those trout has survived the Depression to entertain two new generations. And though the two who lived it are gone from our family, we still recall it when Christmas comes by getting out the Tripoley board and the old sock full of pennies, which also date back far into the last century.
Receiving some gifts can be best present
The year I first bought gifts changed Christmas forever.
The pure selfish joy of receiving Santa's largesse eventually would give way to an annual responsibility that revolves around my least favorite activity -- shopping.
But it started out agreeably enough. It was my kindergarten year, and at 5, I was old enough to put a little money together and go Christmas shopping.
The details are sketchy -- it was over 50 years ago -- but I recall putting a lot of energy into the budget.
I piled one stack of coins for my mom, another for dad, smaller ones for siblings and even shorter stacks for cousins.
It broke down to a quarter a piece for parents, 15 cents for my sister and brothers, and a dime for the cousins we would see on Christmas Day. More distant cousins were out of luck.
A few days before the holiday, my sister Dana walked me to the five and dime. I've forgotten the store's name, but I remember the smell, a mix of paper, stale popcorn and floor wax.
The building is long gone, along with the rest of the block. A small portion of the Bellevue Square shopping mall takes up that space today. You couldn't buy a cup of coffee at Bellevue Square with the money I spent on Christmas presents for a dozen relatives in 1958.
I ticked through my list with the total confidence of a shopping innocent. It never occurred to me that someone might be less than delighted to find a package of Beach-Nut Gum under the tree.
I've forgotten most of the gifts I bought that year. I gave one cousin a little toy baby bottle, a couple inches long and made of plastic.
The milk disappeared when the bottle was upended, so it looked as though the doll was drinking. That seemed like a lot of magic for a dime.
One brother got a little magnifying glass. It wasn't very useful for examining clues but it was good enough to start a fire on a sunny day.
My mom got a snow globe with a rather indistinct plastic Santa inside. It must have been about the size of a golf ball.
I learned a lot about giving that year. I've managed to retain the joy, but I've lost the sense of adventure that accompanied that first shopping trip.
I'm sure my dad also learned something that Christmas, once he won the struggle to remove the excessive wad of wrapping paper and tape that covered his gift.
Holding that one-ounce sample bottle of off-brand cologne, some English Leather wannabe, he had to be convinced of one gift-related maxim: It truly is the thought that counts.
Frigid new home leaves warm memories
My husband is a Richland High grad and spent the early years of our married life earnestly trying to get a job in the Tri-Cities.
He applied for every opening at the Tri-City Herald that he was remotely qualified for, and even some that he wasn't. He would stop by on summer vacations just to say "hi" to people he didn't know in hopes of weaseling his way in the door.
Eventually it worked.
Andy Perdue hired him in 1998, probably just to get my husband to stop bugging him.
Tom started work in November and I followed the week before Christmas with three kids and a dog in tow.
I already had spent the previous month sponging off my sister-in-law and was determined that once I got to the Tri-Cities I was going to be living in our own home.
I had given my husband free rein to buy a house. My criteria was that we had to stay under $100,000 so I could afford to not work and it had to be within 10 minutes of the Tri-City Herald so he could be home for dinner every night. (Otherwise kids don't see their dad when he's working a swing shift.)
He chose a house in Pasco, which is an entirely different column dealing with transitions and one that my husband gloriously has failed at. Once a Bomber, never a Bulldog.
Anyway, I got into town late and we spent the first night with my in-laws. The next day we unpacked the car. No beds and only a few blankets, but I was going to sleep in our new house.
It was cold that week, somewhere right around zero. The water pipes in the kitchen were frozen, but I was determined to sleep there.
So we did -- on the floor of the family room, in front of the fireplace to warm our little family.
Somewhere toward morning, the warmth from the fireplace must have thawed the pipe. There was a loud pop and lots of rushing water.
We were fortunate to be sleeping within earshot of the impending flood so my husband fairly quickly was able to stop the gusher. Had we been upstairs or at my mother-in-law's home, it likely would had done a lot of damage.
As it turned out, it was not much more than an inconvenient and a frigid welcome to the Tri-Cities, which has turned into the place my family warmly calls home.
Lack of glitter can't dull season's glow
It has been a strange Christmas season.
We quickly should have been put in the holiday mood by the snowy weather that ushered in the season with Thanksgiving.
But that just made for difficult driving conditions and fouled travel plans and kept folks from getting their Christmas lights put up on the traditional post-Thanksgiving weekend.
An annual business trip out of town the first week of December always delays the start of my holiday season. That was followed by a small home remodeling project that involved sheet rock and paint and a temporary reshuffling of living spaces, not the best conditions for hanging garland and glitz.
