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What It Means to Celebrate Christmas in the Larger Family


In this month’s installment of These Ozarks Hills, Marideth Sisco considers what it means to be a part of the larger family this holiday season.

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. Tis the season again for holiday celebrations, whether Christmas, Hannukka, Kwanza or Solstice. The longest night of the year is upon us, when the earth ceases its northern tilt and heads sunward again. If you're near Stonehenge, or its little cousin up at Rolla, you can stand in the circle there and see the sun rise in the notch reserved just for solstices. Certainly the merchandisers are happy. People are buying presents just like old times like, say, a decade ago. And certainly, we all are looking for better times.But I think I caught myself saying Merry Christmas once too often of late, while leaving the home of a family whose elderly mother is just out of intensive care, and the outcome is still uncertain. And it reminded me that for many folks in many places, the holiday season is often just not all that merry. Families with people serving overseas in grim situations. Or in hospitals. Or gone. People estranged from their loved ones by conflict, or illness, or distance. Or older folks, who've seen friends die, families dwindle, and days of silence where laughter used to be.It stirred up a memory of one of my darkest Christmases, the year my parents died. I was 23, out on my own, I thought. But then I got to find out what that really meant. I had roots in a tiny Ozarks town where my mother was postmaster, like her mother and father before her. We had aunts, uncles, cousins galore. I didn't even have to put an address on letters headed home. Just Postmaster, Butterfield, Missouri. Then with hardly time to catch my breath, I was orphaned. I had no home address. I spent Thanksgiving with an aunt who was still in Butterfield, but like me, was alone for the holiday. We drove down into Arkansas to the AQ Chicken House for dinner We talked long, told stories, laughed, and had a good time together. But by Christmas, I was lost. I didn't know what to do, how to continue, where I belonged. I couldn't just go back to what had been before, because it was gone. And I couldn't bear the loss. I was a picture without a frame, a boat left adrift, a castaway. On Christmas Eve, with a heavy heart, watching the snow blowing drifts down the country lanes and more in the forecast, I remembered an invitation from an old friend in Springfield to come share Christmas, and I went. Seventy miles up snow-covered highways in driving wind and cold, creeping around curves, the defrosters not quite keeping up with the icing windshield wipers. It was exhilarating. I learned that night that adrenaline, carefully applied, can be a very handy, if temporary, first aid for a broken heart.My friend and fellow musician Rodger, lived with his mother, Pauline, in a tiny, two room, two story house behind the old Sorosis House on Walnut Street. Today that house is the student exhibition center at MSU. Pauline, a gifted and prolific artist, suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, and her mother, who helped care for her, lived next door at the Sorosis women's club. That night, when I crept into the snow-covered parking lot between the two buildings, I found a path had already been cleared for me by other vehicles. Pauline's brothers, Justin and Nelson Keifer, had arrived with their families, from their homes in Kansas and Oklahoma, and the house was lit with many lights. Music and laughter greeted me as I knocked, followed by warm hugs and merry greetings when I stepped through the door. Dinner was on the stove, and Justin was about to unveil his latest creation. He was a beermaker, and he was proudly handing out bottles of his newest batch of homebrew for us to sample. The bottles were handsome brown longnecks with impressively printed labels, titles displayed in elegant gothic script. I took one, inhaled the aroma and then burst out laughing when I deciphered the name: It was "Keifer's Rottensox"It was splendid, especially when combined with good food and good friends, some of them brand new. I have no recollection of the rest of that night. But the next day more friends and family arrived, we ate, we sang songs, and I left late in the afternoon on thawing roads, whistling a tune and feeling oddly that I had come back to earth from some faraway, dark land. I understood then that there is always a larger family, and if they remember you, or even if they don't, sometimes when you least expect it and you need it most, they'll take you in.After forty-some years I still remember that Christmas, driving home in the afternoon sun, with a full belly, a full heart, and a special gift of Christmas cheer – a six-pack of Keifer's Rottensox.This is Marideth Sisco, with a Christmas wish from These Ozarks Hills that we all remember we are part of that larger family, and do our part to make sure no one is left out in the cold. Happy, happy holidays, and Thanks for listening.