Retro Christmas

One year in Port Hope, with some of the kids coming home for a special occasion, I dubbed the parsonage the Party Plaza of Exitomania. A proper announcement with the tantalizing title was affixed to my office door, which was next to the foyer.

Our front door gives away the wacky couple residing behind it.


This year, that wacky Julie revived it, making a sign for our front door. We now live in the Party Plaza of Exitomania 2. I fully intend to have the sign remain right where it is. Let all who come to our house marvel at the sight of it.


Not only did our kids grow up and go out on their own, they spread out around the country.  Family gatherings became a challenge. It was in 2009 that we last enjoyed having more than one of them with us for Christmas. This year, both Jackie and Alex would not be with their kids, so Jackie drove across town, and Alex came down from Michigan.

Jackie was given a spot in the garage for her car.  Alex?  Not so much.

It has been years since Julie and I bought Christmas presents. Usually, our tree’s underneath is bare. One year, while in Port Hope, we didn’t even have a tree, receiving our enjoyment from the two huge ones in church.

To make special this Christmas-with-kids, we set out to buy gifts. Julie came up with some useful and fun items for both, while I purchased their favorite snack foods. All were wrapped, so they both had a half-dozen to open.

As usual, I didn’t buy anything for Julie, and I was sure that she had not purchased anything for me.

I would be wrong.

White Christmas

Being from Michigan, I have seen way more white Christmases than not. Among them, there was the one in Port Hope where we entered 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve worship from the grassy outdoors, only to exit worship just after midnight to a blanket of white and those so-romantic, huge, fluffy flakes.  Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better.

White Christmas 2017. Before the sun’s rays melted some snow, the bushes and grass were completely covered.

This was our fourth Christmas in Indianapolis. Indy does not get many a snowy Yuletide. The day before Christmas Eve, we got a nice tease of snow to cover our grass. That was preparation for the two inches we received Sunday afternoon, providing us with an officially-white Christmas.

Midday on Christmas, as Alex and I sat in the living room, we watched a vehicle come flying into our ditch, having fishtailed after turning off Emerson and onto Marrison.  The driver just kept going, out of the ditch, across our yard, into our driveway, and back onto the road and, we hoped, arriving safely at his destination.

Eilers pizza

On Friday, I will post an updated piece about our family pizza recipe, and the reason my blog is called Eilers Pizza. This dish has become a holiday favorite. It’s not that we save it for holidays; it’s because it is a bit of a chore to create.

This was my first piece of Eilers Pizza on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve, we sat down to it. Then snacked on it in the evening. And for breakfast on Christmas. And for lunch the day after. And every bite was as satisfying as the last.


I come from a long line of card players. When family gathered for whatever the occasion, we found ourselves gathering at the kitchen table for cards, gathering  into our hands one hand after another.

Thankfully, our kids fell for our card tricks. Where, in my youth, canasta was the game of choice, for years it has been shanghai for us.

Here is the version we play, except that we changed two of the hands because we found them too easy:

Instead of the first hand being two sets and the fourth hand three sets, we play it as three and four sets. The four-set hand is cutthroat shanghai!

Am I supposed to be saving runs or sets?  What’s that old joke?  “This isn’t a hand; it’s a foot.”

Each day of the three day weekend, Julie, Jackie, Alex and I found our way to the dining room table. Alas, I came up on the short end of every game.

The surprise gift

The kids had wrapped up unwrapping presents, when Julie slipped out of the room. She reappeared with a large, skinny, wrapped box, and presented it to me.

I asked her when she bought this. She said it was at least a couple of months ago, and that when it arrived I had brought it into the house and asked her what it was. She said that she played dumb and I didn’t press her, and then after she removed the box to the basement I never inquired. Now, yes, I recalled the oddly shaped box’s arrival.

I began to open it. I got the edge unwrapped, which was only visible to me, revealing “Skittle Bowl.” I looked at Julie. She smiled widely. I started crying. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

At once, I was the kid who got the gift which seemed that it would forever remain in the wildest of dreams.

Skittle Bowl came out when I hit the teenage years. I don’t recall the Christmas I got it, but I suspect I was fourteen, in 1971. I was the only kid in the house who cared for the game, and I played it like crazy. Because of the pins hitting the plastic tray, it makes a racket. I was never allowed to play it anywhere but in a bedroom, with the door closed.

In this action shot, see that the ball has struck the front pin, launching it toward the others.

I never knew what happened to that game. I grew up.  I moved out. It stayed home. Mom died. Dad married Louise. Louise had a garage sale. That’s all I can imagine.

I don’t know what made me think of it a few months ago, but I googed the quest, to see if it were being manufactured. It is not. I showed Julie and told her of my love for the game. I especially like it for two reasons. First, I’ve always loved bowling. Second, I find this the best home version of bowling because it is contained in a small area.

Not to mention that it is extremely challenging.  Strikes and spares are not gimmes.

When I showed it to Julie online, she acted unimpressed but, being the Jewelee that she is, she quietly went to work searching for the game at a good price.  Hello, eBay!

Skittle Bowl capped off what was a marvelous retro Christmas, one with all of the elements of Christmases past—from kids at home, to snow on the ground, to Eilers Pizza, to playing cards, to wonderful surprise gifts.

Most importantly, it was all wrapped up in the reason for this pleasin’. We had Jackie’s kids with us long enough to take them to church with us, to sing Oh, Come All Ye Faithful, and O Little Town of Bethlehem, and close with candles lit for Silent Night. We heard the Christmas story, and our pastor told us what child is this we worship, the babe of Bethlehem who grew up to be the Christ on the cross and the Victor over the grave, the One who loves to bestow upon us His eternal life.


