When I was small, we always had Christmas at my aunt Rosie and uncle Frank’s house, in Aurora, IN just across the river from
Ohio Kentucky. Then we would drive across indiana to Olney, IL and spend new years at my Aunt Roseanna and Uncle Calvins.
We used to always attend midnight mass at St Lawerence Church in Lawrenceville, and usually (Because at the time pew rental was common in Catholic Churches) we would have to squeeze into the choir loft.
At one point there was one altar boy who had been diagnosed with some form of cancer. I don’t remember which but I do remember he hadn’t a shred of hair. And that year, because all of his classmates felt bad for him, they all shaved their heads too.
Midnight mass is a long drawn out procedure, or was in those days, this was still the latin tridentine mass, and it took some paying attention to, and many was the time I fell asleep.
I had never seen a bald kid before, and to my eyes, it was like a herd of tiny old men marching up to the altar. For the very first time in my life I stayed awake for a whole midnight mass, and asked a million questions of my aunt and uncle about the afflicted kid.
Apparently he died soon after that, still a teenager. I never knew any more. The next years midnight mass was quite ordinary. But that night I lay on the bed in the upstairs bedroom of Rosie and Franks house, smelling the cedar paneling and staring at the ceiling tiles, wondering what it must be like to be so young and be dying.
I woke, my sister hopping up and down on my chest anxious for Christmas to begin; I’d slept through breakfast because I’d stayed awake so late. We went downstairs where all the family grinned at me, I was always the first kid up on Christmas and this year I had been the last.
The shadow of death overlaid so dramatically on the Christmas celeberation has always cemented Christmas as a good holiday for me- I simply cannot be in a bad mood at Christmastime and refuse to allow anyone to harsh it for me. Other people get down because of this or that and I really feel for them, but I have to say, I’m so damned full of Christmas cheer this moment that I cannot adequately express myself. If I could wish anything for you, Dear Reader, it would be for you to feel the way I feel right now.