Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Best Christmas Carol, a Christmas Story


Those of you who still visit this old blog may remember that it has been my habit over the years to share one of my Christmas stories, written for our family's annual Christmas Eve "circletime" celebration. This year's story is especially poignant to me just now, having lost our youngest son (Todd) a little over a year ago. I wrote it way back in 1999, from the safe island of imagination. How could I have known that one day I would read it from the middle of the deep blue sea...and that it would ring so true? The good news is that rediscovering the story has been a source of comfort and joy. I wish you the same this Christmas season!

THE BEST CHRISTMAS CAROL
©1999 Susan Noyes Anderson

          Scott’s fingers trembled as he unlaced a pair of well-worn skates. They’d seen better days, and so had the Hansens. Winter came early that year, and it seemed as if the ice on the family’s pond had entered their hearts. It was hard enough before with two brothers away, but Pop scarcely spoke since the telegram came, and Mom’s smile had gone missing too. Scott’s face twisted wryly. Missing in action. Just like Jonathan. Instinctively, he tightened his jaw to regain control, but his brother’s name was too powerful. Jonathan. John Junior. Where was he? There was still no word. Could he be in enemy hands? Or worse? Scott’s mind snapped shut against the thought. John was so alive it was unimaginable to think of him as anything else. Impossible. Scott closed his eyes and squeezed tightly. He fought to hold back the tears. Grief had made him superstitious––If he gave in, John might do the same. And John never gave in. Never. 
        Unwilling to open his eyes yet, Scott retreated deep inside himself. He focused mind and will with all his might––and suddenly his brother was there again, out on the pond with all the guys, joking and laughing and wearing that ridiculous hat––choosing up teams for relays and crack the whip. Johnny’d always been the smallest one in his bunch, but nobody’d ever spun him out. And not for lack of trying, either. Geez, could he hold on! 
        Scott’s face lit up at the memory, then went blank as the moment ended––too soon. Was it dinnertime already? Had that old bell always sounded so hollow? The answer twisted inside him. No...it had been full and deep, its ring as rich and welcome as the good food it heralded. Especially on Christmas Eve. In happier years, that bell had been a promise––of roast beef and rice pudding and pumpkin pie....of bayberry candles and mistletoe and popcorn on the tree...of a crackling fire and a big round table set for seven, with every place filled. Now Jonathan was gone...and Seth too, though at least they knew where he was. Reaching for the back door, Scott didn’t even want to go in. How could it be Christmas? The steady advance of days and weeks and months stopped for no one, and it angered him ... frightened him ... defeated him.
         A deep breath pushed the door open on a kitchen that smelled exactly as it should have. The air was alive with what Dad liked to call “eau de Christmas.” “We oughta bottle it,” he’d say, and every year they’d laugh at that same, sorry joke. Scott always thought of it as a mercy laugh, but now he understood that it had been pure joy, bubbling out at the least possible excuse. It was also tradition, which is what the Hansen celebration was all about. They knew how to do Christmas right, and they wouldn’t allow anything to change it.
         And nothing ever had, until now. In a matter of months everything was changed, but no one wanted to admit it. Maybe they were afraid a full expression of grief would seal Johnny’s fate...that sharing the pain would not only make the loss real, but final. The family tiptoed around each other in a house so heavy with fear and sadness that even the breathing was hard, let alone the speaking. A touch or a brief hug was all anyone could manage. Even the little girls’ giggles and squeals were somehow muted. It was as if the whole household were holding its breath, waiting desperately for good news...onlygood news.
         “Merry Christmas, Scott.” Mom’s voice was soft, but determined. “We’re ready to sit down.”
          He smiled and touched her shoulder. “Sure, Mom. Merry Christmas.”
          As everyone took their seats, he looked around the table. “Merry Christmas, Dad...girls.” His eye brushed quickly past the two empty seats, but he saw them clearly. “Merry Christmas.”
           Dad took Mother’s hand in his right one and stretched his left arm across John Junior’s empty seat. With a sinking heart, Scott reached his right hand across Seth’s place, barely managing to touch his father’s thick, calloused fingers. The rest of the family joined hands as usual. A long moment passed before Dad carefully cleared his throat to say grace. He prayed, as always, for the safety of his two sons, but tonight his voice was trembling, and it broke when he said Amen. No one moved. Scott heard the clock ticking in the background and shivered.
