Thursday, December 31, 2020

Christmas at the end of the road in the middle of nowhere


Since childhood, I’d listened to Christmas music by the hour, so in Lomalinda I felt blue about having to do without it. But our radio lab guys came to the rescue. They broadcast Christmas music throughout our center, which we picked up on the radio at home by wrapping our phone cord around our radio antenna. Ingenious.


My sweet mother-in-law had mailed us felt-and-sequin Christmas stocking kits for me to make for the kids. What fun! We had no other decorations—we’d made tough decisions about what to squeeze into our luggage—so I asked my mom to send a small piece of green felt which I planned to craft into some kind of Christmas tree. I imagined it would turn out sad, even pathetic, but it was the best I could do.


Then one day Marge Krikorian—bless her heart!—arrived at our back door with a few Christmas decorations and an artificial tree, twenty-four inches tall. My heart soared. Friends, relatives, and supporters from back home in Seattle sent us tiny gifts to put under the tree for our first Christmas separated from loved ones.


Lomalinda’s people knew loneliness and isolation. They knew how it felt to say goodbye to family for years at a time, to leave homeland and traditions and familiar culture, and to spend holidays and birthdays far from home. And that’s why Marge helped us. I’ve always remembered her thoughtfulness so many years ago.


December 21, 1976

Dear Mom and Dad,

Saturday Dave borrowed a motorbike and drove the two of us to the nearest town, Puerto Lleras. I’d heard things about it that led me to expect the worst, but it turned out to be better than I imagined. The place wasn’t a Northgate shopping mall—selection was minimal, as was quality—but it was more than I’d seen in four months. I bought a piece of fabric for Dave to give me for Christmas, and Dave bought a gold felt hat for the kids to give him. That’s the way we’re shopping this year.

Art Florer, one of Dave’s fellow teachers, joined us for Christmas Eve dinner and then we walked to the auditorium for a cantata performed by Wes and Mary Ann Syverson’s group. They had created elaborate decorations and lighting, and we enjoyed the professional sound of those talented men and women.

Afterward, we walked to Howie and Shirley Bowman’s home for a small gathering. Howie asked each of us to share memories of a special Christmas from the past. His question made me homesick, yet I knew that in the future if someone asked about a special Christmas from my past, I’d tell them about our evening with the Bowmans and our Lomalinda “family.”

Gladys and Rich Janssen invited us to join their family for dinner on Christmas Day and asked me to bring a gelatin salad. The thermometer in the cool end of our house read 104 degrees. We lived close to the Janssens, only around the corner, but even so, that salad started melting before we arrived.

That Christmas was different from all others, yet friends surrounded our young family. In the years since then, I’ve recognized that no matter where we are, whether it’s a “white Christmas” or a blistering one, whether with family or not, we can still celebrate it. (from chapter 16, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir)



  1. This is Gladys! I use my middle name, Ruth, for my blog. I'm planning to get your book. I found out about it a while back and last night Dan and Jakob were over and we got to talking about you having written a book. Dan said you had a blog so I decided to check it out. I didn't expect to see my name in your post! I don't remember having you over for dinner but might have mentioned it in my letter home which I will check. I still haven't written my memories about our time in Colombia, although I plan to. I have had a quilting blog since 2008.

    1. Gladys! Wonderful to hear from you, especially with this week's post being about your lovely invitation to join your family on Christmas Day! I was so grateful for your thoughtfulness. I applaud you for wanting to write a memoir about your time in Colombia. A lot of us would love to read it. I blog about how to write memoirs at I'll check out your quilting blog. Happy New Year to you and your family!


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