Merry Christmas to All

… and to All a Good Night!

By Jeff Salter

          It’s Christmas Day and I find myself recalling Christmases many years ago. [I wrote this column three years ago and don’t think I can improve on it.]
          Perhaps my most vivid childhood Christmas memories were consecutive years when I was in Elementary School. For probably three or four years, my family drove to Mandeville [La.] to tour the wards of the Southeast Louisiana [Mental] Hospital and sing Christmas carols to the patients. On Christmas Eve.

Preacher’s kid
I should explain. My Dad was Protestant Chaplain at SoLoHo and he organized the hospital staff and their families to do this for their patients. He’d mimeographed selected carols into slender song books and my recollection is that almost all the staff (not on duty) – from the top administrators to the housekeeping teams – participated eagerly.
After congregating somewhere in the facility, we all toured every ward (except, probably, the most dangerous) and sang a few carols in each. Some of the patients joined in. But some just sat or stood … and watched. Whether they participated or merely listened, I believe even the most medicated patients knew what was going on … and likely appreciated it.
Remember, the late 1950s was well before the massive deinstitutionalization of mental patients — some of those individuals may have been hospitalized for many years. It’s possible some of them had never experienced a ‘regular’ Christmas with a ‘typical’ family.
I no longer recall how many other children were caroling with us – my younger sister and older brother and me – but I’m sure there were several because I remember some of the ‘staff children’ in other contexts.

            Some time prior to one of these caroling episodes, we learned that my Dad’s keester had been kicked by a patient. It was not completely uncommon for hospital staff to be accosted by some of the more agitated patients … though most were reasonably behaved when we were present. However, that business of being kicked-in-the-keester rose alarms with my older brother and me. At his suggestion – and with my full concurrence – as we caroled in each ward that evening, my brother and I kept our backs glued to the walls. Nobody was going to sneak up behind us!

            At the end of at least one of these caroling episodes on the wards, we also went from house to house – on the hospital’s fenced and gated grounds – to several small brick cottages where certain staff lived with their families. At some of these, we were invited in for refreshments. [I assume, now, that this was pre-arranged … but at the time it always surprised me.]

The Remains of the Eve
            I don’t remember the ‘clock’ aspects of this experience. It was always dark when we got home, but I’m not sure when we started. Many of the patients were in robes and what looked like PJs, so it may have been evening when we got there. Or, perhaps those patients wore robes and PJs most of the time. Not sure.
Anyway, once we got home from caroling each Christmas Eve night, my Mom made hot cocoa. Not poured from an envelope into boiling water. This was the good stuff: whole milk warmed in a sauce-pan on the stove … with rich, powdered Hershey’s cocoa mixed in. And I think she added sugar, since the Hershey’s was for baking. However she prepared it, that cocoa is still the best-tasting hot chocolate I can remember over a span of six decades so far.
After hot cocoa was served, we gathered around our family tree in the living room and opened our Christmas presents.

Meant quite a lot
            As I said, these caroling ventures at the mental hospital were undertaken “for the patients” … but I firmly believe it meant quite a lot to the staff and their families. As I phrased it in my 1983 account of those childhood years: “… the experience was as warming to our hearts as the cocoa was to our tummies when we got home.”
I hope I never forget that warm feeling … or the true reason for this season. Merry Christmas to everyone … and May God Bless You!

Other Christmas columns:

If you’re still in the Christmas mood, take a look at these other columns from years past, in which I reveal both my FAVORITE gifts… and the WEIRDEST I remember receiving.

From Christmas 2012
Some of my favorite Christmas gifts:

From Christmas 2013
Some of my weirdest Christmas gifts:

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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11 Responses to Merry Christmas to All

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I know the people you sang to got a warm feeling in their tummies, too! Great memories, Jeff. Merry Christmas to you and yours, too.


    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Patty. Even back then, as a kid, I had an awareness of the importance of what we were doing. Of course, I was probably also a bit bummed that our gift-opening had to WAIT til afterwards!


  2. What a wonderful memory and such a meaningful tradition. Merry Christmas Jeff!


  3. I don’t tire of reading these memories,Jeff.Lovely Christianity in action. I hope the Salter clan has a wonderful Christmas!


  4. jbrayweber says:

    What a lovely story, Jeff. Those are memories worth sharing, too. To remind us of the meaning, and to spread cheer to all around us. Merry Christmas, Jeff, to you and yours.



  5. Maureen Sheane Sexton says:

    I remember your father and the caroling at SELH. It meant a lot to patients and staff. I know because I was a nurse working there.. Your father was kind and considerate. Nice to think of those days again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      thank you for your kind words, Maureen. I know he loved his job there and was very upset when he had to leave and take a similar job in Iowa.


  6. Pingback: Different Kind of Christmas | Four Foxes, One Hound

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