            “Let’s eat!” Mom’s voice was too loud, and she quickly adjusted it. “What would you like to start out with?” She’s really trying, noticed Scott, and all at once it felt important to help her. More than important. 
            “Hey, pass me summa dat beef,” he growled, baring his teeth menacingly. The girls tittered. 
            “Mashed potatoes for me,” chirped one, “and I want lots of gravy with only a little meat.” 
            “I’m going to eat dessert first,” insisted the other. 
            “Not at my table, you won’t,” answered her mother, “but it does smell yummy, doesn’t it? Especially the cinnamon.”
            “Eau de Christmas,” Father added gamely. “We oughta...”
            “Bottle it,” finished the girls in unison. “It smells so good we oughta bottle it.”
            “Oh, I wish we could,” Mother sighed. “I wish we could bottle it... and then send it to all the boys on the front line...and to our boys...to Seth and...” 
            “To Seth and Johnny,” Father continued, picking up where she left off.
           “Yes,” Scott said. 
          Once again silence prevailed, but this time it was a little warmer, the clock’s ticking a bit friendlier. The family ate slowly, then took their places in the living room. Every face was lit by the fire’s glow, but no one could forget there were two faces missing. They couldn’t stop wondering when and if they’d see them again.
          But tradition was tradition. It was Christmas Eve, they were in their usual places, and they would do their usual program. A nod from their mother and the girls began singing Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, followed immediately by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bells. They finished with a recital of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. The usual level of hilarity was missing, but they did the best they could. Scott wondered absentmindedly if Dad would still take his sisters outside after the closing prayer to look up at the stars for Santa and listen for his sleigh bells. He probably should; they were just little kids.
          Now it was time for the religious part. Mother led off with “The First Noel,” and afterward Dad said it was her turn to pray. She went on for a long time, but nobody minded. Then she began reading the nativity poem Grandma had written so long ago. It told the story of Christ’s birth, and Scott had heard it every single year since he was a baby. They all knew it pretty much by heart, but this time it surprised him. Or maybe he surprised himself. Somehow, he heard it differently than he had in other years. He could sense Joseph’s despair at being so far from home and finding no safe place for Mary to rest. He felt her struggle to comfort Joseph, to be brave and strong about a cold, lonely journey in a far and distant land, to trust in God and have faith that her child would be well and whole. He was relieved by the kindness of a stranger who offered what little he could provide...a lowly manger. His heart and mind clung to the words, but then it was over; and his mother fell silent, looking at Scott in a wordless plea. The family gift for writing had been handed down through Seth, and this was the time he usually read something of his own ... something he wanted to share. Remembering suddenly, Scott jumped to his feet. 
          “Just a minute,” he said, and returned with a letter Seth had sent him in November. “This last part was for all of us. He asked me to read it to everybody on Christmas Eve. I’d forgotten.” (For a moment, no one could speak. It was as if Seth were in the room.) Almost as one, the family let out a sigh of relief as tradition prevailed.
          The time had come for Scott to sing. He and Johnny had the best voices in the family. Well, Mom’s was okay too, and the girls did fairly well, but Seth and Dad were hopeless and only did speaking parts. Scott’s song was “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” and he was hoping he could get through it. They were doing okay so far, and he didn’t want to be the one that messed things up. He wouldn’t be the one. And so he began, “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay ... for Jesus Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day...” It wasn’t easy, but he did sing it. He sang for himself, and he sang for his brothers. For his whole family, actually. “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy...oh, tidings of comfort and joy.”
          Hope filled Scott’s heart. We’re gonna make it, he thought. And, God willing, Seth and Johnny are gonna make it too. Father opened the scriptures to Luke and gave hope substance by reading the history of God’s greatest gift to us: 
