December Evening With DadPosted December 20th, 2011
by Ken McFarland
True, it wasn’t one of the “big” stores, like those down the street—Montgomery Ward, say, or J. J. Newberry’s, or Western Auto—but the shelves of this cozy small place tucked away at the north end of Jackson Street filled my senses with what would become my first-ever clear memories of Christmas.
Christmas season, 1949. Roseburg, Oregon.
Through the creaky wood-floored aisles, courtesy of the store owner’s record player, wafted Bing Crosby’s warm baritone celebration of a “White Christmas.” And the 5-year-old logger’s kid who stared open-mouthed at the wondrous toys and lights and decorations on every hand still remembers the aroma of the giant Douglas fir in the corner, covered with tinsel and ornaments.
The Old Dodge and a New Ford
Parked outside was Dad’s ancient ’31 Dodge, as street lights illuminated the falling snow. On the way home, Dad parked a moment in front of the Ford dealership so we could gaze through the showroom window and marvel at the sleek, gleaming new ’49 Ford Custom, with its distinctive bullet-nosed grille. I could only imagine being rich enough to afford this magnificent car—but its base price of around $1,500 was so enormous I couldn’t even imagine that much money.
This same evening, Dad made one more stop before heading home. For the first time ever, he pulled into the lot of our town’s main fast-food place—the local Dairy Queen (“19-cent shakes . . . 25-cent hamburgers,” flashed the neon sign)—and ordered for us something neither my younger sis nor I had ever tasted before—a vanilla milkshake.
A glimpse of a brand-new Ford.
And now this!
Only 5 years old (well, closer to 6), and already I’d enjoyed the most awesome night of my entire life! Back home soon, I climbed into bed, lay awake a long time, and decided that Christmas just had to be the best time of the year.
That magical evening in 1949 is now a memory so warm and treasured that I’ve replayed it often through the years—a brief snapshot of a simpler, safer, more innocent time. For me, it would become the doorway into the “Happy Days” 50s, which would take me through my elementary school years and into the second year of high school. The 50s, too, were years of comparative innocence—a decade when values and morals were steady and conservative, when drug use and foul language were shocking rarities, and a new kind of music called rock-and-roll was considered scandalous—at least by many parents.
Since 1949, sixty-one Christmas seasons have come and gone—and a sixty-second is now underway. That warm cocoon of my 1950s childhood years recedes into a distant past. Now I have grandchildren both younger and older than I was on that snowy evening in my memory. Christmas 2011 is unfolding in a radically different world from the one my memory serves up from 1949.
Seismic change shook the world as the 1960s dawned: The continuing Cold War and Vietnam, the sexual revolution, widespread drug use, race riots and anti-war demonstrations, serial assassinations—JFK, MLK, and RFK, jet air travel, and a man on the moon.
Following decades would bring Watergate; wars so increasingly frequent as to become virtually institutionalized; the rise of computers and high-tech wonders such as the Internet, cell phones, and personal music players; space shuttles; unparalleled political corruption, polarization, and economic turmoil; terrorism and 9/11.
By comparing my world of sixty-two years ago with the one in which I’m now living, two things are immediately apparent: First, the sheer amount of change that has taken place is staggering. But second, even more staggering is that the rate of change is accelerating!
And it’s been more than four decades now since social scientist Alvin Toffler’s seminal book called Future Shock spoke of the dizzying disorientation brought on by “the premature arrival of the future”—of a world coming unglued as the pace of life accelerated dangerously out of control.
Well, that was before iPads and iPods and iPhones. Before nanoseconds—today’s slicing of a single second into one billion parts. Before voicemail and email and the Internet. Before GPS units and Facebook and streaming movies. Before cable TV and digital cameras and ATMs. Before the pace of life went really berserk.
As nostalgic as I may often become as I recall the world of my childhood Christmases, I cannot go back—those holiday seasons are now accessible only in memory. Christmas 2011 is arriving, and as it does I can only wonder what the world will be like when (and if) another sixty-two years have passed. What will Christmas 2073 be like for my then-aging grandchildren?
Of course, my hope and conviction is that this world will by then have long since yielded to a place called Heaven, and that no longer will any of us celebrate the birth of Jesus with the Honored Guest in absence. He will be with us forever, in person.
And that certain future reality reminds me of something I too often forget but so need to remember: The world around me may change as years and decades pass. In just my lifetime, the world around me has changed to the point it’s as if I’m no longer even on the same planet.
But Jesus never changes: “For I am the LORD, I do not change” Malachi 3:6, NKJV.
Ah—blessed stability! With Him, what I can count on today will still be there tomorrow, and another sixty-two years from now, and forever.
With Jesus, no more “dizzying disorientation” as the world around me spins so fast I can no longer keep up. With Jesus—though eternity will bring constant new discovery and growth—everything and everyone will be firmly anchored in the Unchanging One. “For in Him we live, and move, and have our being” Acts 17:28. With Jesus, what is true today is also true tomorrow. What we have today, we’ll not lose tomorrow as it’s replaced by something else.
Christmas 2011 finds so many of us frazzled and hurried and harried and stressed, and living on the raw edge of collapsing from exhaustion. Shopping in crowded malls, parking in crowded lots, running the security gauntlet at the airport, gift wrapping, meal making, tree decorating, card sending—the seasonal burden of it all leaves us weary.
Christmas 2011 also finds most of us suffering the devastating consequences—psychological, physical, social, spiritual, relational—of far too much change, coming too fast, with no relief in sight. We’ve lost any solid anchor. Marriages once were for life—now they’re “for a while.” Products once lasted decades—now they’re disposable, throw-away, and designed for early replacement. Stable values and morals and ethical standards now change with the seasons.
All the while, the Prince of Peace invites us to step off our madly accelerating holiday treadmills—and to reject this world’s ever-shifting sands for His solid, unchanging Rock. He invites us to adopt His own deliberate and calm and steady pace—a slower, quieter pace perhaps not unlike that of the world I savored on a leisurely, snowy, magic December evening in 1949.