As happens every year, the month of December was very hectic because there were so many things to do.We had to find time to go Christmas shopping, attend the boys’ concerts, and perform other seasonal related functions, while still carrying on as a normal family.
No matter how crazy things got, Dad still found time to call the pastor of the Presbyterian Church and have a discussion with him.He told Rev. Cleary about our situation and asked him his views on same-sex relationships, and he was very encouraged by what he heard.Rev. Cleary said he had performed same-sex marriages and he welcomed the LGBTQ community to attend his services.Dad thanked him for his candor and told Rev. Cleary that our family would be attending his church after the first of the year once Rev. Kirk had retired.Now that this had been settled, we could all look forward to the holidays.
Dad and Pop were willing to cover for Danny, Brandon, Dion, and me and offered to watch the boys so we could go shopping on Saturday.Afterward, when we arrived home without any packages, the boys started asking questions.
“Where’s the stuff you bought?” Tristan wanted to know when we came inside.
“We didn’t find anything that you boys wanted,” replied Brandon.
“Why not?” screamed Wyatt.
“I guess the things you asked for are so popular that they must have sold out already.”
“Everything?” the younger boys all yelled in unison.
“It looks that way.”
The boys then went to the living room to discuss the situation and I overheard their conversation.
“They probably just put everything on layaway,” suggested Joshie.
“What’s that?” asked Hayden.
“They just give the store part of the money for what they bought and then the store keeps everything for them until it’s paid off.That way, they don’t have to bring it home early, cuz they’re afraid we’re gonna snoop.”
“How do you know about that stuff?” asked Hunter.
“I have a friend whose parents do it every year so he won’t find his presents early.”
“Oh, I’m glad you told us, cuz I was gettin’ worried,” responded Xander.
“Nah, don’t worry,” said Benny.“They wouldn’t have spent so much time shoppin’ if they didn’t find anything to buy.”
Now that this was settled, the boys went off to do other things.It was a good thing Joshie told them this, because the same thing happened when we went shopping the following weekend, as well as when their grandfathers went shopping.If Joshie hadn’t explained it to them the way he had, then the younger boys might have been basket cases by Christmas Day.
Around the middle of the month, we found out something else when we were at school: the boys who’d cooperated and pleaded guilty to the indecent sexual assault charges for groping Tamara’s genitals or fondling her breasts appeared in juvenile court.The judge explained that their sentences were contingent on their cooperation at the trials of the other boys, but if they did that, then they would receive a sentence of five years probation.If they finished the probationary period without committing any other crimes, their records would be sealed and it would appear as if they didn’t have a criminal past.
It was shortly after we’d heard that news when the boys’ holiday concerts happened on three consecutive days, starting on Tuesday, December 17th.The elementary school concert was first, so we all went to watch Xander and Wyatt perform.After we watched the kindergarten and first graders take their turns, it was time for Xander to walk out and climb up the risers with the other second graders.
He looked sharp in his dress shirt and tie, and since this was the first time we’d seen him do anything like this, we were wondering how it was going to go.We weren’t surprised to see him looking around until he spotted us, and then he gave us a shy little wave, like many of the others in his class did with their parents.However, he didn’t shout out his greeting as one little girl did to her mom and dad.
We were very pleased that he didn’t hesitate when the music started and the music teacher gave his group the cue to begin.He stood fairly straight and belted out the two songs with the others, much to our delight.When they finished, his group walked down the risers and followed their teacher back to their classroom where Brandon and Danny would pick him up later.
Wyatt’s class was up next, but he was an old pro at doing this, since he’d participated in the concerts every year since Kindergarten.Dion had also been practicing with him at home, so we weren’t surprised that he appeared more self-assured and professional than the others in his grade.When the third graders finished their two songs, they were led back to their classroom while the fourth graders took their turn.Once that group finished, Danny, Brandon, Dion, and I walked down to the classrooms to pick up our sons, while the others waited for us so we could head out to the SUVs together.
“You two did great!” I said after we’d rejoined the others and were walking out to the vehicles.
“I liked doin’ that,” said Xander.“I did it at my other schools too, but nobody came to see me sing.”
“Then how did you get to the school?” asked Wyatt.