          “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Peace. Good will.
          Father closed the book and shut his eyes in a silent prayer. Scott knew the rest was up to him. This was where Johnny always stood up and sang “O Holy Night” in his warm, rich tenor. No one could touch his voice, but Mom’s eyes, bright with unshed tears, urged Scott to his feet. He was a baritone, but who said the song couldn’t be sung a couple of octaves lower? This was tradition, and they couldn’t break it. Not now. It was as if his brothers’ safety depended on him...on all of them...on their love and their traditions...on getting through this program any way they could. Scott opened his mouth to sing, but no sound came out. His mother’s hand flew to her heart; and the girls, for once, were completely still. Father had risen to his feet. He who never sang, who adamantly refused to sing, was standing ready to sing John Junior’s song. Confused, Scott sat down. How on earth was Father going to sing “O Holy Night”? Did he even know the words? Would he be able to get the job done?
          Dad’s husky voice broke through Scott’s concerns. “You’re expecting to hear ‘O Holy Night,’ and if Johnny were here, he’d be singing it for us. That’s our tradition, and tradition means a lot to the Hansens. Maybe it’ll come to mean even more, because loss and longing are powerful teachers. Having Seth and Johnny so far away can teach us something valuable, but we must be willing to learn. I bear testimony as your father that families are eternal, and I pray this night and others like it will help us remember that tradition is more than the games we play or the foods we eat. It’s more than the jokes we tell, or the stories we read, or even the songs we sing. Traditions like these do bring us together, but it’s a much more important tradition that holds us together...What holds us together is a tradition of belief...Belief in ourselves as sons and daughters of God, belief in each other as members of an eternal family, and belief that we have a Father in Heaven who loves us, and that our Elder Brother and Savior is His Son, Jesus Christ. Our family is forever, and what will keep us together is actively using His atoning sacrifice to draw closer to Him and become His.
          “It truly was a Holy night when He was born, but singing that beautiful song or any other will not keep our loved ones safe, not in this world and not in the next. Tonight we need to do more than rejoice in His birth; we need to remember what it means. We need to covenant that we will always remember. That’s where our safety lies.”
          Scott had never felt the Spirit more strongly, but when his father started singing, the truth seemed to burn in his heart: 
          “I know that my Redeemer lives; what comfort this sweet sentence gives. He lives, He lives who once was dead. He lives, my ever-living head.” Scott had heard his Father sing before, but never like this. His voice hadn’t changed, but something else had. Something in Scott.
          “He lives and grants me daily breath. He lives, and I shall conquer death. He lives my mansion to prepare. He lives to bring me safely there.”
          At last, Scott was able to put Johnny and Seth where they had always belonged, in the Lord’s hands. And the Lord did bring Seth and John Junior safely home, Seth to his earthly abode and John Junior to his heavenly one. Despite their grief, or perhaps because of it, the Hansens never lost sight of the truth they learned that sad and splendid Christmas Eve, for it was a simple and eternal one. No matter where they were, no matter how far apart they might be, no power could ever truly separate them, for they were of one heart and one mind. They were, as Paul promised the Galatians, “all one in Christ Jesus,” and would always be together, in this life and for eternity. They were a family, and nothing could ever change that. 
           As for tradition, “O Holy Night” took back its place of honor in the Christmas Eve celebration. Everyone wanted it that way, and so that’s how it was. Seth often spoke about the power of that simple Christmas program, and how a lonely winter night in war-weary France turned warm and peaceful at the memory of home and family, Grandma’s poem, and––yes––even Scott’s “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” But it was remembering Johnny singing “O Holy Night” that brought and would always bring the Spirit of Christmas to his heart. And so, in this way and countless others, John Junior’s presence continued to be felt; and in sacred moments family members whispered that they often heard his tenor mingling with Scott’s baritone on the chorus. Scott joyfully affirmed that this was true. 
          Afterwards, of course, Dad would conclude the festivities by singing what eventually became the Hansen’s favorite Christmas carol, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”  And Johnny lives...and all the Johnnys.

