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By Karen Lunstead'
Special to The Island Packet'
The house in those days always seemed lively, but how could it not be so with six children, two dogs and a canary? '
I was the second oldest in a family of five girls and a boy. We lived in the country, and across from us were woods which stretched for miles back. There used to be a farm there, so my older sister, brother and I would pack lunches and go roaming through the pastures and meadows, watching the cows grazing as we sat on a large rock munching on our sandwiches. '
An old water tower stood in one of the fields, its steps broken and rusted from disuse. It was always a challenge climbing the water tower because there was no railing, but we'd hold our breaths and sigh with relief when we reached the top. The view from the tower was beautiful. The shadows of the clouds darkened the distant hills and the trees and over grown grass swayed to the breeze of the gentle wind.'
During the summer, my father would take us to the cornfields to snitch corn. He was a tall man with black hair and bushy eyebrows. His green eyes twinkled when he exaggerated the truth. Every summer he'd turn a dark brown from the sun, and he claimed that he had Indian blood in him. We didn't doubt it. We could walk through the fields, yelling to one another occasionally so that we wouldn't get lost among the tall stalks. '
Then we'd walk home with the bags of corn slung over our shoulders. Mom had a pot of water boiling on the outside fireplace and we'd feast on the fresh corn.'
Mom had a clear, round, and gentle face. She was always warm and cuddly when she hugged us to her. She went along with Dad's playfulness, but put her foot down if we rough-housed in the living room. Mom was the quiet, practical member of the family, which was needed to offset the whimsical behavior of my father.'
But sometimes Dad's story-telling got him in trouble. One day the youngest, Patricia, found a gold-colored rock in the driveway and asked Dad if it was real gold. "I'll bring it to the bank and find out," he promised.'
That night he returned with a bag of candy." It was real gold and they pay in candy for children," he said. The whole neighborhood heard about it and pretty soon all of the neighbor's children were rummaging around the ground finding gold-colored rocks to give to my father. He'd return home with bags of lollipops to give to them for payment, and the rocks rolled around in the trunk of the car whenever we went anywhere.'
As Christmas approaches, I think back of the days when I was a child and Santa Claus was so special to me. Every Christmas Eve, the family would dress up and go to church, filling up an entire pew. After the service, we'd return home and have some eggnog, sitting around the fireplace. We'd search through Dad's drawers for old socks and hang them around the mantle of the television set for Santa. '
Then we'd be off to bed, waiting to hear Santa's bells, unable to sleep because of the excitement. And the bells would ring and we'd run into the living room, jumping up and down with excitement.'
"We heard Santa's bells!" we'd exclaim in whispers to our parents. '
"I heard them, too," Dad would say. "And I heard something drop on the front lawn." We'd run to the front door, open it, and find on the front lawn a beautifully-wrapped gift, lying in the snow. My brother would run out to retrieve it, barefooted and in pajamas that never seemed to fit, and all of us would help to unwrap the present. We'd finally go to bed and wake up early the next morning to see what Santa had left us.'
As I grew older and learned the true meaning of Christmas, I inherited the job of spreading magic the night before Christmas. It always gave me great pleasure to share the excitement of the holiday with my younger brother and sisters. Their enthusiasm upon hearing Santa's bells brought back many happy memories for me.'
And the years passed. My sister went off to college and I followed the next year. The house was quieter then but we'd be a complete family every holiday. We're all together again for this Christmas. My older sister's married now and my nieces are old enough to understand the dreamworld of Santa.'
Mom's in the living room, playing with her grandchildren. Her face is a bit rounder, but the soft, loving glow still surrounds her. Dad's in the bedroom. His hair is grey now, but the twinkle's back in his eyes because he's rummaging through the drawer for the bells that have been quiet for many years.'
Karen Lunstead is the daughter of Lloyd T. Harrell of Sun City and the late Eleanor Harrell, his wife of 53 years. She presented this story to her parents at Christmas in 1973. In addition to being the mother of three grown children and having a successful career in the publishing industry, Karen also donated blood marrow twice to her younger brother, Lloyd Harrell Jr., who was completely cured of leukemia due to her efforts. This story is set in Somers, New York, where Lloyd T. Harrell Sr. and his family lived for 45 years.