Rick Alexander

I’ve been told I have an exceptional memory. I’ve been able to corroborate first-hand memories that go back to when I was two. For instance, I remember when I was an only child. My brother Steve was born when I was two and a half. I  tend to remember all sorts of crazy details, with memories popping into my mind at the most random times.


I have many Christmas memories. Surprisingly, not many of them involve presents. Not that I haven’t gotten many great gifts over the years. My mom ( I mean Santa) and Lisa have always done a good job. And it’s not that I don’t remember any of them. If I sat here and thought about it, I probably could probably name a dozen or so.


When I reflect on Christmases past, I think of  the people. My earliest Christmases were spent at my maternal grandparents’ house. I was the first-born child and the first-born grandchild, so there was a lot o’ spoiling going on. My grandfather was a successful highway design engineer, but it’s not the stuff he gave me that I remember, but it is he and my grandmother that I still miss to this day! On the morning of my tenth Christmas, just after my brothers and I opened our gifts from Santa, we received a call from my uncle telling us that my grandfather had suffered another stroke. That day, my mom and grandma spent the day at the hospital, while my dad made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which turned out to be our Christmas dinner that year. Several weeks later, my grandmother was diagnosed with ALS. She passed away the following November. My grandfather lived a couple of years in a nursing home, never again to return home to the beautiful house he designed. 


The next twenty Christmases were spent at my boyhood home in Hershey. My mother ably picked up the reigns, but we still felt the void of my grandparents. Soon we had a new holiday paradigm. When I was two years old, my dad started his career as a teacher. The same year, another man also started his career at Milton Hershey School. His name is Chuck and he and his wife become good friends with our family. Chuck and Betty had no children of their own, so when my grandparents were no longer in the picture, the two families spending holidays together became a natural fit. Later, Lisa would eventually come into my life and our family.  With three sons, a husband and no daughter (even our family dog was a boy), my mom loved having a girl to shop for!


In 1992, our son Jonathan was born.  After fighting cancer for over five years, that Christmas would also be my mother’s last. She was in rehab, semi-lucid and unable to be home for the holidays. She died about a month after Christmas. She was so looking forward to having grandchildren and I was looking forward to having three generations in the family again, wanting things to return to the way they were when I was little. I was angry and bitter for some time after her passing.


The Christmas torch then passed to Lisa and me. My two brothers had not yet married, so we had them, my dad, Lisa’s dad as well as Chuck and Betty at our tiny house on Christmas Day. Lisa made great Christmas dinners and now our baby son made Christmas special again. As time went on, my brothers married and began their own holiday traditions. 


We eventually moved to a bigger house, but the tradition continued with our dads and Chuck and Betty spending Christmas with us. By 2016, my dad was too ill to travel and Chuck and Betty, now in their nineties, no longer felt comfortable making the trip to our house. By the way, we recently took our puppy Nic to see them and they are still going strong. Chuck turns 99 on December 20th!


My dad passed away earlier this year and Lisa’s dad is in long-term care suffering from dementia. But beginning in 2017, we added Jonathan’s girlfriend Kate to our Christmas celebrations!


So, Christmas to me is much more about  people than it is “stuff”. Some parting thoughts: Family is ever-evolving. And here’s a great thing:  family doesn’t have to originate from your bloodline! Whoever and wherever your family is, embrace them this Christmas and make new memories that will be of comfort to you when your family unit evolves once again! You never know when that is going to happen………


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