Christmas memories




Sleigh ride to Mass

On Christmas Eve, an hour or so after Santa came, we kids always had to go to bed for a couple hours, so we could later head to midnight Mass together. The church would always look nice with real Christmas trees in the sanctuary. The “High Mass” would seem to take forever, and we would nearly always fall asleep to the beautiful singing of the choir.

When there might be a good covering of snow on Christmas Eve, we’d get a special treat of riding to midnight Mass in a horse-drawn sleigh, with jingling bells attached to the harness. The Nehring family, who lived a mile or so south of us, owned the sleigh. Lou and Rose would call and offer us this special treat, and of course their two kids, Carl and Isabel, would come along. For some reason, this always seemed to be on a beautiful moonlit night. At least I remember it that way.

This week’s vacation between Christmas and New Years was always a big treat, too. We would go sledding with our neighbors on “nutcracker hill” out in Simpson’s pasture that had a rather big jump-off at the bottom. The big long Trapp’s hill on the dirt road south of Nehrings was also a favorite. Starting at the very top, you could coast over two more smaller hills on the way down, and wind up right up in Nehrings’ barn yard. Rose would always invite us in for hot cocoa and cookies. What a treat!


Looking back 70 years, these memories seem almost like yesterday.

John McNeer

A song of Christmas

My mind takes me back to Christmas of 2009. It was the Christmas I entered into broken, only to discover that my darkness was actually a means for light to enter. My heart was shattered. It was the first Christmas after the shocking passing of my sister in August of that year.

My mind knew there were steps that needed to be taken in order to move through the grieving process, but my heart felt too heavy for the journey. The loss of Christy took center stage in my life. I had lost the “music, that sense of a carefree mind and a filled soul.” I couldn’t sing because I was filled with sadness.
I started the season by going to a Blue Christmas Mass. I tried to be an active part of the Mass, but there was no music, just words. Yet, I could feel the compassion for all those around me. Was this a baby step in my darkness to try and find the light, to think of others and their story?

A few days later, we went to my mom’s for Christmas, a large family gathering of fun-loving adults and children. But it was like walking into darkness. An unexpected knock on the back door brought Christmas carolers who entered with song. My heart melted. How did they know we were all here? They were not on “our page” but yet, were they?

Hearing them sing, I could feel the music deep inside of me. It was a milestone in my grieving process, and a Christmas gift of grace. My gift that Christmas was awareness that the sun will continue to rise, mail will continue to be delivered, traffic will keep on moving and there is a gift to live in the light of the day, right through our darkness.

My Christmas prayer is for anyone who is hurting — that God show you the music in your life.

Cathy Eggers
Prince of Peace Parish, Clinton

Song confirms late husband is with Jesus

My husband Francis died in August 2009 after we had 61 years of marriage. My life was lonely without him, and I kept wondering, “Where exactly is he now? Is he with Jesus? I wish I knew for sure.”

Some time in December that year I had a dream that comforted my mind and heart. In that dream I was working in a veterinary clinic (I don’t know where THAT came from!) in a building that had three or four rooms. The rooms were all connected to a music system. In my dream, I began to hear the song “Have I told you lately that I love you?” Someone was singing all the verses with the refrain after each verse. I stopped, spellbound, when the song first began, and listened without moving until it ended. That was “our song” all through our marriage. Francis bought me a 78 rpm vinyl recording of it the Christmas before we were married. I still remember us listening to it on our wind-up Victrola for the first time, and it became “our song.”

Hearing it in my dream seemed to confirm that Francis was OK with Jesus, and reassuring me of his love and watchful concern for me. I never forgot it. I still have that record and electronic equipment to play it.

Teresa Mottet

Ornaments on kids’ eye level

My husband and I very much wanted a family, but we suffered three miscarriages. Then, in 1985, a healthy boy and in 1987 a healthy girl arrived in our family. An additional miscarried baby and two more fine sons would follow.

My tender memory occurred in Christmas season 1989.  Our Tim was 4 and our Annie was 2. We were so happy to have these beautiful children. They started to decorate the Christmas tree and we soon realized that all of the ornaments had been clustered within inches of each other at about 3 feet high, just within their reach. We left them exactly like that throughout the season and never have I seen a more beautiful tree!