“I walked over to my friend’s house and his parents took me with them.”
“I promise that won’t happen here,” Brandon assured him.“We’ll come to watch you in everything you do.”
“And they mean it too!” confirmed Tristan.“They’re always there to watch us.”
Xander didn’t say anything, but his smile did the talking for him.
The following evening was the middle school concert.Even though joining the chorus, orchestra, or band was optional, Dion wasn’t about to let Hayden, Hunter, Tristan, and Revin get away without being part of the chorus.The boys didn’t seem to mind though, especially since Dion was the music teacher.They felt they could always say that he made them join if any of the other students picked on them for being in the chorus.
We not only listened to them, but we also sat and listened when the orchestra and band performed as well.The band wasn’t too bad, but if you’ve never heard young kids learning to play a string instrument, then I’ll explain what it was like: it sounded as if a bunch of cats had their tails stepped on, one after the other, which caused them to screech out in pain.We managed to get through the entire evening, although we tended to cringe or discretely cover our ears when the orchestra played, and I have to admit the chorus was the best part of the evening.I’m not saying this because my nephews were in the chorus and my hubby was in charge of it, but their performance sounded normal when compared to the other two groups.
“Did you like our singing?” asked Hayden when they rejoined us later.
“Yes, you boys did really well,” replied Danny.
“The band wasn’t too bad, but the other group sounded awful,” said Hunter.
“It’s like that every year,” replied Tristan.“The orchestra is never as good as the band or chorus.”
“I hope you were polite enough not to say that to the kids in the orchestra, because they were trying their best,” urged Danny.
“Yeah, we would never say that to them,” responded Revin.
“Cuz most of them are really nice,” added Tristan, “but some of the other kids told them their playin’ sounded like a cat fight.”
“We’re glad you weren’t one of those kids,” stated Brandon.
However, we weren’t through with the concerts yet because the next night was the high school’s concert.Once again, Dion was in charge of the chorus, and although Joshie was a willing participant, Dion had to use a little persuasion to get Benny to join.
“Look, I know you have a good voice because I heard you sing when you were in the middle school. I need you to help me strengthen the male side of the chorus since not many of the boys volunteer to be in the chorus when they get to high school.”
“Yeah, and you know I’ll be there,” added Joshie in support.
“You’ve got more talent than I do, but as long as we’ll be together then I’ll do it.”And that’s why tonight we were watching them both perform.
The stage band and the orchestra were much better at this level, and the entire evening proved to be very enjoyable.Of course, Joshie had a small solo in one of the songs, since he was nearly as talented as his father, but we didn’t think he’d choose to make a living from his vocal talent.Dion said there was probably no way that Joshie would study music in college, because he’d made it clear that he didn’t want to sing opera or classical music, but he might end up as lead singer in a band.We’d just have to wait and see what he was going to do, if either, but being a freshman in high school left him plenty of time to decide about his future.
“You both looked and sounded great tonight,” I told them when they came to join us afterward.
“Joshie was way better than me,” stated Benny.
“But you sounded good too,” commented Joshie.“I know, cuz you were standing right next to me.”
“I think you both did a great job,” said Dion, and the rest of us concurred.
On Saturday afternoon, the college kids began to arrive home, because just like the local schools, the colleges were closed for the next two weeks for winter break between semesters.It was nice to have them home again, but they weren’t exactly thrilled that they were all expected to attend church with us in the morning.It was going to be Rev. Kirk’s Christmas sermon, as well as his next to last sermon, so that made them feel a little better about attending.Other than grabbing a bite to eat, we spent the entire evening asking them how they thought they had done on their finals and what courses they were going to take the following semester.
Most of us were looking forward to listening to Rev. Kirk’s sermon, but the day started out rather tensely when we were being greeted as we entered the church.Rev. Belec was standing next to Rev. Kirk, so after Dad shook Rev. Kirk’s hand, he went to shake Rev’ Belec’s hand out of courtesy, but Rev. Belec didn’t offer his hand to Dad or any of the family.After everyone else went to their Sunday school classes, I waited and looked back at the line, and that’s when I noticed this wasn’t an isolated occurrence.Several other members of the congregation were refusing to shake Rev. Belec’s hand, even when he offered it to them, and that’s when I went inside as well.
