My mother, who's now 85, always has had a special gift for making every one of my Christmases bright.
When I was growing up, and now that I'm an adult, my mother's joyful presence has been prominent under my Christmas tree.
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By contrast, my father, now 89, enjoyed the last-minute rush on Christmas Eve -- a habit I inherited.
Passionate and practical, my well-organized mother embraced the holiday season immediately following Thanksgiving. Her home was filled with sounds of Christmas music. Every single room was graced with decorations.
She loved shopping and finding surprises for my two younger brothers and me. More often than not, we didn't even know we had wanted the gifts we found under the tree.
She hid wrapped presents well in advance of Christmas, providing plenty of time to bake and host our family's annual Christmas Eve open house for friends and neighbors before the evening church service, usually while my dad was finishing his shopping and delivering gifts to business associates.
Our family's tradition was to awaken about 5 a.m. to find Santa had been and gone. After opening our gifts together, we arranged them around the tree and got ready for company.
Back then, Gladys and Charlie, the childless couple across the street who treated us like grandchildren, would come over to exchange gifts. Then all of us neighborhood kids would traipse from house to house to see what Santa had delivered while our mothers prepared dinner.
As I reminisce, I'm reminded of the Christmas when I had just turned 10. All I wanted was my very own horse.
At the time, several of my friends took riding lessons at a nearby stable on Bethel Avenue and occasionally I'd tag along to help groom the horses.
I created a perfect plan for my horse.
Our neighborhood, Rolling Oaks, located on the west edge of town, was just across the intersection of Riverside and Jackson streets from the Crapo Farm. I was sure Mr. Crapo, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, would rent us a stall for my equestrian endeavor.
My dad suggested I personally go ask Mr. Crapo if I could board a horse in his barn. If Mr. Crapo agreed, I could have a horse.
Mr. Crapo lived in a large brick mansion down a long winding lane that ran between the tenant's farmhouse and the barn. The chance of my going down that private drive by myself to knock on Mr. Crapo's door likely gave my dad comfort.
Still, I was relentless. I begged for my dad to ask. In time, I believed that my dad would surprise me on Christmas Day with a long rope that led from our home to Mr. Crapo's barn where I would find the only item on my Christmas list.
I told all my friends.
Then, several days before Christmas, my mother placed a large square package by our tree with a gift tag addressed to me. I lifted it. I carefully shook it. Though too small to be a saddle, I convinced myself the box contained a bridle with a bit and reins.
I told all my friends.
I could hardly sleep the night before Christmas.
Early Christmas morning I raced to the big present, ripped off the wrapping paper and tore open the box. Inside was a pink wrought iron vanity chair with a round cushion for my dresser.
No long rope led to Mr. Crapo's barn.
By midmorning, the phone started ringing. My neighborhood friends were eager to visit my horse.
I was not the best sport. I opted out of sharing that Christmas morning with my friends, furthering my loss that year of the simple joys and the meaning of the season.
Yet now, more than 50 years later, I remember that special Christmas and life's lessons learned more than most others.
Moreover, every time I visit my folks in Muncie, Ind., I see that chair, now repainted metallic gold, right next to the vanity in my parents' guest bathroom.
May your Christmas be blessed with lasting memories, too