Polly Porter, Iowa City
St. Thomas More Parish, Coralville

Christmas Eve most memorable

My most memorable part of Christmas happened every Christmas Eve. Our family and my aunt’s family would have a special Christmas Eve dinner of lentil soup at grandma and grandpa’s house (my mom and aunt’s parents). We would also have Christmas wafers with various Christmas scenes imprinted on them. They were about 5 inches by 7 inches and the texture of a communion wafer. We all shared the soup with rye bread and a piece of the wafer with a bit of honey. A few walnuts in the shell were tossed in corners — for good luck, I guess.

Once the meal was finished and the dishes washed and put away, we prepared for Chrsitmas Eve services at midnight (I mean, midnight) Mass. There we were — mom and dad, my two sisters and brother, my aunt and uncle and our four cousins — off to church. I can still feel the warmth and joy our family and all our parish families felt as we sat in our little church celebrating Jesus’ birth. And every year it was the same. I miss those days but love the memories.

Sandy Herrington
Fulton, Ill.

The Christmas our dad died

It was 1969, Msgr. Bob was ordained three years, I was ordained two years, and our brother, Father John, was in the seminary. Our oldest brother Dick was with his wife Shirley and their children in Grand Rapids, Mich. On Dec. 22, Mom found Dad lying on the living room couch with his rosary in his hands. Dad always prayed the rosary before he left to cut hair at his barber shop.

Our family gathered together that year for Christmas dinner late in the afternoon. After dinner, we sat around the Christmas tree opening our Christmas gifts. It was not so much a giving of material things but more a sharing of our love, a love filled with precious thoughts and memories deep within our hearts. Stillness suddenly came over us; it was a silent sound and we felt Dad’s presence among us. It was a most holy and blessed Christ­mas moment in our lives.

Fr. Tom  Spiegel

Lou Ann Montgomery received this nativity set from her dying mom.

Special nativity set from mom

My husband and I moved to Iowa City in August 1978. Just two months earlier, my mother learned she had breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy and started chemotherapy. She insisted we go forward with our mid-August wedding and relocation to Iowa, where my husband had been accepted to graduate school. I know this was hard for her since my dad had passed away 18 years earlier and I was an only child of whom she would be letting go.

For the next couple of years she fought the cancer but by late 1981 it had metastasized with no treatment options left. I got a call the week before Thanksgiving that it was time to come home. I flew home alone and had friends take me directly to the hospital as her condition was grave. She was not responsive but seemed to be hanging on for my arrival. After some hours at her bedside, my friends convinced me to go back to her house to take a break. When I walked into the house, this handmade ceramic nativity set was spread on our china hutch with a simple card next to it saying, “Merry Christmas.” One of her good friends told me that my mom went to great lengths to order this set and to be sure it would arrive before Thanksgiving; she must have sensed her time was drawing near. It was the last gift I got from my mom but it was the very best. Each year, it is the first Christmas decoration put up and the last one taken down. I know when I put it up that she and my dad are watching over my family and me from heaven.

Lou Ann Montgomery
St. Thomas More Church, Coralville

Smallest package has the biggest presents

The year was 1948. I was a sophomore in an all-girl Catholic high school in Dubuque, Iowa. It was the year that clothes were becoming important for a teenager. We all wore uniforms so that solved the problem, but the outside coat turned out to be my stalemate. I came from a family of nine, so I was used to hand-me-down coats, gloves and hats from my older sisters. That year as Christmas approached, I became obsessed with wanting a navy blue pea coat like all the other girls. So when asked what I wanted for Christmas I routinely answered “only a navy blue pea coat.” It was my mantra all through December. I figured all the family could chip in together and come up with what I wanted. My father had died when I was 7 so asking my mom for it was out of the question.

Christmas Eve arrived and I eyed all the presents under the tree. Tradition was we would open presents before we all attended midnight Mass at Sacred Heart Church. I could see only two presents were big enough to contain a coat for me. I opened the largest box that was mine when it was my turn. It was from my mom. I opened it only to find the blue taffeta bridesmaid dress that I had worn for two of my brother’s weddings. Mom had put a zipper in the front to make it a robe for me. Dissapointed though I was I jumped up and hugged Mom for the present she had worked so hard to fix. When I opened the next box that was big, it was hand-me-down ice skates from my sister De. I knew I would have to stuff paper in the toes to make them fit but they were still a great gift. I later opened a box of hand-knit gloves from my sister Lu.

