Remembering the holidays? good times

For some reason, I tend to enter a reflective mood as the holidays near.When I say reflective, I mean ?way back when? reflective.

My thoughts take me back to my youth in South Dakota and remembrances of friendships that despite being so important at the time no longer exist.

Four of us hung around quite a bit in high school. We were all basketball players so that undoubtedly is what drew us together. We were not classmates. Two of us were a year ahead of the third member and two years in front of the fourth member.

Today, only two of us remain. One of the quartet was killed in a car accident 20 years ago and the other one succumbed to complications from a double transplant (liver and pancreas) 15 or so years ago.

As a group we tended to push the envelope. Most of the memories are from driving around until 2 or 3 a.m., following away basketball games. We seemingly always had access to a vehicle and we had the town all to ourselves during those wee hours of the morning.

Every now and then, our travels took us north to Mitchell, S.D., where we knew of a bar that seldom carded purchasers of off-sale beverages.

However, my forever memories are of family holiday gatherings. My immediate family had our Christmas on Christmas Eve, immediately after the children?s Christmas program at church. Many times I thought that church program would never end as anticipation of what?s coming later clearly overrode the task at hand.

There was a rule in our house. Mom and Dad gave my sister and me two Christmas presents, and one had to be clothing. Of course, we never paid much attention to the clothing item ? generally a pair of slacks or a shirt ? instead, waiting for the other item.

Growing up, I was never a ?shaker,? meaning I never shook my presents, which were under the tree well before Christmas, preferring instead to be surprised.

Christmas Day was generally spent in Iowa or Sioux Falls. Most of the time it was spent just across the Iowa border at my uncle and aunt?s house, who also were my godparents.

Several things stick out and gifts are not one of them. My uncle was a chain smoker but the house was so well ventilated that it didn?t reek of smoke. It also was one of the few times I saw my cousins. Since we saw each other occasionally, our worlds really didn?t intersect, but that wasn?t necessary as kids because conversation came easily.

My best memory of those Christmas Day gatherings was my aunt?s pumpkin pie. Nobody made pumpkin pie like her and that may be the reason why pumpkin pie remains one of my favorites. And I did like a little pie with my whipped topping.

On the two-hour drive home, Dad always complained about eating too much.

Sadly, when the relatives began leaving this earth so did the gatherings. I haven?t seen some of my cousins in decades and as each Christmas approaches, I do wish I had kept in better contact with them.

My parents have been gone, too, for what seems forever, and while I miss them greatly at this and other times of the years, fortunately I have some warm memories of the times we shared and the things we did as a family.

For many people, the holidays are not the best of times. Statistics says that the day in which the most suicides occur is New Year?s Eve. While I have no proof of this, I think some of what we hear and see in the weeks leading up to the holidays fuel depression?s fire.

We are told that it is the happiest time of the year, and that it is the time to gather with friends and family. For some people, no matter how much they attempt to get into the holiday spirit, they don?t succeed.

Christmas is a special time of the year. It is just unfortunate that not everybody can enjoy it. However, if you are going to celebrate with family and friends, embrace it. These occasions don?t last forever.