Thursday, December 24, 2015

There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays

Home has changed over the years, and so has the weather.  It's Christmas Eve, I'm sitting here getting ready to spend my last Christmas Eve closing a Walmart, and it's almost 65 degrees outside.  What on Earth happened to Christmas?  It still feels the same.  I still want to spend it with my family and friends, but the world gets in the way.  I miss all my friends from Indiana where I grew up, but they have mostly moved on too.  My family has scattered to the four winds, so we can't be together either. Thank God for Facebook, and thank you for creating it Mark Zuckerberg.  So, what is one to do?  What makes Christmas still Christmas in the family and friend kind of way?

My family has adopted new traditions.  Like my son and I go to Holiday Lights at Lake Compounce in Bristol, CT every year to celebrate Christmas.  It gives us a great evening together and we can normally work it into our busy schedules somewhere.  We also tend to take an evening and go for a drive to look at lights.  It's just one of those things that keeps us close.

But just once a year I think about home.  My home for 27 years was North Manchester, Indiana.  I grew up there, I went to college there, and I sometimes miss the place at Christmas.  North Manchester is a tiny town in northern Indiana, and it's biggest claim to fame is that Thomas R. Marshall, Woodrow Wilson's Vice President, was born there.  There is a park dedicated to him, and I went to a now gone by the wayside elementary school named after him.  This strange fact is what has brought about one of my family's most important Christmas traditions.

There's a movie called "A Christmas Story."  We've all seen it.  It runs for 24 hours on TBS starting every Christmas Eve at 8 o'clock.  Every year I miss home a little bit, so every year at 8 on Christmas Eve we watch the movie.  Although the landmarks are all in Cleveland, the setting for this movie reminds me of home.  The school that Ralphie goes to looks exactly like my old elementary school in North Manchester.  The house that Ralphie lives in reminds me of Lori Barney's house on Bond Street, and the house across the street from Ralphie's school looks just like the Leonard's house that was across the street from my school.  It brings back fond memories and makes me feel better when I'm missing my family at Christmas.  Ever since my son was little, we've also tracked Santa on NORAD just for fun.

But North Manchester was where I grew up.  There were more churches than restaurants.  The Time Out Inn was where we all went to eat and hang out.  If we felt like dancing we went to The Inn.  The Old Order German Baptist Dunkers used to come to town after church on Sundays and eat at Dairy Queen.  They now have a Kentucky Fried Taco Bell, and there's a Pizza Hut.  Hardee's moved in when it was Burger Chef, but there was no McDonald's until I was 22.  There are more college students, surrounding farmers, and senior citizens than actual residents of the town, but at one point it was Good Morning America's best small town.

A huge point of pride is the local covered bridge.  Built in 1872 the bridge has become a local landmark, and they do a lot of work on it to keep it going.  But things tend to remain the same in North Manchester, and that's what I love about it.  I remember growing up and being able to sit in the street in some places, like in front of my parents' house and not worry about cars coming.  I remember being able to wander the streets at night and not worry about anything.  It was one of those towns where all of us kids took off, our parents had no idea where we went before the invention of the cell phone, and nobody worried.  It was a simpler time in a simpler place, and sometimes I really miss it.

At Christmas time we didn't go around carolling much, but we did hold performances at the retirement homes where we sang for the residents.  It made their season, and we all loved to do it.  Peabody Retirement Home has been around as long as I can remember, and was started by the Peabody family which once ran the town.  There are a lot of things in town named Peabody.

Marshall Park isn't the only park in town.  The main city park is right up the street from there and has all the Norman Rockwell you would want with the gazebo that gets decorated and lit up every year for Christmas.  Home of some of the few hills around, it's also where the kids go to sled, if the snow ever falls this year.  I used to meet up with my friends to go sledding there, and we would get all beat up.  It was a great time.

But, not only did I grow up in North Manchester, I spent my first two years of college at Manchester College.  It's a fabulous four year liberal arts school.  It flies below the radar of a lot of people, because Indiana is also home to Indiana University, Ball State, Notre Dame, and Purdue; but it is a terrific school that is highly acclaimed around the world.  They have students from several countries and professors from around the world as well.  There are activities in town geared for the students who don't go home for the holidays to make them feel at home in the community.  It's really nice for visiting students.

So, how do you spend you Christmas?  For me it's changed over the years.  This will be the first Christmas since my dad has passed and I worry about my mother who insists on staying in Arizona for the holidays.  It will be my last nightmare before Christmas at Walmart.  It will be the last time that I miss Christmas Eve Dinner with my family.  It will be the last time I Tivo A Christmas Story so I can watch it when I get home from work.  But, I can say that I'm thankful to have a wonderful family that puts up with me being gone for all the important stuff.  I love them, and I'm so thankful for all my friends and family.  I love that I have them, and I love that I get to spend Christmas with them every year.  No matter where home is, there's no place like home for the holidays.
Merry Christmas and Enjoy!

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