For Kevin Jones, Christmas was lost in clichés and confusing times—until he made a sincere search. “Of all the goofy things Mr.
Katsourian could have assigned for a composition paper,” Kevin Jones told his dad, “I got the dumbest! ‘My Favorite Christmas.’”
“What’s the matter with Christmas?” asked his dad, mildly. “I sure don’t remember you objecting to it when you were a kid.”
“Well that’s the point,” said Kevin. “I’m not a kid anymore, I’m a high school senior. Christmas is for kids. He’ll expect us to come up with all that schmaltzy stuff about peace on earth and good will to men. You bet, and with half the people in the country afraid to open a strange letter or fly on an airplane, and half the kids I know worried about going to war.”
Ed Jones folded his newspaper and looked at his tall son with curious good humor.
“So what’s your problem?” he said. “I spent a Christmas in Vietnam, your uncle Frank spent two in Korea, and your grandpa spent one with General Patton’s bunch chasing the Werhmacht. There’s always going to be something the matter with the world. What’s that have to do with ‘My Favorite Christmas’ as a concept?”
“Well...” said Kevin, “...but why would Mr. Katsourian care? He’s Armenian and his granddad fought the Turks, or something. He kind of looks like a terrorist himself with that big old mustache and if he wore a turban...” Kevin hastened to get away from that line of thinking, seeing his dad’s face. “He’s just, you know, kind of dark and Arabic looking and what do those people know about Christmas?”
Ed Jones sighed and stood up to take his pickup keys from the board where all the family’s car keys hung. He smiled at his youngest son.
“Maybe that’s why he asked you to tell him,” he said. “Christmas isn’t rocket science, Kev,” he added as he pulled on his denim jacket, “and it’s pretty universal. Just do what the man asked and tell him about your favorite one.”
After his dad had gone, Kevin thought about it. Ed Jones was like that: a pragmatic man who did his best, and left it up to you to do yours. He never doubted people, never looked for someone to blame, never lost faith in farming as a way of life, never got radical. And Ed loved Christmas with a passion—the big feast for family, the lights, the giving, the decorations. “The whole nine yards,” as Kevin’s brother had put it one time, “like it was an inherited gene.”
Kevin sat a while, thinking these thoughts and finally pulled a yellow pad of paper from his mother’s desk and settled down to write in the sunny kitchen where her clock kept him company. He wrote ‘My Favorite Christmas’ at the top of the page and sat back to wait for inspiration. But after a while, as the clock ticked, he slowly crossed that out and put ‘Christmas With My Folks’ in its place and then erased that and put down ‘Christmas with Grandpa.’ He grinned to himself remembering.
Mr. Katsourian would never believe his grandpa, that long dead old storyteller, who always went a little nuts at Christmastime and decorated his farm with lights on “everything but the cows,” as Ed liked to recall, and gave presents of some kind to everyone he knew, like he thought he owed that to people.
Kevin had the start of an idea, and took his notes back to his own room where his computer could record them faster. From time to time he got up to go through the family albums, stored in the living room. The picture albums covered more than 70-odd years, snaring relatives at various times in their lives: wartime, peacetime, good times and bad. There were pictures of great uncles and cousins, taken with long dead dogs and long dead automobiles, but full of the photos of people so pleased to be alive and smiling at the camera at that time, that you didn’t worry about them being dead now.
It was an odd quest Mr. Katsourian had sent him on, but as the morning turned to afternoon, he began to understand it better and appreciate the question the teacher had asked. He began to see that it went beyond English Composition. Kevin found what he thought might be the answer to “What is your favorite Christmas” in a letter from his grandfather to his dad’s older brother, dated November 1945.
“Dear Frankie,” it said, “The war is over and all I can think of is that I’m coming home and maybe in time for Christmas. You are old enough now to understand that the world is full of enough mad people and bad ideas. And that at any given time, the rest of us might have to fight to keep things we love and value. This year will be the best Christmas of all for me because I can get back to doing what I do; taking care of my family and minding my own business, which ought to be to make things grow and the world a good place to live. I love you all more than I can say in a letter, but I’ll get to that soon because I just got my orders. I’ll be home for Christmas, which is peace on my own hunk of earth. God bless you, son.” Signed, Dad.
Kevin Jones finished reading and folded the worn letter back into its faded envelope, which had been mounted next to an old photograph of a young man perched on top of a Sherman tank, dirty faced and haggard, but grinning hugely.
Kevin booted up his computer and carefully typed the first line of his composition. He couldn’t help smiling.
“My Favorite Christmas,” he wrote, “I’m pretty sure, happened several years before my dad was even born.
From Today’s Farmer December/January 2001. Mitch Jayne 1928-2010 was a celebrated Ozark author and longtime contributor to Today’s Farmer. We reprint this in his honor.