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There was only one thing my grandparents wanted each year for Christmas—for all their children to be home at once. That was the gift that brought tears to Papa’s eyes and radiance to Mama’s face. All seven children home with spouses and children. I think it was what gave all of us the best of Christmases.

Their house was humble in appearance. A white frame house Papa had built onto as need required. My mother and I were the reason for one addition. When Daddy went to war and I was just months old, Papa brought us there to live with them. It was a house made for practicality and not show.

At Christmastime, the multi-colored lights on the tree shone through the living room window, beckoning us home. Cars parked on the narrow street up and down both sides for a block. Neighbors never minded; they were invited to join us and some always did.

Each time the front door opened laughter and greetings of welcome rang out. It was good to be together again. Mama and Papa would stand just inside the door waiting to embrace every family member and friend. Papa would chuckle with delight because his “chillun” had come home.

Packages were stowed under the tree and dishes of food taken on to the kitchen to help Mama feed the multitude. She had cooked for days and if no one had brought a single thing, there would still have been plenty. After the tree and kitchen visits there was one more stop before joining the men for talking or the women for getting the food ready. That stop was to find Mama’s large blue granite roasting pan. For in that pan would be the one dish we had looked forward to all year—Mama’s cornbread dressing. I guess we just needed a little reassurance that it was there waiting for us.

Christmas at the Spencer’s was for love and sharing and the larger the crowd the better. Boyfriends, girlfriends, in-laws, great aunts and uncles, our pastor and his family, our small town’s highly revered doctor and his wife. Everyone was welcome. We sat everywhere, even in the bedrooms. And the food was like the loaves and fish that Jesus blessed, it seemed to keep replenishing itself.

One thing always happened in that house before any meal was had and that was a prayer of thanksgiving. At Christmastime, everyone migrated to the spot where Papa and Mama stood and a hush fell over the house. If Papa said the prayer he thanked God for every person there—and he cried. Papa couldn’t pray without crying because his heart was ever grateful to God for His blessings, and when Papa spoke to the Lord, his love for Him spilled out emotionally.

Money couldn’t buy the blessing of having been born into the family of Jim and Dulcie Spencer. I am indeed rich in heritage. I thank God for giving me two of His finest creations as grandparents and for the many memories of Christmases past on Campbell Street in Medina, Tennessee. Papa and Christmas 1979 001