All I had left to open was a teeny tiny box which I guessed were probably earrings from one of my brothers. I shook it but there was no sound. It was from my sister Mal. No navy pea coat could ever fit into this box. Yet, she was the sister with a job and could afford it. When I opened it there was a note. It read: “Look in my closet-upstairs.” I ran up the stairs to open the closet to see the most beautiful navy pea coat I’d ever seen. I could tell it was bought at the second hand store downtown but I didn’t care. It was gorgeous to me. I tried it on and had to fold under the sleeves to make it fit. But it was special and oh so warm. The whole family stood around me — crying tears of joy with me.

That night at midnight Mass I thanked the Lord many times for the special gift I was wearing. I would even say I shared the warmth that night with the baby Jesus and my family around me.

Bonnie Goedken
Iowa City

Birth of a child on Christmas

When my dad was dying a few years ago, our family and grandchildren were all called to the hospital. Mom was deceased. We gathered in his hospital room and he told us stories. Some, we had never heard before this day.

Nearly 75 years ago, my baby brother was born, shortly after midnight on Christmas Day. My parents named him Michael Noel. I was only 4 years old and I was missing my mom. Dad said I cried most of the day. In those days children were not supposed to visit in the hospitals and surely not in the obstetrical department! However, Dad asked the kind doctor for a small favor. The doctor told my dad to sneak me up the back stairs so I could see my mom that Christmas day. I am wondering if the sister in charge of that department saw me?!

I would like to think that this was the best Christmas present that I ever had in my life.

Mary Hart Flaherty, RN

Peace and happiness

When I was 5 years old and living at a foster farm, I had never seen Santa and the name baby Jesus was just a bunch of words to me.  Some time later, at the Christ Child Home in Des Moines, I learned two magical words: peace and happiness.  I was playing with other children in the playground when this older couple walked over to me, smiling.  I told them my name and age and we talked and laughed and laughed. Then the lady knelt in front of me and asked:  “Would you like to come home with us and be our little girl forever?”  The rest is history.  One day, mother took me to St. Mary’s Church.  She held my hand tightly as I had never been in a church.  We walked very slowly up the aisle as I wanted to see those small people in that wooden house. I was introduced to baby Jesus. Baby who? Doesn’t he ever cry?  Then a miracle happened — at least for me. On Christmas day, I opened the sliding doors and in awe I saw this beautifully decorated tree, and yes, a roomful of toys.  Daddy even made a small baby doll bed to match mine. Then all of us walked over to the crib. Mother and Daddy put their arms around me and I held baby Jesus in mine. I spoke softly to him, telling him just as Mother and Daddy would never let me go, I would hold him in my arms forever.

Jeanette (Kuncl) Lalor
Iowa City 

A northeast Iowa Christmas I will always remember

The winds howled viciously all night long around my northwest bedroom windows in our big old farmhouse, however Christmas morning dawned bright and sunny but with deep shining snow drifts left from the previous night’s raging blizzard.

There was no possibility that Dad could drive us down the heavily drifted long lane to the road to town for Christmas morning Mass, and the other roads would be all snowed in anyway. Mother regretfully said we would not be able to go to church on Christmas day that year. Dad, however, was determined and announced his intentions to ride through the fields to our little town of Clare, over two miles away. I begged to ride along behind, but Mother didn’t think that was a good idea. Dad bridled Marge, our huge work mare, hopped up on her back and off they went. I watched with envy as Marge carefully picked her way through drifts and disappeared from sight.

It was a year I will always remember. There was the early summer day the truck pulled into the farmyard and the big brand new John Deere “A” was rolled off the flatbed trailer. Eventually the noisy machine would replace Marge and Blossom, the two work horses. Even more memorable was the beautiful warm early September day that all work stopped and we spent the day in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where everyone was celebrating with perfect strangers hugging and kissing and calling congratulations to the end of World War II. To me, a 5-year-old, it was the most amazing time ever and surely everyone was so happy that such a wondrous event should be repeated often.