Another quick two-day trip out of town came and went, and I found myself five days from Christmas without a decoration on display in my home.
So I officially declare it a year off from decorating. What's the point now? I'm not a Scrooge, but I am practical. Bins of decorations will remain tucked in the storage loft, saving me several precarious trips up and down the ladder.
But I will drag out my silver tinsel tree from IKEA and hang my sequined stocking and my collection of WSU Cougar ornaments. I can't go cold turkey. That just wouldn't be right.
Don't get me wrong -- I don't put on a huge display in a spirited year. But I do deck the halls as best I can.
At least I'm in good company on the year off from decorations. Two of my good friends are in the same boat. One -- whose holiday dcor could rival anyone's in the state -- made a conscious decision months ago not to decorate because of extensive travel plans. The other had some water damage in her home and has had contractors as fixtures instead of Christmas trees.
I can almost certainly assure you that we'll all be back in the game in 2011. No matter how much work I've saved myself, it's just not the same without those treasured decorations welcoming the holidays into the home.
But the true joy of the season is to share time with friends and family. And I'm lucky to have a life decorated with an abundance of both.
Happy Holidays and may all your decorations be merry and bright,
Christmas seen best through child's eyes
As a family, we are lucky this year to be turning the Christmas clock backwards.
Wanda and I helped raise seven of our own kids through those delightful make-believe years of very early childhood, through the nod-and-wink years of "don't you dare tell your brother," and into the years when the work of Christmas almost masked its mystical joy.
Then we helped raise 12 grandkids though the same transition.
But this year is different. We are back at the beginning. Sure, our great-granddaughter, Layla, is almost two-and-a-half. But it's the first Christmas she has been able to really interact with the fun -- and fright -- of Christmas.
She can tell you what she wants for Christmas -- a frog (no specifics as to live or a toy). She stares in wonder at the lights and prematurely wants to rip open all the wrapped presents.
She's a bright little bundle. She can count to 10 in Spanish, sings her ABCs and knows all her colors. She even knows the difference between a square and a rectangle and can tell you a stop sign is an octagon (I was wondering how I could work in the above graph without bragging: I don't think I succeeded).
My fear is she's bright enough to work this Santa thing out much too quickly. So we plan to grab all the charm, make-believe and mystery of this special year before it disappears.
Who knows, this could be our last Christmas of reliving those childhood memories with a clarity brought on by having in our midst someone who is loved and pampered -- yet is unspoiled.
For me, it is memories of my childhood in war-torn England: of all-night caroling in the dark and cold streets of our church parish on Christmas Eve; of a father and mother who never had much to give but always made sure they gave.
For Wanda, it is memories of a mamma doll her brother took apart to discover how it spoke, Southern-style ambrosia, her first Cashmere sweater and loving parents.
Thanks, Layla, for reviving those memories. And thanks Santa.
P.S. Santa: Two years ago I asked for a special present: that Layla not cry each time she saw me. You made that happen. Now could you please arrange that the first words out of her mouth when she sees me is not a rapid-fire "Where's Grandma!"
Summing up with a single word
Jack Briggs was kind enough to give me one of his words this Christmas.
The seven members of the Herald's editorial board, according to our tradition, write these little Christmas columns each year.
The word count limit is 400. It's not stingy. That's twice the length we offer our writers of letters to the editor. Of course, readers with a complicated point to make or discuss can often get space for a longer In Focus column. And the Fast Focus answers have no limits at all.
During a period a few years ago, when I had no direct connection with the Herald, I wrote occasional letters to the editor. Believe me, fellow writers of letters to the editor, I know the suffering that goes into cutting a well-crafted 400-word letter down to a picayunish 200 words.
But I digress.
Jack gave me one of his words. He used just 399 in his column elsewhere on this page. He then characteristically boasted about it to the other editorial board members. Worse yet, he chortled about it to Wanda, who directly asked me, at a party at Ken and Patti Robertson's house, what I was going to do with it.
Well, years ago, when Ernest Hemingway was alive and at the peak of his powers, an article appeared that revealed Hemingway had reached the pinnacle of success and was now being paid at the rate of a dollar a word.
It was, obviously, a different time and a different dollar. But it was big news.
As the story goes, George Bernard Shaw heard of this and sent a letter with a dollar in it to Hemingway.
"Please send me one of your words," Shaw wrote.
I will steal Hemingway's answer to Shaw and make it my answer to Jack:
* Postscript: We're not sure how Matt's reflections fits our "Christmas transitions" theme, but it should be noted that Jack's column came in at 405 words.