Gary Borders: On Christmas in East Texas

Dec 25, 2015

And suddenly it is Christmas. It is rainy and will be in the 70s. Three years ago it snowed on Christmas Day, the first white Christmas here in many decades. This year, we will be wearing T-shirts and shorts. You never know what an East Texas winter will bring.

This can be a melancholy season. Many of us equate the Christmas season with tragedy and loss. We push through it and prevail. Everything usually turns out OK as families gather, a few empty seats at the table. But there is a tear in the fabric of our lives that cannot be mended.

My wife attended the funeral of an old family friend the other day. He was a close friend of her late father’s. In fact, both sets of parents were close when my wife was growing up. One of the deceased’s sons described taking his dad to the hospital a few weeks ago. He died there. The son said how strange it felt to enter the hospital with his dad, and eventually leave only with a plastic sack filled with his clothes and personal effects. The sack still sits on the dining table, he said. “We are just vapor,” he said.

True enough.

So we hold on to our faith, our family and what meaning we derive from the work we do. Be grateful for every day, we are told, and it indeed is true. Enjoy every Christmas as well, spent with family, or friends. And that is what we will do today, gather to say grace and eat a traditional Christmas meal, probably take a silly group photo wearing reindeer hats. We’ll say a prayer for those missing around the table, and be thankful for the blessings we have received.

My favorite Christmas Day was three years ago, when we rose early and served breakfast at Newgate Mission in Longview, along with two other couples from our church. It was Christmas morning, cold outside but warm inside, folks lining up for the hot meal that we had just prepared: scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits, fruit and juice.

I have no idea where those we served had spent the night. Did they sleep in the woods near Teague Park, or under an overpass? Were they working poor with a home but short on money? It did not matter. They were, to a person, polite and humble, smiling shyly and saying Merry Christmas as we filled their plates. We, the servers, felt blessed and humbled by their spirit of thankfulness, grateful for the privilege of leaving our comfortable homes and warm beds to spend Christmas with them. I wish I felt that way every Christmas.

Last week, I put our 1965 Ford truck to use, filling it with 140 10-pound turkeys to distribute to teachers and others who help young people in South Longview. The next day, we passed out Christmas presents to 3-and 4 year-olds at two daycare facilities. The kids sang Christmas songs and sat on Santa’s lap, where the “elves” handed them a wrapped present. The little ones sat on the floor, patiently waiting for everyone to get a present. This took some time, since there were about 60 children. Not a single child opened a present early. They all waited until given the go-ahead sign.

The joy that filled that room as the children learned what was beneath the wrapping paper — modest gifts that cost about $10 each — was infectious. They laughed, showed each other what they had received, hugged the legs of the adults walking among them. I did not want to leave.

I hope you bring that joy to someone today, and that you feel it as well.

Merry Christmas.