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Christmas by the river that year held magic in every snowflake, expectation in every new day leading up to that one wonderful morning when the wrapping paper would fly and giggles and hurrahs would erupt. We were a budding young family, still full of innocence and uninhibited joy.

We moved a lot while growing up with our wonderful wanderlust dad. Our mom learned early not to feather her nest too completely for it was inevitable that she would have to pack whatever treasures she accumulated before too long. In 1962 when I turned eleven, we moved with all our worldly possessions packed into a small U-Haul trailer, to Trinity County in Northern California. The two bedroom house (cabin, really) that we rented was perched on a high slope overlooking the raging Trinity River. We moved there in early summertime.

All through the hot months of freedom we kids learned how to respect the rapids and undercurrents while imagining ourselves to be water and wood nymphs. I am the eldest of our troupe of adventurers and as daring as the boys and little girl who followed close on my heels. (There were four of us born in four and a half years, a built in play group.) Our parents spent a lot of time with us, Mom often more observant while our dad splashed and wrestled like one of the kids.

Dad began teaching at the little country school that year. I was a proud girl who sat in the front row, a sixth grader who adored her dad and loved to learn. The other three spent the year together in the lower grades. Dad rose early every morning to drive the school bus, then taught the fifth through eighth grades. It was a creative and challenging time for him, an idyllic time for all of us. I loved getting up early to ride the bus route along the river with him, especially when he’d let me jump out at Junction City Store to buy a treat.

Snow began to sugar-coat our world right around Thanksgiving. Our parents let us play outside until our noses ran and our ears and fingers turned red with the cold. Dad took us on hikes in the woods across the highway where we tromped through the snow with dead branches crackling under our feet. I remember coming upon a sight that inspired my young faith. While the others headed in another direction I stopped to ponder the three red holly berries poking through a snow-covered cross of branches. Yes, it was the season of Jesus birth. I knew about His earthly sojourn. I knew He was the son of God, that He came as a baby out of love for His creation. In that brief moment, I spoke my recognition and affirmation of His love for me.

The lower grades teacher played the piano and prepared us for our Christmas program. Oh how I loved to sing..loudly, enthusiastically. We sang “Oh Holy Night” for the program, I in the chorus and some other lucky girl the solo. It was a joyous occasion. And Christmas would soon arrive.

Every four months while we children grew steadily out of our clothing my mother received an inheritance check. One wealthy grandfather whom she had never met, had left her a sum of money from which the estate doled out quarterly interest checks. New clothes, new toys, a freezer load of food and all was well with the world. And every December first when her check arrived, our mom took great delight in shopping for Christmas.

I remember that Christmas morning unwrapping my Barbie and Ken dolls. I remember that the big package contained a new TV for the whole family. Dad fried Lefse (a Scandinavian flatbread made with potato dough) on the wood stove and we rolled it with butter and sugar, letting the greasy sweetness dribble down our chins. It is a good memory.

My dad is dying this Christmas, my mother gone now for 37 years. I love to remember the good times from those years that we grew from inheritance check to inheritance check, from one adventure to another, one school to another… until it wasn’t fun anymore and life became tense and difficult at home.

I love to remember the times, and they were many, when God gave me a glimpse of His faithful presence, His constant care and love for me. He showed up in the good times and the hard times. I love to remember my parents at their best, in their prime, and how they loved to spend time playing with us. Now, as my dad lingers in his last days, I remind him of those times, those sweet memories when he built in me a deep knowing of the love of God.