Blogging Along the Brandywine


As I read Dr. Kayta Gajdos’
Mind Matters column last week, her beautiful words of wisdom drew me back to my
family’s Christmas of 2006 and how we accomplished the near miraculous that
year–we changed Christmas and rediscovered the Light.

This, then, is my Christmas  story for you:

On Dec. 24, 2005, my 95-year old
father entered Bryn Mawr Hospital for the last time. He passed peacefully at
home less than three weeks later in the first days of the New Year.

In our family, our father was Christmas.

As the oldest son of immigrants
from southern Germany, he grew up in a small North Dakota town of German and
Scandinavian immigrants, speaking only German for several years.

On Christmas Eve after the
Lutheran church service, he and his brother would go in to the living room to
open presents left under the tree by Der Christ Kindle or Christ Child. Christmas
Day was for opening stockings filled with treats from St. Nikolaus.

Even years later, as an adult, my
father always wanted to open all his presents on Christmas Eve. So we adapted
his German traditions and opened a few presents at night.

On Christmas morning my sister
and I were not permitted to come downstairs until my father had donned his robe
and slippers, and had finished a prolonged shaving routine. We would sit there,
midway down the long staircase, pleading with him to hurry for what always
seemed an interminable length of time until he was ready.

Then sitting in his favorite chair,
he would joyfully open additions to his H.O. train lay-out or favorite treats
like chocolate covered cherries, Marzipan, pistachios, Macadamia nuts, Heath
Bars and licorice, sampling each as he opened them. (At 5’11” my father always
remained a trim 168.)

But now, nearly a year after his
passing, as Christmas 2006 approached, these two college-educated, adult
children were at a loss as to how to celebrate that first Christmas without the
family patriarch.

We couldn’t change our father’s
absence, so we changed Christmas.

In the neighborhood of our
childhood, where our mother still lives, miles of quiet winding streets are
lined with luminaria each Christmas Eve. So my sister Pat, her husband and I
decided to get out of the house, and take a long evening’s walk through the
glorious sparkling lights.

That first year Pat kept stopping
to pick up toppled luminaria, re-lighting each one until I told her at that
rate we wouldn’t get home until midnight. We started giggling and laughing like
kids, running down the street, rejoicing in the beauty of the lights and the
clear, crisp air, twinkling with stars.

The healing had begun.

On Christmas Day, the three of us
drove down the hill to the 46-acre Jenkins Arboretum and walked the 1.2 miles
of winding trails. It was free, open on Christmas Day and an all- embracing
affirmation of life.

Later we would have two Choke Cherry
trees, native to North Dakota, dedicated to my father’s memory.

Christmas will never be the same
without him, but in making some new traditions, we found the Light that had
been lost to us.

Merry
Christmas Chadds Ford!

And thank you Dr. G.

About Sally Denk Hoey

Sally Denk Hoey, is a Gemini - one part music and one part history. She holds a masters degree cum laude from the School of Music at West Chester University. She taught 14 years in both public and private school. Her CD "Bard of the Brandywine" was critically received during her almost 30 years as a folk singer. She currently cantors masses at St Agnes Church in West Chester where she also performs with the select Motet Choir. A recognized historian, Sally serves as a judge-captain for the south-east Pennsylvania regionals of the National History Day Competition. She has served as president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates as well as the Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford where she now curates the violin collection. Sally re-enacted with the 43rd Regiment of Foot and the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment for 19 years where she interpreted the role of a campfollower at encampments in Valley Forge, Williamsburg, Va., Monmouth, N.J. and Lexington and Concord, Mass. Sally is married to her college classmate, Thomas Hoey, otherwise known as "Mr. Sousa.”

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