Christmas Memories that Matter
It’s amazing how good childhood memories can last a lifetime. That’s why Chicago has always been like a second home, since every year when I was growing up we went there to visit our aunt and uncle.
Both have died, our aunt the last to go in 1991. Since then, the only time I’ve been there is changing planes at O’Hare Airport.
When I spent a couple hours at O’Hare two days before Thanksgiving, I couldn’t help remembering an experience from a Christmas of long ago.
That’s when we flew to Chicago before renting a car to drive on to see family in Ohio and West Virginia.
With ever-shrinking leg room, ever-increasing rates for everything from luggage to snacks, and more-crowded flights today’s norm, it’s easy to think airline travel has never been worse.
However, problems existed 35 years ago.
Delays & Mix-Ups
That particular night, our flight out of Denver was more than two hours late leaving. And filled to the brim.
As the last customer to board came up the aisle, he had to wait for a stewardess to move.
Imitating a then-popular TV commercial, he popped his forehead with an open palm and exclaimed, “I could have flown Continental!”
The fact it was a Continental flight provoked hilarious laughter, serving as an emotional release valve for many travelers’ pent-up frustrations.
It got better when we landed in Chicago. Turns out the baggage handlers had switched all of our flight’s luggage with the one behind us.
Before that faux pas became obvious, a Continental agent tried to make the best of the situation, urging people to carefully check bags because so many looked alike.
As the line ground to a halt and still no one moved, sweat popped out on the agent’s forehead. From behind us a voice cried out, “You better have a good explanation for this!”
Minutiae of Life
Since then, I have had luggage similarly lost, even when paying $25 a bag to check it, compared to free in the mid-1980s.
But I’ve also learned to not let the minutiae of life upset me. One reason is because so many of the people we were going to see that Christmas are no longer with us.
There’s our aunt in Chicago; my mother lived with her oldest sister at the tail end of the Great Depression, before she met and married my father.
Our aunt was a sterling example of unconditional love, always glad to see us and always cheerful, no matter how grumpy everyone else might be.
What impressed me now was her generosity toward others and her frugal nature when it came to spending money on herself.
Both of my wife’s parents and mine are also gone, although they left a legacy of hard work and determination forged in childhoods that were long on love and short on material goods.
One of my favorite stories about my father’s boyhood was how he and his younger brother used to throw rocks at railroad engineers on passing trains.
They hoped the men aboard would throw coal back at them—coal that could be gathered up for heat.
I couldn’t help thinking about Dad’s story this year as I later watched the glut of Black Friday TV commercials at my brother’s house.
Christmas seems to be more commercial than ever, with things like $50,000 cars wrapped in bright bows trying to persuade people that if they could afford a gift like that, life would be perfect.
It wouldn’t. It would still be life, with all its frustrations, aggravations, disappointments, and losses. Besides, new cars can never replace what really matters: those who help shape our lives.
This Christmas, take time to tell those closest to you how much you admire and care for them. They won’t always be around.