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Christmas Morning Memories

12/25/04 12:00AM By Howard Coffin
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(HOST) Commentator Howard Coffin recalls the Christmas mornings of his boyhood home in Woodstock.


(COFFIN) I grew up in a place the corporations would discover a half century later and make of it America's Christmas card.

I grew up in Woodstock, Vermont when blizzards always came before Christmas, piling banks of pure white snow against the houses from which decorated trees cast multi-colored light through their frosty panes. A little church that concealed a loudspeaker from the Woodstock Electric Company store, suspended above the village square, broadcast the songs of Christmas: "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Joy to the World". Everyone loved that music, including my dad, who had to change the 78 RPM records.

A creche on the snowy Congregational Church lawn depicted the holy family, looking warm amid the cold. I thought, for a time, that the story of Christmas happened in a winterland: wise men and camels approaching the glowing, star-lit manger across white hills and fields. My mother said Christmas could happen anywhere I thought it should.

Early Christmas morning Gramp and Gram Coffin, bearing gifts, tramped into our apartment back of Pleasant Street, and my honorary aunt Ada always joined the family to watch in joy as we three children tore off wrappings. In the afternoon we drove to South Pomfret for Christmas with my mother's family. I remember molasses popcorn balls, the laughter of aunts and uncles, trying out new toys with cousins, a turkey supper, then everyone gathered 'round Gram Jillson at the parlor piano singing Christmas songs. "Silent Night" came too soon.

I vividly recall the giant cross with scores of light bulbs my father and fellow workmen at the Electric Company placed on Mount Tom and illuminated at Christmas to shine high above our village. Later, a great star was added to its superstructure to shine at Yuletide, while the cross came on at Easter.

My grandparents are long gone now, as are Mom and Dad, Aunt Ada, most of my aunts and uncles and some of my cousins. It's as if a grim reaper marched through my little world of long ago.

I no longer live in Woodstock, but I often return. Even now, when I round that bend and once again see the star shining above my famous village, I am filled with a warm feeling of a time rather long ago. All seems almost right as I drive my streets of memory past the homes of old friends and neighbors, mostly filled with people I do not know.

Does that feeling of well-being - with so much of what I once knew and loved now lost - come from the enduring quality of love? Or am I coming to understand a mysterious childhood word I heard spoken this time of year: something called "grace".

I'm Howard Coffin of Montpelier. Have a happy holiday.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian who's specialty is the civil war.
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