Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My Favorite Christmas with Jeff Salter

Merry Christmas to All … and to All a Good Night!
By Jeff Salter
            Perhaps my most vivid Christmas memories from childhood were consecutive years when I was in Elementary School. For probably three or four years, my family drove to Mandeville [La.] to tour the wards of the Southeast Louisiana [Mental] Hospital and sing Christmas carols to the patients. On Christmas Eve.
Preacher’s kid
            I should explain. My Dad was Protestant Chaplain at SoLoHo and he organized the hospital staff and their families to do this for their patients. He’d mimeographed selected carols into slender song books and my recollection is that almost all the staff (not on duty) – from the top administrators to the housekeeping teams – participated eagerly.
            After congregating somewhere in the facility, we all toured every ward (except, probably, the most dangerous) and sang a few carols in each. Some of the patients joined in. But some just sat or stood … and watched. Whether they participated or merely listened, I believe even the most medicated patients knew what was going on … and likely appreciated it.
            Remember, the late 1950s was well before the massive deinstitutionalization of mental patients — some of those individuals may have been hospitalized for many years. It’s possible some of them had never experienced a ‘regular’ Christmas with a ‘typical’ family.
            I no longer recall how many other children were caroling with us – my younger sister and older brother and me – but I’m sure there were several because I remember some of the ‘staff children’ in other contexts.
Some time prior to one of these caroling episodes, we learned that my Dad’s keester had been kicked by a patient. It was not completely uncommon for hospital staff to be accosted by some of the more agitated patients … though most were reasonably behaved when we were present. However, that business of being kicked-in-the-keester rose alarms with my older brother and me. At his suggestion – and with my full concurrence – as we caroled in each ward that evening, my brother and I kept our backs glued to the walls. Nobody was going to sneak up behind us!
At the end of at least one of these caroling episodes on the wards, we also went from house to house – on the hospital’s fenced and gated grounds – to several small brick cottages where certain staff lived with their families. At some of these, we were invited in for refreshments. [I assume, now, that this was pre-arranged ... but at the time it always surprised me.]
The Remains of the Eve
I don’t remember the ‘clock’ aspects of this experience. It was always dark when we got home, but I’m not sure when we started. Many of the patients were in robes and what looked like PJs, so it may have been evening when we got there. Or, perhaps those patients wore robes and PJs most of the time. Not sure.
            Anyway, once we got home from caroling each Christmas Eve night, my Mom made hot cocoa. Not poured from an envelope into boiling water. This was the good stuff: whole milk warmed in a sauce-pan on the stove … with rich, powdered Hershey’s cocoa mixed in. And I think she added sugar, since the Hershey’s was for baking. However she prepared it, that cocoa is still the best-tasting hot chocolate I can remember over a span of six decades so far.
            After hot cocoa was served, we gathered around our family tree in the living room and opened our Christmas presents.
Meant quite a lot
As I said, these caroling ventures at the mental hospital were undertaken “for the patients” … but I firmly believe it meant quite a lot to the staff and their families. As I phrased it in my 1983 account of those childhood years: “… the experience was as warming to our hearts as the cocoa was to our tummies when we got home.”
            I hope I never forget that warm feeling … or the true reason for this season. Merry Christmas to everyone … and May God Bless You!

When Kris awakens in a costume, behind wooden bars inside a pitch-black community center, her only available rescuer is the hung-over new guy in town (who’s dressed as a pirate).  Problem is:  she’s sworn-off men, especially buccaneers.

Badly burned four years ago by a player who ruined her financially, Kris Prima’s heart is locked down as tightly as her lifestyle is confined by those massive debts.  When first assisted by recent newcomer Ryan Hazzard, Kris is resentful, slightly afraid, and determined never again to trust men.  But when court-ordered community service brings them together once more, she begins to appreciate Ryan’s charm, good looks, and capable manner.

With all the rumors and assumptions which followed Ryan from a large metropolitan area, how can small-town Kris even begin to trust him?  And why won’t he explain any of those situations?  Through her efforts to learn Ryan’s mysterious past, they share further experiences:  many comedic, one quite dangerous, and others very tender.  Despite several misunderstandings, Kris’s bottled-up feelings slowly re-awaken and she finally learns enough about Ryan to know she wants him in her life somehow. Kris regains her ability to trust a man and her heart is freed from its jail.


  1. I hope you enjoy this recollection.
    I no longer remember how many Christmas Eves we spent doing this, but I believe it was probably three years running.
    Not sure why or when it stopped.
    But it definitely put a different perspective on what's important.

  2. This is a wonderful memory, Jeff. Thanks so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Tanya.
      I'm glad that I took the time, back in 1983, to write down some of those childhood memories. If I'd waited until today, I might not even remember them. LOL

  3. What a great memory and such a service to those less fortunate. I also remember that same cocoa! MMMMM! I ought to make some, but I'm sure it won't taste the same with Sweet & Lo. Darn.

    1. Isn't it funny how certain tastes (or smells) from childhood seem imprinted in our brains?
      Gosh, I'd love to have some of that stove-made-with-real-milk-&-real-cocoa hot choc.

  4. Thanks for sharing the experience Jeff. That's a wonderful memory.

    1. I appreciate your visit & comment, Sherry.

  5. What wonderful memories! So wonderful that your family did this together. I know the listeners were touched, too.

    1. Thanks, Patty.
      Yeah. When I've thought back to this timeframe, I'm grateful that my parents "made" us go and spend out Christmas Eve that way. [I mean, I'm sure at least one of us grumbled about it selfishly.] They could've taken the easy way out and relented to the grumbling. But then we would've never had the opportunity to participate and witness this blessing.

  6. This was a wonderful memory Jeff. So descriptive with enough humor sprinkled in. these are the kinds of things that resonate in our hearts - not the ripping open the wrapping paper and mountain of gifts. Thanks

    1. Thanks, Tracy. I agree completely --- expensive gifts are not the be-all & end-all of Christmas.
      However, unfortunately, I worry that some kids grow up with that notion ... plus, "It's all about ME !"