Precious Memories, Christmas Joy

Precious Memories, Christmas Joy

"Over the river and through the woods..."

As a child, those words had a literal meaning for me. My grandmother's house set atop a mountain in central Pennsylvania. To get there, we had to cross over the Susquehanna River and go through the woods at a place appropriately named Woodland.

But for us, that was only part of the journey. From there, we would travel down a long dirt road that cut its way through tall stands of trees and thick mountain laurel. The combination often blocked out the sun and made us feel like day had suddenly become night.

After traveling several miles across the top of the mountain, a magical moment would occur. We would round a curve, the woods would open up, and the most inviting panoramic scene of my childhood would overwhelm me. Grandma's house set at the bottom of a hill in the foreground with the old Susquehanna River snaking its way through the valley in the distance. It's one of my very sweetest memories.

Grandma's house was a simple 4-room cottage - two small bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. The kitchen was the center of all activity. It featured an old high-back cook stove with a coal bucket setting just to its left, as well as a rustic table with benches on either side. Grandma's water source was a well that often ran dry. The kitchen sink had an old hand-crank water pump and Saturday night baths were taken in a large washtub with water heated on the cook stove.

Oh, and did I mention the outhouse? The "outdoor plumbing" only sat about 30 yards from the back porch, but on a dark night it seemed like it was miles away. There was always at least two of us who made the mad dash together, and for good reason. On more than one occasion, a bear had been found on Grandma's back porch, rummaging through the trash. Visions of that bear catching us on our way to do our business provided great motivation to either hurry up or just hold it for the rest of the night. We never spent a lot of time inside that old rickety outhouse. (The bear was only part of the reason.)

A Proverbs 31 Woman

Grandma Lenhart had 14 children during the Great Depression. The 1930's and 40's were some of the most difficult times America had ever faced.  Although my grandfather was a hardworking welder, he died when he was 45 and Grandma was left to raise the clan on her own. In those days, a single mom, who was caring for an extra large poor family from the mountains, had to make due on meager rations.

But Grandma had a deep faith in God and a resourcefulness that rivals the woman of Proverbs 31. Her family always had food, clothing, and shelter, even in the worst of times. The following lines describe her so well.

"She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands... She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family... her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers... When it snows, she has no fear for her household."

(Proverbs 31:13, 15, 18, 19, 21, NIV)

I guess it is that last line about snow that has captured my attention lately.  Several years ago, my mother told me a story about Grandma Lenhart that I had never heard before. The tale was about a very simple thing, yet once again I found myself rounding that curve where the woods open up and the panoramic view overwhelms.

At Mom's request, I have written the story in poem form.  I hope it impacts you like it has me.

The Winter Man

Her snowman stood eight inches tall.
'Twas made of cotton, after all.
A stovepipe hat upon his head,
Black eyes of coal and nose of red.

Each winter kids would beg and plead,
'til finally she had agreed
To craft him once again brand new,
From scraps of cloth, old paper, too.

They'd gather 'round, watch her create.
So magical, they could not wait.
Their dreams of snowy scenes would grow.
The winter man made visions flow.

When placed upon the window sill,
He warmed the house and they got still.
'Twas story time at Mother's feet,
The best of any winter's treat.

So there he stood - eight inches tall -
Little more than a cotton ball,
But oh how sweet to see him there
And all the kids 'round Mama's chair.


There is a reason my Grandmother's peers are called "The Greatest Generation."  They knew the value of simple things. They survived in a harsh world by employing simple resourcefulness. Imagine what families of today could overcome if they would simply follow that simple example.

As cold winds blow and the winter months approach, impress upon your family the value of simple things. Resist the urge to buy and embrace the opportunity to be resourceful.  Celebrate the simple life.  Show the world what really matters. Make it real!

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