And a very merry Christmas to every one of you.
💖
Sue

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Homecomings and Goings


©2019 Susan Noyes Anderson

Come home to me, my child; come home.
Dance on the words of a mother's poem...
stepping-stars across the sky,
shining bright to draw you nigh,
spun from gossamer and love,
heart-notes sent to heaven above.

Tiptoe through the rooms that knew you
while I whisper secrets to you.
Brush my soul with velvet fingers...
breathe a sweet goodbye that lingers...
then return, like fallen rain,
to the place from whence you came.

Angel voices call your name.

∞§∞


This is the poem I wrote to my son on Mother's Day, having lost him last year to a prolonged and painful illness. It feels good to share it here, on my trusty old (though neglected) blog, where I know I am among friends. 

Yesterday was Todd's birthday. He would have been 37. We miss him terribly, but (as ee cummings so beautifully suggests) we carry him in our hearts. We always will.


for more poems, click below

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sweet Memories of Todd

Hello, friends. I am sorry to have "gone missing" slightly over six months ago. A lot has happened in my life since the last time I posted, and I am finally ready to make a record of it here. I like the idea that, when I create my next blog book, the events from July 29th and onward will be captured in print.

Many of my faithful readers already know my news from Facebook, but for those to whom it is new, I apologize for the abruptness of it all. The sad truth is that my son, Todd Anderson, passed away in his bed on July 29th at the age of 36. He had been ill for a long time, so it wasn't exactly a surprise to us. Having said that, it still managed to be profoundly shocking. Strange how two opposite feelings can exist simultaneously, but that was our experience.

We have had wonderful support from family and friends, and the funeral was perhaps the most lovely (and loving) that I have ever attended. I am going to begin by chronicling the days following Todd's death in the exact form as it was sharedon Facebook, not only for my blog friends but for posterity:

July 30th
It is with heavy hearts that we tell all our friends and family that our son, Todd Anderson, passed away early Sunday morning. His funeral will take place this Thursday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The viewing will be at 10:00 AM and the services at 11:00 AM. Though Facebook has a pretty far reach, if you are aware of any friend of Todd's who might not see this post, please share the information with them. Thanks. 

July 31st
We are getting questions from friends who are not members of our church about whether the funeral services for Todd Anderson are open to them. The answer is, "Of course they are!" Our family is grateful for anyone and everyone who wants to join us in remembering Todd this Thursday. You are all more than welcome. 💕 

August 1st

Never imagined writing an obituary for one of my children, but here it is, Todd. We love you.

TODD ALLAN ANDERSON

Todd Allan Anderson was born on May 18, 1982 in Verdugo Hills, California. He grew up in Northridge, California until the age of eight, when his family relocated to the Bay area and their current home.

An accomplished student, Todd was well-loved for his intelligence, humor, and insight. He was an eagle scout, an all-star little leaguer, and a varsity football and basketball player who graduated from Saratoga High School. Todd, with his affinity for helping others, did social work before receiving his bachelor's degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Arizona. He then attended the UC Irvine School of Medicine until his failing health made that impossible.

Todd died on July 29, 2018 and is survived by his father (Dave Anderson), mother (Sue Anderson), brother and sister-in-law (Matt and Heather Anderson), sister and brother-in-law (Karin and Bob Valdez), and his brother (Ryan Anderson). He also leaves behind two grandparents, five nieces and nephews, and an extended family that loves him dearly and will miss him every single day. Todd was laid to rest at Madonna Cemetery on August 2.

Later that day
And on the heels of that obituary, a snapshot of Todd Anderson, Ryan Anderson, and Dave Anderson in happier days. Todd loved our Newport Beach vacations. What a good-looking guy, and how I will miss looking into those beautiful blue eyes, lit by that dynamite smile. Love you, buddy.

Senior picture. What a great kid!