It was indeed a year to remember forever, but I still wish I could have ridden along on Marge’s broad back to Christmas Mass at St. Mathew’s that day.

Eve Casserly

Dale Banowetz while serving in Vietnam

Moved by the song Silent Night

The story of my most memorable Christmas goes back many years when I was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam era. In order to stay out of the infantry, I applied for and was accepted into the Chaplain Assistants Program. When I got to Vietnam, they had no need for Catholic Assistants but I was fortunate enough to be assigned as a Special Services Fund Custodian with additional work with the Chaplain Assistants at an orphanage and Catholic Services.

We were truly blessed when Cardinal Terence Cooke (of New York) decided to come to Long Binh Base to be the main celebrant for our Christmas Mass. As luck would have it, I was selected as a member of the choir for the Mass. After much preparation and practice, we readied ourselves to lead thousands of troops in song during the Mass. We were so blessed to be a part of such an experience, with helicopters circling overhead for security. The best was yet to come. The finale of songs for the Mass was “Silent Night.” You can’t even imagine thousands of troops singing “Silent Night” 10,000 miles from home. It was just breathtaking. The first verse was very strong, the second verse softer and the third verse, down to a whisper — with troops realizing they would not be home for Christmas and that the only “sleep in heavenly peace” they might have would be in their dreams.

To this day, I am still moved every time I sing Silent Night. So please remember all those troops away from home this Christmas.

Dale Banowetz
Sugar Creek

The significance of Christmas

Growing up in Texas and celebrating Christmas for us was a big event. We didn’t have much money, but we had a lot of love. Our dad worked hard to feed and clothe us seven siblings.

However, he and our mom always managed to see we all had at least one small gift for Christmas under our small Christmas tree. My mom could sew pretty well, so she always made us girls a dress to wear for Christmas. Christmas morning, we always had our stockings on our bed posts filled with candy, fruit and nuts.
Our mom made tamales the day before Christmas for our Christmas meal. For New Year’s we had bunuelos (fried tortillas) with sugar and cinnamon.

We were taught the most important thing was celebrating the birth of Jesus. We went to midnight Mass (Misa de Gallo). We really appreciated any little thing we got. Now, our kids here in Iowa are professionals, and thank God, can buy nice things for each other and their families. Hopefully they will teach their children the significance of Christmas, which I’m sure they will.

Gloria Casas

A time to regenerate

This season we wish to relax and regenerate our lives. We cozy up to our children and snuggle them with Christmas surprises.
We carry with us the memory of loved ones who have passed and have experienced past holidays with us. Those kindred spirits, now departed, may be celebrating the holidays in carnal or spiritual ways with the cosmos.

Let us be elated, this Christmas season, to embrace the universe as one aggregate. Our spirits embody the wheat fields of abundance. We possess a gold manifestation of giving to the world in need, the Lord’s humble children decked out in holiday attire.

Seeing into our young souls, we are eternal beings, the aged senior and the unseasoned child. We are water. We are the healing stream of serenity. This Christmas year we recreate and expand the universe.

Suzanne Birchmier

Beautiful church scene

I’ve carried these fond and happy memories in my heart and mind for many years. I’d like to share them.

Years ago when I was 9 or 10 years old in the mid 1940s, we attended Mass at St. Joseph Church in East Pleasant Plain. Father Paul Wetzstein was our pastor. On Christmas Eve, my dad, two older sisters and I would bundle up in warm coats, boots, blankets, etc. for an 8-mile trip to the Polishville church for Midnight Mass. The church has since burned down. My mom would stay home with my younger siblings. We had a ‘36 Chevy — no heater, of course. It was always bitterly cold and snowy. The glistening snow was so beautiful on a moon-lit night, we didn’t mind the snow and cold. After Mass we’d go to the manger and drop our pennies and nickels in a dish nearby. The priest would give us a small box of ribbon candy and two chocolate thimbles. We ate the softer candy but didn’t care for the hard candy. The church was lit with kerosene lanterns — a beautiful church scene.

These were happy times, despite the fact that we were poor, but we had lots to be thankful for, and I still do. Merry Christmas to all of you and God’s blessings.

Jeri Powers
Fort Madison

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