Friday, January 12, 2018

Marvel Stephen's Christmas story

12/20/17 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

It’s tradition! For nearly 20 years it has been my pleasure to tell an old-fashioned Christmas story in the month of December. It brings joy to my heart to share how generations past celebrated this sacred holiday. Money was usually scarce, gifts were homemade and there were no glitzy shopping centers to buy “stuff.” It was all about family and church—and the birth of Jesus was the reason for the celebration.

I vividly remember the inspiration for one of those first columns. Her name was Marvel Stephen. She wrote me a note asking if I would be interested in one of her stories that had just been published in a Christmas edition of Country Woman magazine. Of course, I was interested and an appointment was made.

 Sitting quietly in her tidy living room, Marvel Stephen, then 82 years old, exuded a serene peace and dignity that is often absent in today’s world. She was born in Montana, but grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho. She married Sandy Stephen and they moved to the Cottage Grove area in 1943.

 Her voice reflected a past that had seen both joy and pain. She had fond childhood memories of riding into town on her bicycle to get groceries in the 1920s.  She loved being a mother but later she suffered through years of being treated for lymphoma with massive doses of chemo and prednisone. Sandy then began a downward slide into what she described as “a nightmare disease—Alzheimer’s.” He passed on and she was living alone but said, “This is a nice time.”

So how did she get to be a writer? Well, as an only child living way out in the country, Marvel loved to read, and hoped to be a writer. But when a high school teacher asked her to be editor of the school paper, she “couldn’t be bothered.” She was too busy. Later, as a wife and mother of two she was still too busy.

She was the leader of her daughter’s Brownie Troop when she learned that the mother of her daughter’s best friend had won $5,000 in a cake-naming contest. “So,” she said, “I called her and she told me how she did it.”  It turns out that there was money to be made in contests that extolled the attributes of a name brand product in 25 words or less.

Marvel thought it sounded easy, and she started entering contests.  “It was a long time before I won anything. Local contests were the easiest. A group of us got together and encouraged one another. It was a lot of fun. The biggest prize that I ever won was a statement about a mattress. I won a trip for two to Miami Beach!”

When we met, she was long retired as a weekly columnist for the Dead Mountain Echo newspaper in Oakridge. Farm Life News had published her first story and she was still writing for magazines. Here’s one of her favorite heartfelt Christmas stories that happened about 90 years ago: 

"The year Papa decided I should learn to ski, deep snows covered the land, the buildings, even the towering trees on our small farm.
Our rustic house was bursting with excitement and activity. Christmas was only a few weeks away.

 "December's early sunsets urged us to finish our chores and supper fast so we could get to work on our Christmas gifts. Having recently mastered the art of making French knots, I chose to embroider dish towels cut from flour sacks. Mother was tatting lovely lace to trim her presents and Papa was creating a pair of skis for me. Working close together in our cozy kitchen made it impossible not to be aware of what each other was making — but we were clever at pretending we didn't know what they were doing.

 "No one mentioned anything about Papa crafting skis for me, but I knew what he was doing."

Her story goes on to describe the excitement of Christmas morning. New skis! She was so excited. Sadly, the homemade skis were a failure! Somehow, the tips of the skis had straightened out and instead of gliding down the slopes Marvel tumbled down the slopes. Her Papa was embarrassed and he apologized profusely,

Marvel remembered sighing, "Oh, Papa. This is the best Christmas I've ever had. I wanted to say more as I put my small mittened hand in his large gloved one, but I couldn't find the words to tell him he'd already given the greatest gift of all...his love."

After all these years, love, gratitude and understanding are the best gifts of the season. May they bless your heart, mind and soul.

Merry Christmas to one and all! 


Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.