by Ed Thompson
It was Christmas Eve 1965 and the Thompson family Christmas celebration at Grandma and Grandpa’s Lost Nation, Iowa farm was as raucous as it comes. Many gifts were exchanged as well as hugs and kisses by all the aunts, uncles, and cousins present. There was much feasting and loud laughter. Grandpa had uncorked (or more accurately, unscrewed) a special bottle of homemade wine for the grown-ups and Grandma had prepared a big batch of hot chocolate for the kids made from real milk and cocoa. The adults talked upstairs and the kids ran with reckless gusto downstairs, playing freeze-tag in the farmhouse’s large basement. So at the end of the night when Merlyn and Pat loaded their three exhausted little boys into the car for the drive home, it was quiet except for Nat King Cole and “The Christmas Song” playing on the radio. Brian and Jeff, the two youngest boys at 3 and 2 years old, slept in the back seat of their parent’s ’63 Ford, oblivious to the silent sobbing of their four-year old brother Ed. It was nearly midnight as he looked at the bright, starlit night, searching for a sign, any sign of a sleigh being pulled by eight tiny reindeer. Nothing. He knew it. Santa wasn’t coming to his house tonight.
Weeks before, Merlyn had been honorably discharged from the Air Force and he immediately moved his family to the little town of DeWitt, which was only 30-minutes away from his parents farm. All the Christmas decorations had to be taken down from their old house, packed up and moved to their new house and little Ed was worried. “Mom, how’s Santa gonna find us when we move,” he asked.
“Don’t worry, honey,” she replied. “Santa knows where we’re moving and he’ll find us.”
Ed was unconvinced. There was no way that Santa would be able to find them. So the little boy dreaded the coming holiday because he was sure there would be no visit from St. Nick to his new house in a new town. The fun and frivolity of that very same evening was forgotten as something that happened “ages ago” in the way that only children can measure time. Little Ed was cheerless as he walked through the front door and turned on the light, only to have the light reflected back on him by the tinsel, and lights, and shiny new packages under the young family’s Christmas tree! Quiet resignation turned to utter surprise and wonder! “He found us! He found us!” Ed shouted with gleeful astonishment, “Look, Mom! You were right. He really found us.”
One of the greatest gifts I have ever received, the gift of hope was given to me on that Christmas Eve nearly forty years ago. Deep-seated and powerful, it sustained me through elementary, junior, and senior high school, through my radio career, and through my marriage, until I lost it again in 1994 to a bout with alcoholism. That was when I learned that hope cannot be taken away. It can only be lost when it is given up. Given away like little puppies, “free to a good home.”
Yet hope is also powerful enough that it can be restored when it is lost. It remains the most powerful force in the human heart. It is more powerful than fear, anger, worry, or hate. Hope is even more powerful than love itself. We can all live without hate, or fear, or worry, or even love. But none of us can live long without hope. Hope has the astounding power to sustain a person through the worst ordeals and suffering imaginable. Ask a Holocaust survivor what kept her alive when all seemed lost, and she might say that she never lost hope. Ask a firefighter why they would run into a building that burns with tons of searing jet fuel, and they might say that it’s the hope, however small, that there may yet be someone inside who is alive and needs their help. Ask a soldier standing a post why he places himself in harm’s way in a foreign land, and he might say because he has hope that he’s doing everything he can to keep us safe from terrorists.
What does this have to do with radio and production? Nothing and yet, everything. Hope is also the sole purpose of the Christmas season, the hope that we could be redeemed by the arrival of a child, who’s coming was announced by an angel to poor shepherds on a cold and lonely hill in Judea. And regardless of how we make our living, we’re human beings. We have hearts that hurt and heal. We love and are loved, and all of us, from our head phone-covered ears right down to our china marker-stained and razor-scarred fingers, are nothing without hope.
So this Christmas, my hope is…
…The brave men and women, who serve in the armed forces of the United States and our allies in the War Against Terror, remain safe, until it is safe for them to return home.
…My fifth child arrives in June with all ten fingers and all ten toes.
…My two granddaughters grow up healthy, wealthy, and wise.
…The Chicago Cubs actually don’t make me wait until next year.
…I improve my skills and abilities to be a better writer and producer.
…I actually do get socks and underwear this Christmas. (And a box of LaGloria Cubana cigars wouldn’t hurt either.)
…That God bless you and keep you…and give you peace.
From my family to yours, Happy Christmas and all the best in the New Year.