One Christmas . . .

One Christmas . . .


Six sometimes sentimental, sometimes silly scenes from Christmases in my life, in chronological order.

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One Christmas, the chicken pox visited

It might have been 1966, making me nine years old. It was the first day of Christmas vacation and I came down with chicken pox. And so did my younger brother, Dave, who was eight. And so did our youngest brother, Mark, who was four.

Mark and I had the usual pox. Dave was cursed with a bad dose; he was covered in blisters. The blisters were very itchy. Painful.

We had a lousy Christmas vacation but, from the viewpoint of a parent, Mom surely had it the worst, already having to suffer a houseful of five kids for the week, most thankful that we were once again healthy just in time for school to restart in the new year.

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One Christmas, I received exactly what I wanted


It’s not that my mom and Santa didn’t do a good job of Christmas shopping for me, but this one year I was so convinced that I would love Skittle Bowl—believing that it was, ahem, right up my alley—that I would have walked to the North Pole and grabbed it fresh from the elves’ assembly line if I had to.

I was spared the trek because Santa threw a strike. Waiting under the tree on Christmas morning was a Skittle Bowl, and it was for me!

I am pleased to report that my notion, that I would love the game, had not been in the gutter. I played that thing with the kind of devotion that believers should with their worship habits.

I was perhaps fifteen when I got Skittle Bowl. I lived at home until I was twenty-two. I am sad to report that I have no idea where it went. If I had it, today, I would play it. I’ve checked online. It’s not in production. Prices for old ones are out of my bowling league.


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One Christmas, Santa left his mark


I’ll get right to it. There were sleigh tracks on our roof.

Clear as can be.

On Christmas morning.

I kid you not.

It was somewhere in the early ‘70s, perhaps the nifty Year of Skittle Bowl. We had fresh snow in Montague. One of my siblings was outside and came running into the house, “There are sleigh tracks on the roof!” We all ran outside. There they were, two clean tracks, about eight feet apart, diagonal on the roof, next to the chimney.

It was dazzlingly amazing. Every kid, no matter his age, should experience such a magical thing.

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One Christmas, I croaked

I was serving a second church because their pastor had left for another congregation. Not only did I have to lead worship eight miles south in Harbor Beach at 5:00, I had to get back to Port Hope for the 7:00 children’s service, and then lead our candlelight worship at 11:00.

And I was sick.

And I could barely make a croak with my voice.

And on the way home from the service in Harbor Beach, a deer came flying onto the highway, then flying onto the hood and windshield of my car, and then flying off and onto the road’s shoulder.

I had to call 911 to report the dead deer. I must have sounded to the operator like a pervert making an obscene phone call. Thankfully, she took me seriously, told me it was okay to leave the scene, my car still ran, I could see through the cracked windshield, and I made it home without further incident.

I had only a tiny role in the children’s service, but the more I talked the less voice I had. By 11:00, I was barely speaking.

When we arrived at the time for the sermon and I began my raspy whisper of a preaching delivery, I received a lovely gift. Straining to hear me, the multitude of worshipers leaned in to listen. While I always found my members to be attentive to my sermons, this night they were especially starry and bright.

Grasping their gift, I emotionally wrapped them in swaddling clothes and cradled them in my arms, finding a particular persuasion of speech steeped in a sentiment worthy of the event.

The next morning’s Christmas Day worship found my voice no better. Even so, that Christmas Eve and Day, when I could not have had a harder time giving voice to the words I had composed, I had never given better voice to the Good News about Jesus Christ.

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One Christmas, we finally got the entire family together


After I pulled my family from Montague to attend seminary, no longer could we gather with our extended families for Christmas. We were confined to the six of us. Then, after the kids grew up and moved far away—to the other side of Michigan, Indiana, and Georgia—gatherings became almost impossible. So impossible, in fact, that one year, with no family at all on the visiting schedule, Julie and I didn’t even put up a tree.

I know: Bah, humbug.

In 2009, however, everyone was able to make it to Port Hope. And, because we would have all four kids and their families home, we invited their mom and her husband. Were we ever thankful for a large parsonage: There was room in the inn for all!

Erin, who lives in Georgia, had just given birth to her first child six weeks earlier, so it was the first we got to hold Helena. The only other grandchild was Oliver, who was two. The other newbie was Add’s now-wife, Tara. They had only been dating for a month, so we knew Tara had what was needed to take on Add, by taking on the entire family.

Both distance and schedules have kept us from another family Christmas. I admit, I now experience what many do, sadness clouding the joy of Christmas carols sung in church and all of the festiveness surrounding the birth of our Lord.

Maybe, next year.

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One Christmas, we were greeted with white


While pastor in Port Hope, most years we had white Christmases. Shoot, we had a lot of white Thanksgivings. And white Easters.

One year, it appeared we would be having a green Christmas. There was not a flake of white to be found upon the browning grass.

That year, as we had our children’s service in the early evening we were thankful for good weather and roads as we entered and left church to bare ground.

Three hours later, we returned to church for 11:00 p.m. worship. The ground was still bare. The only flake to be found was the as-usual goofy pastor.

After filling everyone’s spiritual stocking with my Christmas sermon, and the Lord’s Supper, and numerous favorite carols which concluded with Silent Night under the gleam and glimmer of handheld candles, we departed the church.

It was just after midnight.

And it was snowing.

Great, big, fluffy flakes, it was snowing.

And the ground was already covered.

White, white—everywhere white.

And even the oldest among us was a kid again.