Remembered a story I had heard at my Grandpa Lemay’s funeral visiting with family and got permission to post it here. It was written up for our family’s newsletter and called Christmas In Tonica. The Gpa Lemay in this story is my great grandfather…
Grandpa Lemay accepted a job to run a farm implement store up North and moved his wife, six children and Grandpa Denny to the little village of Tonica, IL. Three weeks after arriving there the farm store burned to the ground. Grandpa picked up whatever odd jobs he could and looked for other work. Eventually the railroad decided to re-open the depot in Tonica and Grandpa was hired to run it. They all worked at the depot for weeks cutting down the tall grass, pulling weeds, scrubbing the inside, doing repairs, etc. Two days before it was scheduled to re-open, Grandpa received a telegram saying that they had changed their mind and decided not to re-open the depot after all. Grandpa was back to picking up odd jobs and the family struggled to make ends meet and put food on the table thru that fall and into the winter.
Christmas came and Grandpa Denny walked the children to church for the Christmas Eve service. Mom said that there was the most beautiful tree in the church and she sat there and just drank it in so that she could remember it when so got home, because there was not going to be any tree at their house. She had been hearing her friends talk about what they were going to get for Christmas and she knew that she and her brothers and sisters were not going to get anything. So, she sat there trying to listen to the service, but feeling sad and gloomy about the Christmas that wasn’t coming to their house. And then, she would feel guilty because that wasn’t what Christmas was about – it was about the birth of Jesus and she should be feeling happy and joyous about the birth of her Savior. It was a long, hard service for that little nine year old girl.
After church they began their trek home. The snow was falling softly and the world seemed quiet and peaceful. Grandpa Denny started them singing Christmas Carols to pass the time as they walked. Their house was up on a hill and shortly before you got to it, there was a creek with a wooden bridge across it. When they got to the bridge, Grandpa Denny exclaimed in his booming Irish baritone, “Raise your voices, children. How is the Lord going to hear you praising Him when you are singing like that? Raise your voices and praise the Lord, now.” Of course, they had no way of knowing that they were not just praising the Lord – they were also signaling the people gathered in their house.
Mom said that all of a sudden there were tiny little lights that looked like fireflies in their parlor. But, that couldn’t possibly be because the parlor was always closed off and no one ever went in there! But as they got closer the lights began to look like little flames – candle flames! Could it possibly be! Her heart was filled with such excitement as they all dashed into the house. And there, in the parlor, was a Christmas tree decorated with beautiful ornaments and covered with tiny lighted candles. While they were gone the neighbors had brought in the tree and decorated it. And they had brought one present for each of the children and food and candy and all sorts of goodies. The neighbors stayed and everyone visited and ate and laughed and wished one another, “Merry Christmas.”
And it was indeed the very Merriest Christmas. Mom lived to be 90 and she always said that was the best Christmas she ever had. As I was cleaning out her dresser after she passed away, I found one little silver Christmas tree candle holder carefully wrapped in tissue paper at the bottom of a drawer. It wasn’t from that night as it looked relatively new. I don’t know where she had found it, but I certainly know the memory that it held for her.