Christmas 2014:  The following essay is off topic for this blog; it has nothing to do with Complex PTSD, really.  However, I enjoyed writing it and want to share it with you “just for fun.”  We all need some fun in our lives!  Enjoy!  Wishing you all the best for the season and healing in the New Year. 


 Some Christmases are more memorable than others. I remember some Christmases because they were outstandingly good, and I remember others because they were outstandingly bad.  Wait a minute—a bad Christmas?  How can such a joyful day be bad?  Let me tell you—a bad Christmas is not hard to come by.  Christmas of 1983 is a case in point.  That was one bad Christmas!  Or was it? 

By Christmas of 1983, I had officially been divorced for three months, and I was busy adapting to my new legal status, that of a divorced, suddenly-single mother.  I was raising a daughter and was struggling to get my feet on the ground after having spent twenty years in a difficult marriage.  At the beginning of the divorce process, my husband and I had owned two homes, one with a mortgage and one that we owned outright and were using as a rental.  I was allowed to choose which of our homes I wanted, so I chose the home in town with the mortgage.   

Thus, I became sole owner of the home on L Street in Centralia, Washington.  Once the divorce papers were finalized, I sold the rolling pasture land that fronted on the Skookumchuck River to my neighbor and paid off the mortgage.  Because I had lost my job in 1981 and was supporting my daughter and me on unemployment checks, child support,  and the generosity of the Salvation Army food bank where I worked as a volunteer, I needed to reduce my monthly outgo. My neighbor wanted the pasture for her horses, and I needed relief from the mortgage payments.  The sale, then, was a good deal for both my neighbor and me. 

After selling my pasture, I investigated the possibility of taking out a home improvement loan through the Farmers’ Home Administration because my house, built early in the 1900s, needed a lot of work.   I applied for the loan and was accepted into the program.  Since it was a government loan for low-income home owners in rural areas, I could afford the monthly payments.  My home had been built at a time when many homes in the area were built using post and pier construction and were not built upon concrete foundations.  Thus, the first task of the contractor was to put a concrete foundation under my house.  In the early part of December, then, my neighbor, a licensed contractor named Fred, started on the foundation.  

This process was slow because Fred had to jack the house up in order to do his work beneath it, and the house had to be high enough to accommodate the foundation work he did around the perimeter.  When he jacked the house up, he exposed its underbelly to the elements, so he had to close up the crawl space at the end of each workday by placing sheets of plywood along the lower margins of the outside walls.  The plywood kept out the cold and the wind and also most of the nocturnal creatures that came up from the nearby gully each evening.  There was, however, one evening when Fred forgot to protect the underside of my house, the evening of December 23rd.   

On December 23rd, we had a terrific cold snap, unusual for the Chehalis River valley.  That night the temperature dipped to about ten above zero, and as I slept, the cold air entered the unprotected crawl space.  I awoke to a big surprise—water had frozen in all the rusty old pipes beneath the house, no water came from any taps, and we could not flush the toilet.  My son was home from college at the time, so he and his sister drove to my ex in-laws’ home south of Chehalis to spend the holiday.  I knew they would be welcome there even if I was not.  

I was left by myself, then, to feed our pets, tend the frozen pipes, and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in a house with no running water and no drainage—not the usual Merry Christmas situation.  In the process of overcoming life’s adversities, however,  I had learned to favor the glass- half-full approach to life,  and I determined to have as merry a Christmas as possible under the circumstances.  After all, I had two wonderful children, a roof over my head, sufficient groceries, and it was Christmas!  I considered myself fortunate. 

Thanks to the folks at the Salvation Army, I had a small Christmas tree and one of the Salvation Army’s Christmas food baskets.  My tree was about four feet tall and scrawny, but it had lights on it and lots of home-made decorations.  Under the lowest limbs were three presents, one from my ex mother-in-law, one from my son, and one from the Salvation Army.  So not only did I have a tree, but I had some presents and the makings of a nice Christmas dinner, complete with a roasting hen, fresh vegetables, a few oranges and apples, some instant stuffing mix, various canned goods, and some candy.   As I surveyed my tree with its presents and thought about the special dinner I would cook on Christmas Day, I felt happy with what I had.  Some folks in Lewis County had a lot less than I did.  

