Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

There's a Lot to Remember and Be Thankful for at Christmas

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

There's a Lot to Remember and Be Thankful for at Christmas

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Longenecker, Shorelines columnist

I remember just one Christmas in my birthplace, Joplin, Mo. It must have been either 1950 or 1951. On the side of our house stood a playhouse built by my grandfather.

I also have one memory of snow, but not necessarily as part of a white Christmas. The Christmas of 1989 was the only white Christmas in Neptune Beach.

This is the 50th Christmas on Cedar Street for the Longenecker household.

I've spent a few holidays in the snow in the mountains after having Christmas Day here. I once did a winter hike on the Appalachian Trail in 1967. We left here Dec. 26 and spent five nights out before a major storm drove us off the trail a day early.

Hiking alone for short stretches in the incredible white silence of snow-filled deep woods is a humbling and reverential experience.

My most memorable gift was the chemistry set I received when I was about 10. I felt the open, folding aluminum case in the dark before the official gift-opening time. That kit should have been my catalyst to a distinguished medical career. Alas, my math skills were lacking.

My brother's gift of a wet suit in 1963 brought winter surfing and still has repercussions. The failure to be honest brought me my most unwanted suit. My father was the credit manager at Furchgott's, a classy department store downtown. I was maybe 15 when he took me to the men's department to have me try on a jacket one October day.

As I slipped on the black jacket, he had big smile on his face. He obviously thought it was wonderful. To humor him, I agreed that it was nice. Big mistake. On Christmas day, it was mine! For several months I regretted that I had not told him the truth the first time.

Christmas should be about much more that gifts. Father had tried so hard. That's what gift-giving is all about. I think he believed I liked the jacket. My acting was pretty good. Even at 15, I could appreciate his efforts.

This is my first Christmas without either of my parents. Dec. 24, 1995, was my father's last strong day. He was energized and hopeful that day. By the next morning, he was beginning to weaken. He would die on Jan. …

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