Christmas Eve, 1969 by JERRY LANKFORD



Looking out the window of my parents’ bedroom, my momma, Willa Mae Lankford, pointed to the sky. “Look! There he goes,” she said.

My sister, Ellen and me, watched wide-eyed as a red light zipped across the darkness above Kite Road in Millers Creek.

Santa Claus!

It was Christmas Eve, 1969. I was 6 years old, but I remember that night like it was yesterday. It was pure magic, the kind you only feel as a child at Christmastime.

A few minutes later, after the light in the sky was gone, Momma suggested that we head into the living room. My brother, Mike —11 years my senior — was standing in the doorway as we left the bedroom. There was a grin on his face.

Ellen and me knew there were many treats on the kitchen table on the way to the living room — brown paper bags filled with chocolate-covered cream drops, those half moon-shaped super sweet orange slices and, of course, Momma’s homemade peanut butter balls. There was always good wholesome smells in our kitchen — partly from the cedar cabinets my daddy, Sammie Lankford, had built, and partly from Momma’s wonderful cooking.

All thoughts of treats, however, vanished when we saw Daddy coming in from the carport into the kitchen, his arms filled with boxes wrapped in colorful comic pages from the Winston-Salem Journal (Momma saved those papers up all year to wrap presents with). I still recall the coat Daddy was wearing — it was woolen and colored in a large yellow and blue plaid pattern.

Our family was different than most others. We got our presents on Christmas Eve.

“They’ve waited long enough,” is what Daddy told Momma.

Daddy placed the presents under the Christmas tree, which was always in front of our big bow window.

“Santy (as he called him) left this stuff for you all,” he said.

And we tore in.

That year, I got everything to do with Major Matt Mason, including the space station, his fellow astronauts and even the alien friend, Callisto, who had a green translucent head. I’m pretty sure Mike got a slot car race track among his gifts. Ellen got some kind of dolls, which I was not at all interested in.



It was a night filled with pure magic.

Now I’m 56 with three grown daughters, Jennifer, Anna and Gabriella, two wonderful nieces, Eva and Renee (Mike’s daughters), and two grandsons. I have experienced countless wonderful Christmases all decked out with Barbie Dolls, tea sets, princess castles, Monster High dolls and the like.

What a joy it is to see your children and nieces smile.

Daddy, Momma and Mike are gone. But we keep their memories alive. We always share stories about them, particularly on Christmas Eve, usually over lowly playing holiday music and less sweet treats.

But now, my grandsons, Sammie and Charlie, offer even more blessings connected with the holidays. Science kits, art supplies, DVD’s, monster trucks and video games have replaced dolls and such.

What a joy it is to see your grandchildren smile.


Nowadays, I live with my sister Ellen, who goes leagues out of her way to make the holidays special. She makes sure our little ones have nothing but the best of things. But Ellen, me and the rest of my family know there’s more to it than things.

Christmas isn’t about presents. It’s about the joy of family and friends, the blessings they bring us and the memories which are made each year. Most of all it’s the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the son of God.

I have learned one certain truth over the years, and the holiday season is a wonderful reminder of that truth, which is: I see God each time I see someone I love smile.

It’s magic. Pure Christmas magic.



Jerry Lankford, editor of The Record of Wilkes in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina is an honorary Kentuckian and non-biological brother of Community Journalist Tim Preston.


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