After the Sunday school classes ended, the family met up and sat together in the pews, as we normally did, however, this time Rev. Belec didn’t sit behind Rev. Kirk.Instead, he took a seat in one of the pews at the very front of the church – and he was completely alone.
It was a typical Christmas service up to a point, and then Rev. Kirk changed his usual sermon slightly.“Jesus was not only born into this world to take away our sins, he was also brought into this world to usher in a new philosophy – the Golden Rule.As is recorded in Matthew 7:12, he states: ‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.’I can’t emphasis enough that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for that is what Jesus has commanded.
“A few verses earlier, in Matthew 7:1 he also commanded, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’And in Matthew 22: 34-40, he also said this: ‘Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.This is the first and greatest commandment.And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’Please remember the Lord’s words and heed them while incorporating them into your lives.”
After singing the last hymn, Rev. Kirk gave the final benediction and then stepped from behind the pulpit.Before he walked down the center aisle, though, he stopped at the first pew and spoke to Rev. Belec briefly. He then waited a few more seconds, as if he was waiting for Rev. Belec’s response, and when he didn’t get one, he walked down the center aisle and made the journey to the doorway alone.
Once he had passed the last pews, the others began to leave as well, and we did the same.When Dad reached Rev. Kirk, Rev. Kirk asked him a question.
“Have you found another church yet?”
“Yes. I spoke with the minister of the Presbyterian Church and we’re going to attend there after you retire, as you suggested.”
“I’m glad to hear this.”
“By the way, what did you say to Rev. Belec on the way out?”
Rev. Kirk leaned forward and whispered in Dad’s ear.“I told him if he followed the scriptures as they are written, then he should be able to follow the verses I mentioned in the sermon.If he could do that, then he could join me, otherwise I would prefer that he didn’t.”
“Obviously, he’s very selective as to which verses he follows literally,” Dad whispered back.
“Indeed, but enough of that.I want to wish you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas.”
“And a very Merry Christmas to you and your wife as well.”
Before we got to the SUV, several other congregants stopped Dad and asked if he’d decided on another church yet.“Yes, after the first of the year we’re going to start attending the Presbyterian Church.”
“I think we’ll have to consider that as well,” several others stated, and then we were finally able to leave.
The conversation at the diner was intense, as the others asked Dad if he’d found out what Rev. Kirk had said to Rev. Belec.They had been too far away to overhear the conversation, since it was conducted in hushed tones, but since I was right behind Dad, I was probably the only one to overhear their conversation.Dad told them what Rev. Kirk had said, and then we discussed it.
“I guess Rev. Belec doesn’t believe in the Golden Rule then,” said Elliot.
“Or most of the New Testament, since his views on gays primarily come from the Old Testament,” replied Dad.
“But doesn’t what Jesus commanded in the New Testament take preference?” asked Becky.
“That’s the way I understand it,” agreed Dad.
“I thought the sermon was directed at Rev. Belec too, rather than at you,” offered Danny.
“Yes, I think that’s the way Rev. Kirk intended it,” stated Dad.
“It doesn’t sound like Rev. Belec is a very good Christian,” said Holly, and the rest of us quickly stuffed our mouths with food and didn’t reply.
After we finished eating, we returned home.The younger boys were more hyper than usual, primarily due to the fact that Christmas was only a few days away.As I mentioned previously, Dion, the boys, and I had two weeks off for the holidays, and this only heightened the situation.In order to get the boys to calm down, we let them watch the first two Santa Clause movies before dinner, and the third one after we ate.We felt that allowing them to laugh at the antics on the screen might calm them down a bit; otherwise, they weren’t going to make it until Christmas Day.
Our ruse worked and the boys were much mellower when we put them to bed.Hopefully, we can find other things to distract them over the next couple of days.
As soon as the boys finished eating breakfast on Monday, Dad suggested that we let them help us make Christmas cookies. I thought that was a great idea, so we split into two groups to do this.Dad worked with Joshie, Benny, Tristan, and Revin, while I worked with the four youngest boys.We agreed that Dad’s group would work on the counter in the kitchen and use the wall oven, while my group worked in the dining room and used the oven in the stove.While we were getting set up, we sent Dion to the store to pick up a few items that we would need while Holly volunteered to look after TJ.