The afternoon of December 24th arrived with no letup in the cold.  I planned to sing in the choir at St. John’s Episcopal Church for the Christmas Eve service, and I needed to be at the church by about 8:30 that night.  I fixed myself some dinner, put on my dress, pantyhose, and shoes, and donned my long raincoat.  By around eight in the evening I was on my way, hoping to make it to the church in time for the pre-service choir warmup before the late-night service.  The church was about twelve blocks from my home, but the night was clear, so the prospect of the walk didn’t bother me. 

I was about halfway to the church, walking past the Rock Street Apartments, when it happened—I felt something around my waist shift dramatically, and my pantyhose suddenly slithered down my hips, past my thighs, and to my knees, hobbling me as surely as if I were Farmer Jones’ favorite mare.  I managed to remain upright despite suddenly being rendered immobile, and I was able to put my hands into my raincoat pockets, hunch down, and pull my pantyhose up high enough so I could walk.   

I repeated this procedure the rest of the way, and when I reached the church, I slipped into the restroom unnoticed, reefed mightily on the errant hose, and prayed they would stay put.  Yet to come were the choir procession, the service, and the recessional, but I was not too worried, for the ugly old ankle-length black robes we wore would, I knew, hide whatever might happen.  One way or another, I would get through the service. 

All went well during the service, and when it was over, I took off the hose and started for home.  I did, however, make one change in my route.  I decided to reward myself for a job well done by stopping at the convenience store on Tower Avenue and treating myself to some chicken and jo-jos, food I had heard about but had never tried.  I wasn’t sure the store would be open late on Christmas Eve, but I decided to at least check to see.  It was open!  Never before had the aroma of deep-fried chicken and fried potatoes been so welcome!  A heavy-lidded young man with red hair wrapped my chicken and Jo-jos, I paid for them, and I left, wishing him a Merry Christmas but knowing that he was probably finding Christmas Eve at the Stop-N-Go a lot more boring than merry.  I reached home before eleven-thirty, and after changing into my nightclothes, I turned on the television to Seattle station KING so I could watch the Christmas Eve service broadcast from St. Mark’s Cathedral and enjoy my greasy treat.  

And then the improbable happened:  Exactly on the stroke of midnight, just as the choir at St. Mark’s began processing toward the altar for Holy Communion, I heard a loud “whoosh” come from somewhere under the house.  I ventured cautiously outside to investigate and discovered that we had had a sudden Chinook which had warmed the air, even the air under the house, and had caused a mighty thaw that had cracked the ancient pipes and released a flood of water.  I ran back into the house and grabbed my huge pipewrench and  prybar, and then I ran back outside, pried  the concrete cover from the water main by the street, and turned the bolt that shut off the water.  Since there was nothing more I could do about the plumbing situation, I trudged back into the house, watched the rest of the service from St. Marks, finished my chicken and jo-jos, and went to bed. 

On Christmas morning I awoke to a cold, dark, rainy day.  Determined to have my coffee on that special morning, I put on my boots, grabbed a relatively clean plastic bucket from the utility porch, and traipsed through the soggy grass to the faucet at Fred’s horse barn.  I filled the bucket and returned home to make coffee .  As I drank my coffee and ate the sweet rolls I found in my Salvation Army box, I forgot the mess under my house and the fact that I couldn’t flush the toilet or get a shower and simply enjoyed the peace and quiet of Christmas.   

Later, I roasted the Salvation Army chicken and enjoyed Christmas dinner in front of the television as I watched the old version of “Miracle on 34th Street,” the one starring young Natalie Wood, my favorite.  I indulged myself and slept on the couch that night so I could watch movies until I fell asleep, something I normally did not do.  Sometime that night, one of the cats, back from a hunting trip, left me a still-squeaking mouse on the kitchen floor.  I awoke long enough to gently deposit the mouse on the grass outside the carport, and then I went back to sleep.   

The plumbing situation got a temporary fix the day after Christmas, my kids came home, and life resumed its familiar pace and rhythm once more.  A few days later, when I looked back on  my Christmas, I realized that it had not been so awful.  After all, I had been able to sing in the choir and eat jo-jos on Christmas Eve.  I had also enjoyed my well-lit Christmas tree, had watched the sentimental old holiday movies I loved, and had eaten a great Christmas dinner.  The plumbing disaster and being hobbled by my pantyhose seemed like minor irritants, mere flickers of bad luck in the total scheme of things.  No, that Christmas of 1983 hadn’t been so bad after all!