Just found this picture of Todd Anderson, taken at the conclusion of his white coat ceremony at the UC Irvine School of Medicine. What a joyous conclusion that was!

August 4, 2018 - funeral day

This is the memorabilia table from Todd’s funeral service. His cousin, Kristin Blake Mills, put together a wonderful video slide show that we just loved, and Tyler Blake set up a great sound track to accompany it. 
A lot of friends Todd and Ryan went to high school with were there (thanks for coming, guys), and it was a nice way for all of us to take a walk down memory lane. We miss Todd so much, and remembering him and all the good times means everything to us.

.
The men Todd knows and loves best carried him into the chapel. It was a sad but stirring moment to see them all supporting Him so lovingly. We were touched by how many friends and family members attended the services. 

Bishop Robinson opened the meeting by welcoming everyone to the services, then Ryan Anderson gave perhaps the most touching ecology I have ever heard. It had all the elements of humor, sentiment, and thoughtfulness that make up a memorable tribute, and we know Todd had to love it. (We feel sure he was there to listen.) When Ryan concluded his talk, Tyler Blake (cousin) sang and played a David Gray song for which he had reworked the lyrics, personalizing them for Todd. It touched our hearts so deeply; and man, is he talented (if we do say so ourselves, and we do). Todd and Tyler have always had a close cousin bond, and this offering more than did it justice. After Tyler, our BFF Mike Taylor gave an incredible talk about eternal families and perspective, both earthly and eternal. We love Mike, and he loves Todd; so we knew he was the right one to speak. Following Mike, Caroline Call Owens sang a stirring arrangement of The Lord's Prayer, accompanied by her mom, Sheila Call. We have always loved Caroline's voice and were so thrilled to have her participate with us. (Wish we had a photo for you, but we somehow missed getting one.) We then gave family members a chance to speak briefly at the podium to and about Todd. When the service came to a close, the pallbearers reverently removed the casket. As you can see, Ryan and Matt were making sure their little brother was closely attended. (I don't think we are supposed to take pictures in the chapel, but our relative who took them didn't know. To be honest, I am grateful to have them.)

We left the chapel and arrived at the cemetery, where Todd was carefully carried to his final resting place on this earth. It is a beautiful spot, and his family and closest friends awaited him there. 

Todd's father, Dave Anderson, dedicated the grave, and the services concluded. It was a day of extreme sorrow, but our knowledge of resurrection and eternal life brought hope and joy as well. How grateful we are for a Savior who loves us, and we will rely upon His spirit to heal and comfort this unspeakable loss of our beloved son and brother, Todd. May we ever continue to stand all amazed at the love and hope our Savior offers every child of God, and may Todd be encircled in His arms until we are together once more. 

FUNERAL PROGRAM


August 5th

We visited Todd’s grave yesterday and feel grateful that he rests in such a beautiful, peaceful place. Several dear friends are buried near him, as we will one day be. I like that. 
∞§∞

That's about all I can take of this walk down memory lane for today...The memories, as you can imagine, are still very tender. From here on out, I will just start posting the poems I have written, the thoughts I have had, and the beautiful things I have found in my journey of healing thus far. I hope some of it might be as helpful to someone grieving the loss of a dearly beloved person as it has been to me.
{Love you, Toddy}

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

From the Heart


(for ryan)
©2018 susan noyes anderson

city beat
city heat
miles of pavement
pulsing feet

dirty asphalt
ocean breeze
misty mornings
nights to seize

sidewalk sleepers
suited men
money makers
born again

mission district
nob hill flair
sunset, castro
union square

trolley crossings
up-and-downs
beeping, dinging
magic sounds

snaky streets
bridge of gold
arching, soaring
bonny, bold

gritty, graceful
work of art
san francisco
from the start

(bring your dreams
leave your heart)

