One Foot in Front of the Other by Sharon O’Donnell

It’s been a long time since I have blogged, but I thank Robin for keeping me around so that I can still express things here.

Growing up in Raleigh, NC  in the 1960s and ‘70s, I have many memories of hot summer days at the outdoor Pullen Park pool, feeding peanuts to the pigeons at Capitol Square, checking out books downtown at the Olivia Raney library, and going to Kurt Russell Disney movies at the Cardinal Theater in North Hills. But no memory equates with that of going to the Christmas parade in downtown Raleigh at nighttime where the lights and the pageantry were magical to me.  I always went with my best friend, Tina, and both of us always loved the reverberation of the bass drums of the marching bands signaled the impending arrival of the band. It was the epitome of excitement for two seven-year-old girls.

Back then, presents and Santa Claus were of course, a big part of Christmas, but that wasn’t what I remember most.  What I remember most vividly about being a child at Christmas was the way I felt.  It was the atmosphere around me complete with candles, Christmas trees, and good things on the stove that Mama cooked every year for the holidays. It was warmness I felt when I was with friends and family, or even with strangers when we walked the sidewalks of Cameron Village.  It was the feeling I got in my soul at church where we sang Silent Night and lit candles on Christmas Eve. Corny as it sounds, the magic was the feeling of goodwill that people expressed to each other; it was palpable to me.  And being out of school for two weeks didn’t hurt either.

There were no DVDs or Netflix, so if we wanted to watch Rudolph or Charlie Brown, we had to be home to watch it at a specific time that one night, and then it would be gone again until the next year.  The rarity of it made it even more special. We couldn’t rewind and watch it again, so we kids had to savor it during the brief time the show was on.  And savor the shows we did. The favorite show for Tina and me was “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, which was based on the iconic song about Kris Kringle, but the show added a lot to the story, explaining how this man started giving out toys and how he became Santa.  There is one song in it called, “Put One Foot in Front of the Other”, in which Kris Kringle shows the Winter Warlock who wants to change his evil ways that reaching that goal is possible, that it’s like learning to walk:  you just have to put one foot in front of the other, take some small steps, then walk across the floor, and then suddenly you’ll be out the door.  It was an uplifting message of determination and endurance. The lyrics and tune always captivated us, and Tina and I would sing and act out the song (and the writer in me would be remiss if I didn’t say a special thank you to the composer, Maury Laws and the lyricist , Jules Bass).  Wanting to be able to listen to that song all year long and not just at Christmas, I recorded it one year on a cassette tape that is probably still in a closet somewhere at my parents’ house. I listened to it repeatedly.

I loved sharing those times with my friend Tina.  When she and her husband moved to Florida several decades ago, I knew I’d miss her.  But we saw each other when she visited her parents here and when my family went down to Disney.  Tina and I didn’t see each other often, but truly, whenever we did, it was just as if time had never passed. We have always been so comfortable with each other, so at home. Even though a lot of time has gone by and we live in separate places now, she and I both still recall and cherish special memories of our childhood. We spent many good times at each other’s houses, and our parents were good friends too. Naturally, Tina and I grew to love and treasure each other’s parents. She and her family have always been a part of my life and yes, a part of my Christmas.  Through the years, I’d tell Tina that I missed her all the time, but especially at this time of year.

Last year right after Thanksgiving, Tina’s sweet mother passed away. This year a few days after Thanksgiving, her beloved father died. Anytime you lose a parent is tough, but this time of year is said to be especially challenging to cope with losing someone so close, someone who was such a major part of all those holiday memories.  I’ve felt the loss of each of them too. During the past year, I’ve sent Tina texts when I see things that reminded me of her mom. At Christmas, there is an emptiness to the carols, an aching amidst the celebration.  I’ve been inspired by the strength of Tina and her siblings as they’ve said good-bye to their mom and dad in consecutive years during the holiday season. They have handled it all with faith and grace, with smiles, with hugs. They were good to their parents and were blessings to them. Yet, I knew they were hurting deeply dealing with the absence of their parents.  At their father’s funeral, I prayed for them to find comfort and peace and for God to help them move on. Then I watched as Tina strode with her husband across the soggy cemetery ground after the graveside service, putting one foot in front of the other. I knew she’d be okay.


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