“Christmas is not as much about opening presents as opening our hearts.” Janice Maeditere
Westwater sparkled as Kenidee and I started down the trail early Sunday morning. On Saturday, we’d had an unusual fog which cloaked the entire area.
That moisture now created crystals which transformed even the cheatgrass into sparkling spears of beauty.
It was nearly Christmas, and like Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, I was remembering Christmas Past, wondering what exactly had created the sparkle in my childhood holidays.
We weren’t rich—far from it—but we always spent Christmas with my mom’s parents. Dad loaded the suitcases and gifts into the car midafternoon on Christmas Eve, and we drove about an hour to Minneapolis, KS, stopping in town to visit my dad’s parents for a few hours.
They were poor with a tiny tree and no presents for greedy grandkids, so we bided our time and tongues, not realizing how much our visits meant even to our very strict grandma.
After we said our goodbyes, we climbed back into the car and headed to the most exciting destination in the world—the Tom Bradbury farm.
My brothers and I jumped in the backseat, unable to contain our excitement when, from a distance, we finally spotted Granddad’s fat Christmas lights decorating the arch of their front porch.
Our excitement reached fever pitch as we turned down the dirt road and then, a quarter of a mile later, turned again down the lane leading to the farmhouse.
Dad parked by the back gate, and he and Mom began unloading suitcases and gifts, placing the lighter packages in our arms. Ladened, we burst through the backdoor where my grandparents stood waiting to give us hugs and kisses.
Delectable smells filled the house—freshly baked dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, kolaches, five or six different kinds of cookies, apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies, and homemade chicken and noodles.
The soup, rolls, and one kolache each were for the evening meal. The rest, Gran warned us, must be saved for the big meal on Christmas Day.
What was the magic? As much as I adored my granddad, and he certainly did his part making popcorn balls and filling our socks with all kinds of goodies after we’d fallen asleep, it was Gran who made the celebration sparkle.
Her parents had immigrated from Bohemia, part of the Czech Republic, met and married in the United State, and eventually moved to the Midwest.
She was the twelfth of twelve children, born when her mom was 45 and her dad 57. They were dirt poor, but her father had been a concert violinist when he lived in Europe and played for Bohemian Hall dances when he was alive.
Bohemians, of course, were famous for their love of parties, and Gran was no different though she didn’t tolerate the drinking kind. The magic didn’t just come from her outgoing personality, zest for life, enormous vitality, or courage. She literally radiated love and light, and everyone felt it.
I let go of my Christmas Past reverie as Kenidee and I crossed the little bridge over the Westwater stream where we paused, listening to the water, before climbing to the west side of the canyon.
There, the curly grass, rice grass, prickly pears, sagebrush, and even sandstone were transformed by the frost, and my thoughts turned to Christmas Present, a much more sobering contemplation since Ted’s mom, Ruth Palmer, had passed away Saturday afternoon at age 98.
Born in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, Ruth always felt homesick for her beloved country, but she moved to Blanding because she loved her husband, and here they raised five children, moving to St. George only after Blanding winters grew too challenging for them.
Ruth had been ill for about a month, and when we’d visited her the weekend before, she hadn’t opened her eyes or responded to us, something very unusual for her.
During the ensuing week, many family members made the pilgrimage to see her one last time. We heard the news while hiking on Comb Ridge with Ted’s niece and her family.
We’re still not sure how Ted picked up the call on Comb where reception should have been spotty at best, but we’re calling it a tender mercy.
However, our young great-niece didn’t think it was tender or a mercy and burst into tears, and I’ll admit to shedding more than a few myself as Kenidee and I looped back over the stream and up on the east side of Westwater.
Like my grandmother, Ruth radiated warmth, light, and love.
What about Christmas Future? Scrooge’s vision of the future is what finally changed him from a curmudgeon into a man who joyfully shared his abundance for the rest of his life.
As I paused to examine the canyon plants transfigured by ice crystals, I pondered the miracle of transformation.
Life wasn’t easy for either my grandmother or Ted’s mom and became even more difficult as they aged, but at some key point and on some deep level, like Scrooge, they chose love, which is the real magic of Christmas.

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