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Haunted by ghosts of Christmas past

Living back in the town where I did most of my growing up, it’s not so surprising that Christmases past fill my mind as full as the stockings my sisters and I always found waiting Christmas mornings.

The earliest actual memory I recall came during the years our family lived in California. I was probably 5 years old, and the only Christmas light that mattered was the single flashing red light on the cab of “Big Bruiser,” a gleaming white toy tow truck that came with a battered blue pickup truck to pull. With no such thing as a white Christmas in sunny Los Angeles, Big Bruiser got an extended and gleeful test run on the patio.

We moved back to Marion for good when I was in second grade, and you couldn’t be a kid in Marion without a bicycle. I’d outgrown the one I had in California, something Santa obviously figured out. His solution: The Holy Grail of cycling, a Spyder bicycle with high-rise handlebars and the coolest tiger-striped banana seat the planet had ever seen. No vehicle known to man ever went faster than when that bike was hurtling down Elm St. hill at breakneck speed, and it left steaming black skid marks a mile long. Honest.

Christmas changed when I hit early adolescence, as far as the memories that stand out. Experiences, it seems, became more important than what gifts I received.

In high school, I developed a gift-wrapping tradition that lasted well into adulthood. It began when exiting the late night Christmas Eve service at the Presbyterian Church, where the bell would ring in Christmas at midnight. We’d make the short stroll home to our Elm St. house, and while others went to bed, I headed to the basement to wrap my presents.

I took special delight in bizarre wrappings. Why use one kind of paper and one bow when multiples of each for one present looked so much more festive? Football kicking tees, strawberry baskets, milk jugs, marbles, wood and cardboard scraps, and other stuff were fodder for absurdity, and one year a hacksaw was a necessary tool.

I chuckle over memories of capturing memories. When grandkids became part of the Colburn Christmas celebration, we adults morphed into the “present paparazzi.” For several years it seemed there were more cameras in the room than presents under the tree. Everyone had to take turns opening gifts so that we wouldn’t miss covering a single surprised or joyful expression from multiple angles.

When I became a dad, Christmas was split between Marion and my in-laws’ house in Arkansas City. My favorite Christmas Eve memories are from Ark City, when daughter Kiersten had personal visits from a marvelous Santa, the very same one who visited her mom as a child. Coffee cake and presents were the joyous routine before hitting the road for Marion on Christmas morning.

And once the presents were opened and the traditional feast consumed in Marion, Christmas wasn’t complete without a marathon game of bridge. All the family elders were good players, and they graciously tolerated the outlandish bidding and mistake-prone play of those of us who played but once a year. Laughter was a welcome trade-off for expertise.

Oh how I could go on and on, but relating more of my memories would risk generating for you the feeling I get looking for exits when a rightfully proud grandparent pull out a fourth volume of pictures of their just so adorable grandchild.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a savior, but that celebration takes place in the midst of modern traditions both cultural and personal. This Christmas soon will be Christmas past. Here’s hoping all of you will find joy in the present that will make this a beautiful Christmas past.

— david colburn

Last modified Dec. 23, 2015

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