Before lunch, Dad’s group made peanut butter blossoms, which are the cookies with the Hershey kiss in the middle, and they also made chocolate blossoms.Those are chocolate cookies with a Hershey Hugs in the center.While they were doing that, we were making sugar cookie dough, and after we rolled it out, I let the boys choose which cookie cutters they wanted to use.By the time we were ready to put them in the oven, we had multiple trays of Christmas trees, stockings, stars, snowmen, and candy canes, and we prepared the icing we would use on them while they were baking.
After having a quick lunch, Dad’s group made raspberry shortbread cookies, with a raspberry filling in the center of each one, and they also made peanut butter snowballs.That’s a peanut butter cookie that they would bake, then dip in a melted white chocolate coating and then they would place them in the refrigerator to harden.
While they were doing that, my group made gingerbread men and used a white icing to outline each one, as well as to add two eyes and a mouth.We were all covered with flour and other ingredients when we finished, so after we cleaned up the mess we’d made in the kitchen and dining room, we all went to clean up.Dad and I cleaned up quickly so we could start working on dinner, but there was no mistaking that the house smelled like a cookie factory.
Brandon, Danny, and Pop noticed the wonderful aroma as soon as they walked into the house and commented on it, but we told them we wanted to save the cookies until after we ate on Christmas Eve.They understood and didn’t argue, and a few minutes later we sat down to eat.
“We helped make the cookies,” Xander told the others as we were eating.
“Yeah, it was messy, but it was fun too,” added Wyatt.
“And we got to put icing on the cookies,” stated Hunter.
“And we got to use our fingers to scrape the leftover icing out of the bowls when we were done,” said Hayden.
“It sounds like you had fun,” replied Brandon.
“Yeah, we did,” they all concurred.
“We made different cookies than the ones the other group made,” said Tristan.
“Yeah, we made the cookies that used Hershey kisses and hugs,” added Joshie.
“And another kind with raspberry filling in the middle,” stated Benny.“We made others covered in white chocolate too.”
“They all sound delicious,” responded Danny.“I can’t wait to try them.”
“We made a lot of each of them,” commented Tristan.
“And we did too,” added Wyatt.
The boys were still telling Danny, Brandon, and Pop about the cookies they made until they went upstairs to get ready for bed.It seems as if we had distracted them from thinking about what they were going to get for Christmas for another day.
On Tuesday, the others began to show up.Sammy, Andrew, and Graham arrived first, around mid-morning, and then Dad’s biological children and grandchildren got to the house just before lunch.Dobby and Flash made sure to greet and welcome each of them as they came through the door.
“I didn’t think you would get here this early, let alone all together,” Dad said as he greeted his biological family.
“We talked it over and made arrangements so we would all be here together this year, instead of two of us coming at Thanksgiving and two more for Christmas,” explained Marie.
“And then we met up so we’d all get here together,” added Elizabeth.
“And we all took today, Thursday, and Friday off from work so we’d have more time to spend with you,” added Robert.
“I appreciate that,” replied Dad.“So, are you staying at the house while you’re here?”
“No, all of the couples reserved rooms at the hotel for our stay, but the kids want to stay at the house, if that’s alright with you.”
“Yes, it’s fine.”
Dad then introduced them to Xander and TJ, which elicited a comment from Xander.
“Man, you guys have a really big family.”
“Yes, we do, and we love each and every one of them,” Dad replied.“And now you’re part of this family as well,” he added as we got ready to sit down and eat.
Ricky and Tiffany arrived as we were cleaning up after lunch, so Dad asked them if they’d eaten yet.
“Yes, we stopped on the way here,” answered Tiffany.
“Uncle Ricky, are you gonna stay here?” asked Wyatt.
“No, we’ve got a room at the motel.I didn’t want to take the chance that someone would try to tie me to the bed with dental floss again or put another snowman in my car.”
After the rest of us stopped laughing, Elliot spoke.“I only did that because of all the pranks you played on us.”
