An AltOhio Christmas

​Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Neighbors

Dylan Sonderman
​Christmas Eve of 2002, that’s the one I remember best. I spent the evening at a wonderful little party with my immediate relatives and my extended family. Well, my immediate relatives and my neighbors, my friends from down the street, and their sweet and caring parents. I was 12 years old.

From the children’s perspectives, including my own, the party was a merry affair. Myself, my younger sister, the three brothers who were my friends, and other kids from the block that we all liked, just having a great time. We ran up and down the stairs with red and green spaceships made from Legos.  We drank egg nog and ate cream puffs and bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. We played video games in the cozy unfinished basement on a flickering old television that didn’t look like it should have been compatible with a Playstation. All was bright and beautiful. My pre-teen cares were completely forgotten in pursuit of immediate joy.

Viewing this get-together through the haze of memory, I know my take on what the adults were doing has warped with time. I remember people drinking wine. Lots of wine and laughter. I remember people stepping outside, coming and going, exchanging hugs, gifts, and boisterous conversation. And I remember that my mom and dad were a part of it, together. My friends’ parents took special care to talk with me and make me feel welcome. Even as I write this, at twice the age I was at the party, I love and respect that neighbor family. And they feel the same. They look out for me, just like they did back then. I didn’t know half of the shit-storm that was brewing behind the scenes. I didn’t know my parents were actually speeding down the road to divorce. But our neighbors did, and they helped shelter my sister and me from it. For which I’m still grateful.

My immediate family left the party early and managed to drag me with them, though not without my resistance. Unbeknownst to me, mom and dad had gift wrapping to do that night, so Santa would still arrive on time. I could tell the next morning by how groggy they were, even if they thought I didn’t notice. I appreciated the gifts all the same, but felt their unease and made it my own.

Though my presents were thoughtful and made me very happy at the time, it could’ve been a very different Christmas were it not for our family friends. My parents had been separated for the majority of the year. Their reconciliation in mid-December meant my dad had moved back in. I really had hope that everything was back in its right place, and with some helping hands, I held onto this belief that goodness could win out, despite everything. Thanks to the support of those kind souls, who could have been just polite, detached neighbors and no one would have thought less of them, the dim warmth of Christmas spirit stayed alive for me during a rather difficult time.