I thought instead of writing my usual profile, I would make this column special for the holidays. I sent out a few hundred emails—pretty much at random—asking for a holiday memory. What follows are as many of the responses as my space limitations allow. Some are touching, some are humorous. They’re all worth reading.
Manorhaven trustee Priscilla von Roeschlaub wrote this example of how a personal experience can leave you with a permanent thought about helping others: “It was Christmas Eve, I was 19 in Rio de Janeiro working in a water show 9,000 miles from home. The show wasn’t doing well, so the impresario decided not to pay his troupe and all of us were penniless. Breakfast was included with the hotel so my next meal wouldn’t be until Christmas morning and I was hungry. I remember thinking that this is a lesson in life. Every future Christmas, I would remember there are people in the world who are hungry while we celebrate. And I never pass a red bucket of the Salvation Army without putting something in it to help feed the poor.”
Meagan McCarty is legislative aide to Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio. She and PWPD Officer Brian McCarty relatively recently became parents of a daughter, Alice Carol. Meagan reflected: “My most memorable Christmases were always with my grandparents and my cousins. Gram would make a rib roast, oven-roasted potatoes and there would be pies. We 10 grandchildren would be down in the basement playing with whatever toys Santa brought us, making up games and causing a little bit of mischief along the way. Christmas was also Gram’s birthday, so we all loved making her feel special. These were truly cherished times and we are looking forward to making a very memorable season this year, as it is our daughter Alice Carol’s first Christmas.”
Alice Melzer is the director of marketing for the Port Washington Federal Credit Union. Here, under the title “Words in the Snow,” she tells us about the best holiday present she ever received: “Snow crunched beneath my boots. 14 grayed wooden steps and through the doors; a gas fireplace was glowing. Boots shed, in wool socks trimmed in red, felt welcomed. Rough-hewn, local stones surrounded the fireplace. It provided a kind contrast to the perfect, matte white walls. My phone calls went to voicemail and emails answered with, ‘Out of the office till…Happy Holidays.’ Outside, in the wilderness, tall pines sang softly to the blue-white, stillness and snow. Inside the one skylight’s night’s view framed infinite stars. My first novel was moved in natural time. This was the greatest holiday present I ever received. The gift: undistracted peace in the woods; arranged by a friend who values creativity and me.”
Linda Ragusa DeMeo is a ’73 graduate from Schreiber who looks too young to have children 29 and 32. Here she shares with us a Christmas her family will never forget: “Our children, now 29 and 32, have beautiful memories of Santa at Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Church. While Christmas music filled the air, the pews were packed and church was standing-room only. The children waited patiently for Santa to arrive. (This Santa was usually running late.) Some of the children were on their father’s shoulders, but most at the end of the pews. Santa finally arrives and the children and parents stand looking toward the back door of the church. He starts walking ever so slowly down the long aisle with his hands clasped loosely behind him. Walking to Silent Night, he stops and stands in front of the altar, kneels on one knee making the sign of the cross, turns to the children and waves with his gentle hand in the air and then slowly walks away leaving everyone in awe of his presence. This is the most memorable Christmas our family has had in our wonderful town, Port Washington. This special Santa was Steven Zaccherio. Thank you Steve…You will always be with us, in our thoughts and spirit. Rest in peace.”
The author of the story that follows requested that she not be identified. After I read the text, I had to agree. She had to make a life or death decision. And her decision and the result of it will touch your heart: “Each of my children has been born on a holiday. They like to show up when things are quiet at the hospital. In this age of information, we can find out about all kinds of things. As a woman who was pregnant at the age of 38, modern medicine gave me access to some good information, some not so good. I was able to go in at 20 weeks for a determination of the baby’s gender. What I came out of that test with was the gender and other info that would haunt me for the remaining 18 weeks of pregnancy. There was an identifiable mass below the developing kidney. After multiple scans it was determined that he could possibly be either neuroblastoma, a cancer of childhood or (better option) of pulmonary sequestration. But we wouldn’t be certain until after the birth. My husband and I had to make the biggest choice—we chose life. The baby was born on the first day of Hanukkah—and the bris would all be on day eight. Because there were tests and observations that needed to happen after the birth to determine the nature of the mass, I wasn’t able to make the requisite plans for a bris. Every day a new test, scan, MRI and observations to find out if this new beautiful life was viable. Ultimately, the bris happened in the hospital without the usual pomp and celebration, but with an OB-GYN-pediatrician mohel. On the eighth day of life, the day of the bris and the eighth day of Hanukkah, the baby received a clean bill of health and was discharged from the hospital. It was the most memorable Hanukkah ever for me as well is the best present I have ever received—a healthy baby who could go home and take his place with the rest of the family.”
Port resident Judy Feuss teaches music and directs the chorus at Farmingdale’s Northside Elementary School and is the new director of music and organist at Church of Our Savior Lutheran in Manhasset. Here she shares a family story that should leave you smiling: “When I was growing up in El Dorado, Kansas, we would have oyster stew every year on Christmas Eve. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an oyster in El Dorado, Kansas? I absolutely hated oyster stew. One day, I asked my mother why in the world we would have oyster stew on Christmas Eve. My mother said that when she was a little girl they were gathered around the table on Christmas Eve. They bowed their heads for a blessing before the meal, praying as a family that Uncle Theron would return home, as he was in the U.S. Army in the trenches of France fighting in World War I. As they were praying, there was a knock on the door and in walked Uncle Theron! The meal that they were sharing was oyster stew. From that Christmas on, oyster stew was always on the table on Christmas Eve, in grateful remembrance of their prayers being answered and Uncle Theron being spared.”
I’m a clam eater myself, but I’ll eat oysters Christmas Eve in the hope that it will bring home someone else’s uncle or aunt or nephew or brother or sister or son or daughter who wears the uniform of our Armed Forces. Enjoy the holidays and don’t forget to give thanks that you live in a country where no one can make you eat oysters if you don’t want to.