“You don’t have to worry, because he won’t be doing that again!” announced Tiffany.“He’s more mature, now that he’s getting ready to have his own family.”
“Good luck with that,” Michael shouted.“I know my brother and I’ve heard about all of the pranks he’s pulled.I even witnessed a few of them too.”
Tiffany wasn’t ready for his comment, but Ricky was beaming – not because of the pranks, but Michael had called him his brother, not his half brother or adopted brother, and it meant a lot to him.
“That’s all in the past and he doesn’t do those things any longer,” insisted Tiffany after a slight delay, while giving Ricky ‘the eye’!
“Since this is going to be a very busy day with a lot going on, I want my grandchildren to join me in the family room so they can watch A Christmas Carol with me.”
“Is it the one in black and white?” asked Benny.
“No, although that is my favorite version, we’re going to watch the one with George C. Scott, and that’s in color.”
Once all of the grandchildren were in with Dad watching the movie, Brandon and Dion slipped out and went down to Uncle Steve’s house to put the presents into their SUVs.They would be safe, locked in the vehicles, since we weren’t planning on going out again, and then we could bring them inside after the boys went to bed.
When they got back, Brandon and Dion helped to set up the banquet table in the living room and the card tables in the foyer, and Tiffany, Andrea, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Marie helped us to set the various tables while we chatted. Michael, Robert, and Ricky had gone into the family room to watch the movie with Dad and the kids, because it was something they had done every Christmas Eve while they were growing up. They obviously hadn’t outgrown the tradition and wanted to continue doing it with the others, and they dragged Adrian and Tim in with them.
Brandon and I worked on dinner while this was going on, and Dad helped just as soon as the movie ended.About the same time, the Shays and Aunt Sally showed up, soon followed by Richard, Jesse, Becky, and Revin.A little while later, Dustin and Katie, Cole and Beth, and Kevin and Vinnie also arrived, so we had them all sit down so we could eat.
“It seems like you’re using more and more tables every time we come to one of these dinners,” said Aunt Mary.
“Yes, the family is growing,” Dad agreed, “but the more the merrier.”
“It’s definitely a house filled with love,” added Aunt Sally.
“Indeed, it is,” agreed Tiffany.“I’m glad I’m part of it.”
“And I am too,” added Sarah.
“And we’re glad both of you are as well,” concurred Dad.
As soon as we finished eating and the tables had been cleared and the extra tables taken down, the boys went out to the rec room and fetched the platters of cookies.They carried them into the dining room and set them on the table so everyone could help themselves, and they also told everyone how they had helped to make them.
Once everyone had eaten a few cookies, Dad directed them to head to the family room so they could sing Christmas carols.Elliot had agreed to accompany them on the piano, and Dion had selected the songs we would sing, so for the next half hour the house was filled with festive music.It seemed to put everyone in a good mood, and now was the time that Dad read Clement Moore’s A Visit From St. Nicholas, or as we know it now, The Night Before Christmas.
Dad did this every year with his grandchildren, and as usual, just as he closed the book, Santa appeared in the picture window.This got the boys excited, in more ways than one.
“There’s Santa,” screamed Xander while pointing at the window.
“We gotta get to bed so he can leave the presents,” stated Tristan.
“Joshie,” a male voice boomed out from the back of the room, and when Joshie turned around, he saw it was Pop who’d called his name.Pop merely shrugged his shoulders and pointed at the picture window to let Joshie know that he wasn’t dressed up as Santa.
Joshie’s mouth fell open in surprise, as he tried to figure out what was going on.What he didn’t know was that earlier in the day, Pop had talked Robert into dressing up as Santa this year, because he wanted Joshie to doubt what he’d said previously.Apparently, it worked.
While Dad had been reading to his grandchildren, it also gave Danny, Brandon, Dion, and me a chance to get the presents out of the SUVs and put them in the rec room.It would save time later.
Now, the kids were all rushing upstairs to get in bed, including Revin.Becky was letting him spend the night, although she would be going home to sleep.Before she left, however, we went out and helped her carry the presents from the trunk of her car to the rec room, so they’d be under the tree when she returned in the morning.There was a great deal of deception going on, but it was necessary in order to have a perfect Christmas morning.