for more poems, click below

 for more poems, click below

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Still Waters


©2018 Susan Noyes Anderson 

O be not lulled by placid sea
nor lapping waves
of harmony

stand warily beneath a sky
of azure born
to soothe the eye

lean soft against the stolid tree
serene in all
its symmetry

embrace but do not claim the breeze
that rustles gently
through the trees

for deep within each peaceful thing
a wildness waits
and will be seen

the oceans roar, the heavens burst
the branches whip
the winds reverse

and e'en my steady soul breaks free
unfettering
the wild in me

∞§∞

Sometimes I fear the wildness in this world, but I make every effort to seek and appreciate the good in it. Quotes like the ones below help me find my way to acceptance, even appreciation. (I do confess that nothing thrills me more than a violent thunderstorm or waves pounding the beach with unyielding ferocity, so maybe there is a bit more of the wild in me than I realize.)

"God loves all the flowers, even the wild ones that grow alongside the highway."
– Cyndi Lauper

"Wild waves rise and fall when they arrive; and that's what makes the peaceful sea alive."
– Munia Khan

"She found herself over a long and treacherous road, and the more treacherous the road became, the more of herself she found."
– Atticus Poetry

The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy."
– John Muir

"By forces seemingly antagonistic and destructive, Nature accomplishes her beneficent designs - now a flood of fire, now a flood of ice, now a flood of water; and again the fullness of time, and outburst of organic life." 
– John Muir

"All the wild world is beautiful; everywhere and always we are in God's eternal beauty and love."
– John Muir

Our Creator didn't get this wrong. It's what we do with the wildness that matters. 

=)

for more poems, click below

Monday, April 23, 2018

Blessed Am I


My sweet mom is 91 years old today, and while she isn't feeling nearly as chipper as she did in this picture from last year, she is hanging in as best she can. Mom has her good days and bad days, but every day we are grateful for all the love and support she has given us through the years. Our mother has a generous heart, and we are the beneficiaries.

Below are the lyrics to Blessed Am I, written with my mother as inspiration. I thought it seemed just right to print them here today. The sheet music can be found on the website of Lindy Kerby, who took my heartfelt words and composed the loveliest melody imaginable. We were introduced to one another years ago by Janice Kapp Perry and have collaborated on several songs since that time. This one is generally sung for Mother's Day.

On this day, however, Blessed Am I is a happy birthday song for Grace Darlene Robbins, whose daughter I am grateful and proud to be. 

©1996 Lindy Kerby (music) Susan Noyes Anderson (lyrics)

I came to a world that was cold and unknown.
You reached out to hold me and made me your own;
and you made me strong, and you filled me with love
and whispered that I was a gift from above.

Blessed am I; my mother is you,
sharing His love in all that you do.
Each gentle smile is an answer to prayer.
Deep in my heart, you'll always be there;
deep in my heart, you'll be there.

Your love is the truth that I came here to learn.
You listened and counseled with love and concern;
and you understood me when other hearts failed,
when you were the reason my spirit prevailed.

Blessed am I; my mother is you,
sharing His love in all that you do.
Each gentle smile is an answer to prayer.
Deep in my heart, you'll always be there;
deep in my heart, you'll be there.

I thank you, dear Mother, for all that you are –
no softer a moonbeam, no brighter a star,
no stronger a mountain, more constant the sea –
No other could be such a mother to me.

Blessed am I; my mother is you,
sharing His love in all that you do.
Each gentle smile is an answer to prayer.
Deep in my heart, you'll always be there;
deep in my heart, you'll be there.

💗 Happy Birthday, Mom. 💗
You are loved,
dearly loved,
by all of us.
xox
=)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Our V-Day Pick - Mom and Dick

FOR MOM AND DICK ~ THE BEST OF THE BEST!
YOU HAVE OUR HEARTS.

Happy Valentines to you,
the sweetest ones we know, times two!
We wish you a bright, happy day
and love you more than words can say.

xox
and 
❤️❤️❤️

Sue, Dave and family

∞§∞

"Life doesn't come with a manual, it comes with a mother."

"The greatest thing a father can do for his children 
is to love their mother."

So grateful you two belong to us.

  💓💞💓

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