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Minnich: Warmth of family and unexpected lessons, the best tradition of all | COMMENTARY

Christmas will be tough for a lot of people this year.

Traditions will carry on for many families and get them through, but ...

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Perhaps it will be the unexpected that will be the gift most remembered as time fades everything else.

Early on, we’re taught to immerse ourselves in a season of myth and magic and discover in it truth and security. Expectations are stoked like a furnace on a cold dark night. The reality of the dawning is sometimes disappointing. But human beings are generally hopeful.

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What will be remembered most will be the good times, the warmth of family and even the most modest home — the more modest the better — with time becomes more and more cozy in our recall. The family more loving, more accepting, more protective with the sifting out of the failures and detours made by bad choices and sour fate.

Nostalgia is what we share best. If there are two gifts for each of us, only two, one will be fond memories, and the other will be great plans for the future: I remember, and What’s next?

Sitting here, mining the rubble of a well-traveled path for memories of best Christmas gifts ever, I find myself struggling. There was the proverbial BB rifle that Santa brought in a rare defiance of Mother’s will. I know — straight out of “A Christmas Story,: before there was the book or the movie.

And a solid steel town right out of the Wild West (some assembly required), with plastic horses and cowboys and Indians before they were to be called Native Americans.

Most of the actual gifts have been forgotten, but I remember well the preparing, the anticipating. The annual emergence of the Christmas garden. In our family, it was Santa’s job to put in the train garden and the village, and because he had so many to do, he did ours a little bit at a time each night, after my sister and I went to bed, for a week leading up to Christmas morning. Apparently, as the story went, he had hours like Dad’s. Made sense, because you could find both of them in the store across from our apartment until 9 p.m.

The garden evolved in the front room, so when we came in the front door, we had to turn our heads and not look, because if we saw the magic before it was finished, it would disappear.

Talk about building character and discipline. I got around that by getting up early in the pre-dawn gloom to inspect the project. Never got caught, so nothing disappeared, but then I couldn’t really see much, so maybe that was the key.

One Christmas morning, I was doing an early scout before everyone else was awake, and I saw something shaped like a big piggy bank. My heart sank; I hoped the piggy bank did not have my name on it, because I didn’t ask for a piggy bank, didn’t want a piggy bank, and would be disappointed if limited resources were used on providing that instead of something better I’d had on my list.

I was full of the Christmas spirit, as I knew it at the time.

I was forced to deal with the idea that not only do you not always get what you want, but sometimes you get something that you most assuredly do not want, even if it is Christmas.

Only later did I come to appreciate that my real gift that year was that lesson, and the memory of it which warms me more than any actual toy. The mystery gift turned out to be fun, a gas station, with lifts and cars, from an uncle.

The memory leads me to the story of how Uncle Raymond used to tease Dad. When he was little he would ask the older Raymond what he got him for Christmas. Raymond would say it was a sweater.

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A sweater?!

He never got the sweater, but he had another memory of a loved brother. Another lesson in being happy, or making happy work in times good and bad.

Dean Minnich is a former reporter/photographer, feature writer, editor and county commissioner who grew up in Manchester and lives in Westminster. His column runs Thursdays. His email address is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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