I woke early on those cold winter mornings, the jangling alarm clock wrestling me from blissful Christmas dreams. As the rest of the family slept, I pulled on my wool socks and long underwear, topped off with snow pants and thick blue coat, and quickly left the warmth of our house into the chill of morning, a lonely paperboy making my early-morning rounds.
On the particular morning of my memory, snow had fallen overnight, a marshmallow blanket covering the ground, undisturbed but for the soft footprints of a cat on her nightly rounds. The glow and sparkle of streetlights and Christmas lights reflected off the snow, but the sky overhead was dark.
In the distance brave early risers were attempting the drive toward work, their engines gunning and tires slipping on ice-covered hills. Otherwise, the crunch, crunch, crunch of my boots breaking through the crust of snow was all I could hear. It was a silent night; it was a holy night.
At the end of our street, I turned a corner by the cemetery, my breath visible in the frigid air, my fingers growing numb. Digging into my pocket, I pulled out the Walkman knockoff I had recently purchased with paper route earnings. The foam headphones fit snugly over my head and music filled my ears.
This was the year of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” This was the latter stage of the Cold War. As a Seattle Post-Intelligencer paperboy, I would soon be delivering the important headlines and holiday advertisements to doorsteps around the neighborhood. People just now waking up and turning on their coffee pots were waiting for me, so I walked on through the snow, cutting a trail across the virgin wonderland.
Still, my mind was elsewhere. Snow meant snow days. I tuned my radio to a news station where announcements were being made about school closures. School by school, the news anchor named the places that were delayed or closed due to treacherous roads. In the dark I darted across Bothell Way, avoiding what little traffic there was, ready to start my route but intently listening, waiting to hear.
Our school was near the end of the alphabet. I threw my first paper onto an apartment porch, expertly landing it on the welcome mat. Still waiting to hear. Morning light began to cross the horizon as I continued down the street, tossing paper after paper, careful to place them in a dry spot. It was the Christmas season, the season of tips, further motivation to keep customers happy.
One time through the list, and no mention of our school. Down the street, my delivery sack growing lighter with each house. Before long, the last paper was handed to a customer waiting at his door, and with a “Merry Christmas!” I turned toward home. The radio announcer was making his way through the list a third time.
Snow started to fall again. The sky was growing lighter. The new day was dawning. Then, the announcement came. School was cancelled. The joy and excitement felt like the lightness of the empty delivery sack thrown over my shoulder. It was almost Christmas, snow was falling, and school was cancelled. There could be no better news for a teenage boy on a cold Seattle morning.
That day would later include sledding, hot chocolate, snowball fights, and too much television, but for the moment I walked toward home, reversing my early-morning reverie. Entering our house, I found the lights of our Christmas tree aglow and my father reading his Bible over breakfast, preparing to go to work. Cold weather meant bursting pipes, which was good for his pool business. I wished him a happy day and headed back to my room, changed back into my pajamas, and slipped into bed for a long, warm, winter nap.
On behalf of the churches on the Key Peninsula, I wish you all a joyous Christmas, whether or not it snows. May happy memories warm your heart and the light of life illuminate your path. If you are looking for company, consider yourself invited to join us on Christmas Eve or throughout the season. Wherever and however this season finds you, may you have a Merry Christmas and a blessed new year.
Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.
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