Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
"...the only gift I ever need is the joy of family...oh...that's Christmas to me." Great line from that bautiful song that came up on my feed this morning - "That's Christmas to Me." Today, Melanie, my sweet wife of 33 years, and I will enjoy the sweetest earthly fruit of our marriage as we celebrate Christmas with our two grown sons, their wives and Lucas, Holley and Mamie Grace our three grandchildren. I consider it part of, as I heard in a beautiful wedding ceremony "my you too experience the grace and beauty of a life well-lived" And, to get myself in the Christmas spirit 6 days before “the day” I’m doing some remembering.
But first (and yes, it is grammatically correct to begin a paragraph with the word “but”), you might wonder why we’re celebrating Christmas 6 days early. Well again it is because of my wonderful Melanie. There are benefits for being selfless and she is a great example of that. When we married we went to herculean measures to be at every family event possible and when our kids came along we made it even harder by deciding we would always be at home Christmas eve and Christmas morning. So between, Roanoke, Birmingham, Athens and wherever we lived some Christmases we would travel 1,000 miles and barely have a few hours at any place. It kept everyone happy but it made our days (and in those days our bank account) tough. You all know the drill and the difficulty - who gets who on Christmas, Christmas Eve, etc. I even heard of one in-law who demanded the exact time be spent with them that was spent with the other parents (by the way, that’s not a good way to get the kids to be happy about coming to your place). When our sons married and had kids Melanie decided that with ALL of us being in ministry and with all parents and grandparents still living and some great-grandparents to boot and us all spread all over the south that we could just make it easy and “do Christmas” a week or so early with our kids and their families. We always do it on a Friday or Saturday and it’s never a problem for them. So, that’s why today. I get the benefit of a non-dramatic and thoughtful wife.
Now, for our Christmas story. When we made the decision to be at home for Christmas Eve and Day with our two little boys we needed something to do that night. So one year we decided to go out to eat. The only place open in our little town of Hamilton was Pizza Hut. We all love pizza so, the Hut it was and then a movie after in our little theater. Little did we know that we created a family tradition that night. So for the next 8 years we had pizza at our little Pizza Hut and then when to a movie. And it’s had holding power. Ten years ago this year we left my mom’s funeral and when to Pizza Hut and amidst tears of sorrow and joy we joined the annual tradition. But there’s more to the story.
When we moved to Nashville we didn’t give it a second thought and on that first Christmas Eve after less than two months in our new metropolis imagine our dismay when we pulled up to a darkened and closest Pizza Hut. And then the next closest one was too. We did finally find one that was opened.
Year two. I called ahead and was assured our Pizza Hut would be open. I was told wrong but the take out was still open. I wasn’t too happy but that year we had pizza at home.
Year three: I called about a week in advance and was told they would be open till 5. I said, “I know sometimes you aren’t busy on Christmas Eve and decide to close earlier.” And I was assured that would not be the case. On Christmas Eve I swung by a little after lunch to confirm and yes, they reassured me we will close at 5 but not before. We pulled up at 4:30 and, you’re ahead of me aren’t you? Yes, closed. Well, there was a number on the door to call if there was any problem. Well, yes, there is a problem. Sooooo. I took down the number. I was pretty hot and I wanted my sons to see how to handle anger appropriately. I went to the car and dialed the number so my boys could hear it. I said to the voice mail I got: “I am sitting outside your so-called Pizza Hut restaurant with my wife and two young sons. We celebrate Christmas every year here together, it is part of our family tradition and it is important to us. I called a week ago and then came by earlier today and was assured you would be open till 5. It’s 4:30 now and you are closed. I just wanted you to know you have really messed up our tradition and I doubt you’ll do anything about it but I wanted to register how upset I am.” When we got home that night there was a message on the answering machine and the number was the one I’d called. So I called my sons to the room and said: “I want you to hear what happens when you handle your anger right.” I pushed play and the voice on the other end said: “Mr. Jenkins, I am so very sorry about your holiday tradition being messed up. My name is Cindy and I don’t know where you got my number but I don’t work there and have nothing do to with Pizza Hut, I think you must have dialed the wrong number.” :). Yep. My sons got a big kick out of that - and still do!
Oh yeah, one more thing. When you celebrate Christmas a week early with your wife, kids, their wives and your grandkids - Pizza Hut will be open!