I love Christmas. I love to gaze at Nativity scenes especially when the room is dark with only the stable alight. I love everything about Christmas; Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Santa Claus and Rudolph. My heart swells with memories of Christmases past recalling my children’s joys.
On Christmas night 2014 I sat in my darkened living room gazing at our Nativity set in the glow of our Christmas tree lights. The house was quiet. Outside the wind blew and the night was cold. I offered a short prayer of thanks that we were all together safe in our warm home.
My mind jumped to another Christmas and another Christmas tree glowing in the dark. It was 1995 and that tree was in my wife’s hospital room. She was pregnant with our seventh child. Six months into the pregnancy there were complications and she nearly lost the baby. She was confined to bedrest. With six young children at home, rest there was impossible. She remained in the hospital for over a month. Since it was December her room was decorated with a tree. The wonderful staff even put presents under the tree for our children. We all visited Mom on Christmas morning for an hour, opening the presents then went home. At home our presents remained unopened, waiting for Mom’s return. On Christmas night, a friend from Church came to the house at 9 p.m. to babysit. I went to the hospital by myself for some alone time with my wife after the kids went to bed. There in the hospital room, in the soft light and silence, I held my wife in my arms, both of us praying for our child.
Then my mind recalled Christmas 1999 and more flashing lights. They came from the firetrucks, ambulances and police in front of our home. We had a house fire on December 14, two days before our wedding anniversary and less than two weeks before Christmas. Everyone, even the pets, got out safe, but we were homeless for seven months while repairs were made.
If you recall there was a bit of a worldwide panic in 1999 as the Y2K bug was predicted to strike. Doomsayers predicted the worse. Utilities would stop working, banks would lose our assets and medical records would vanish. As a husband and father of eight, I felt it prudent to take some precautions just in case some of the scenarios played out. I began to stockpile non-perishable food in October. By December, I had added extra shelves to hold my growing larder. I also purchased extra propane cylinders to use with my camp stove so we could cook if the gas went out. For heat, I purchased a kerosene heater and we had plenty of blankets. Temperatures in central Pennsylvania can easily go to minus twenty degrees in December. As December arrived I was certain we could survive at least four weeks if Y2K did cause a disruption.
Those supplies were untouched by the fire as they were stockpiled in my garage and basement. The fire was confined to the upstairs. However while we were living away from our home burglars broke into it and took my food, a television set and even my hand tools.
Finding adequate housing for a family of ten is no easy task. The Red Cross put us up in a hotel the first few nights. They also gave us a voucher to use to buy necessities as we only escaped with the clothes on our backs. The only catch was we had to spend all the money in one trip. Imagine Walmart less than two weeks before Christmas, the store was a zoo. It took the ten of us three hours to push through the crowds with four shopping carts. We looked like the pioneers pushing west in a Conestoga wagon. Eventually, we found adequate housing in what was previously a convent.
On Christmas night 2014 I counted my blessings. Our son Joseph, our seventh child, was asleep in his room and our other children were also in bed. My wife was upstairs waiting for me. As I walked up the steps to our room I could not help but whisper a prayer of thanks. Joseph survived his crisis, the fire damage was repaired and the burglary was now just a story to tell. I had many reasons to say Merry Christmas.