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A Christmas memory

By Mike Ruffin I was born in 1958, so most of my childhood occurred during the 1960s. Each Christmas Day in that decade followed a set schedule. First, I would wake up very early in our little house on Memorial Drive in Barnesville. The house rule was that I had to wake my parents up before going into the living room to see what Santa Claus had brought me. This was so my father could arm himself with his Brownie 8mm movie camera, equipped with its panel of spotlights, to film the spectacle. We would then enter the place of wonder, where I would receive the first installment of my Christmas bounty. Second, we would get dressed and go to the home of whichever Abbott was hosting my mother’s family’s Christmas celebration. If we were hosting it, we’d get dressed and stay home. After enjoying a delicious Christmas lunch, we’d open presents, and I would receive the second installment of my Christmas bounty. Third, we would drive the 10 or so miles to Yatesville, where we would slide into the Ruffin family’s Christmas celebration that was already well underway at MawMaw and PawPaw’s house. We’d open presents, and I would receive the third installment of my Christmas bounty. By late in the afternoon, I was antsy to get home so I could play with all the stuff I’d had to leave there that morning. We’d say our goodbyes to whatever Ruffins remained and get in the car. Then Mama would say, ‘Now Mike, we have to go see Mr. and Mrs. Lashley before we go home. Be sure to thank them for the gift they’ll give you.’ We’d go spend a little while with that elderly couple. They were nice. They would indeed give me a present, and they’d exchange presents with my parents. I noticed that they seemed particularly happy to see my mother. At some point – I don’t recall how many times we visited them before I wondered enough to inquire – I asked my father why we went to visit Mr. and Mrs. Lashley. Somewhere along the line I had heard about my mother having been engaged to a fellow named Buster before she married my father. Buster was killed in France in the days following the Normandy invasion, so he and my mother never married. When I asked about Mr. and Mrs. Lashley, my father said, ‘Do you remember hearing about your mother’s fiancé, Buster? He was Buster Lashley. Mr. and Mrs. Lashley are his parents.’ I’m sure I responded with something deep, like, ‘How about that’ or ‘Huh.’ But I’ve given it more thought over the years. I’ve thought about a woman, who happened to be my mother, and her husband visiting the parents of the man she was once going to marry. I think about them doing so two decades after he died. I assume they had been doing so every year since they got married in 1946. I think about how as they chatted in the early evening on those Christmas Days, they must have all thought, at least a little, about what might have been, but wasn’t, and about what might not have been, but was. I wonder if Mr. and Mrs. Lashley sat there thinking, ‘It could have been Sara and Buster. We wish it had been.’ I wonder if they also thought, ‘We’re glad it’s Sara and Champ.’ I wonder if all of them thought about how the horrible and the wonderful, the painful and the blissful, and the losses and the gains exist side-by-side in this life, and how if you’ll just hold on, hoping, trusting, and trying, putting one foot in front of the other, it will all somehow, someway, work out in the long run. I don’t know if they all thought about any of that. But I, the son of Champ and Sara Ruffin, who could not have existed had they not married, sure do think about it. Mike Ruffin is a Barnesville native who lives in Yatesville and works in Macon. His latest book (co-authored with Judson Edwards), A Savior to Serve, is available at nextsunday.com/studies/a-savior-to-serve.

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