Lakewood, A Half-Century Ago: The Christmas Walk...
I'm not sure if there's any more peaceful time known to humankind than the quiet walk to church on Christmas Eve that Mom and I took each year. We walked down to church to join Dad, who was already there, directing the youth choir.
As walks go, it wasn't a very long one; just down Rosewood Avenue, across Detroit Avenue, and over to the Lakewood United Methodist Church. In the span of a lifetime, those walks generally only took about fifteen or twenty minutes. More often than not, there was simply the quiet crunching of our metal-strapover gumboots on the crystalline snow that shown like shimmering diamonds in the glow of those old frost-covered streetlamps; having their light interspersed by the shadows cast from those huge tree-lawn elms, arching ever Heavenward. The elms' V-like giant branches formed a natural cathedral of wonderment. Rosewood itself took on a surreal, holy, other-worldly quality, as childhood imaginations took flight on that Sacred Night of nights.
Sometimes too, we would be joined by neighbors on our pilgrimage down that street. Sometimes, we would all sing carols together. At the intersection of Detroit, some of those neighbors would turn left, for destinations like St. James, or Trinity Lutheran. Others stayed with us, and made the trip across the street to Lakewood Methodist. Sometimes, we walked in the footprints of others. Sometimes, especially with us kids, we made new pathways of our own, and not always on the sidewalks, of course. The mounds of snow at the ends of the driveways became our own little mountain range to conquer. All too often, by the time we arrived at church, we had wet trouser legs well above the height of our 8 inch gumboots, and we could have cared less too. Sometimes, we lost our balance, and ended up fidgeting through our beautiful, but always extra-long church services, with very soggy, itchy, wet, cold behinds.
Such was Lakewood life, on that timeless Holy Night.
Us kids did not always understand the "Glorias" and "Hallelujahs" back then either. We retained very little of those serious sermons and Scripture readings, but there were those bits and pieces...
Bits and pieces? Oh yeah....
I remember very few toys that I ever received for Christmas, but I do remember those bits and pieces...something about a Savior being born this day in the City of David...something else about peace on earth, and goodwill, and these remembrances cause me to wonder sometimes...
Is our world...is Lakewood, for example, still that loving place where people of faith can joyfully walk down a street on Christmas Eve, and then each proceed to their own house of worship? Do people even WALK down a street on Christmas Eve anymore, particularly on that timeless journey to the church of their choice? Would they even recognize their childhood church if they decided to return to it? For that matter, is their church even functioning anymore? For many in Lakewood, that answer would unfortunately be "no"...and for those who still make that Christmas walk, do they continue to speak with others on their way, or do they simply and hurriedly shuffle along, lost in their own private thoughts? Has "church" simply become an automatic tradition, or some guilt-inspired historic obligation for many? I surely hope not.
The last time the neighbors and I tried old-fashioned street caroling on our own street, for example, almost no one came to their doors to listen...Talk about your tree falling in the forest? Even the elms are long gone, as soon will be the ash trees that replaced them. Elm disease and ash borers insured that future arboreal tree-lawn canopies above our streets will be long in coming, if ever again.
...and yet....still...What is so different, really, between now... and my halcyon memories of Lakewood's Christmas Eve, a half-century ago? Kids still play in those snow drifts on the way to church. That Sacred Night is no less so, and the message that night brings continues to be a timeless offer of hope and renewal. Back then, as now, our youngsters continue to learn that we need to treat EVERYONE with peace and love.
That message was once very much in our hearts, as we walked within the natural elm-covered cathedral that was Rosewood Avenue.
May it ever remain so.
Merry Christmas, from our home...to yours!