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I have found it hard this season to come up with a proper Christmas column.

While there’s a memory from my childhood that will always linger, I can’t say that it was as cathartic as many would think it would be, but nevertheless one that perhaps best defines the evolution of my feelings of the Christmas season.

As we were preparing for the annual decorating on the last Christmas my father would be with us, I saw him sitting on the attic landing sobbing like I had never seen him sob before.

I had a brother I only knew from pictures and stories and my father had found the funeral registry, the sympathy cards and obituary clippings from what was the most tragic day in my parents’ life.

They had lost a son at the tender age of 6 only a short time before his seventh birthday.

It struck me how deeply his death impacted both of my parents and my mother still has difficulty talking about it today.

For me, it has always been that void of never knowing what it would have been like to have a big brother, someone that I could have looked up to and someone that perhaps could have helped guide me through the growing pains of my early teen years, someone who could have helped coax me out of my shell because, believe it or not, I was a relatively shy kid who often found it difficult to speak my mind.

It wasn’t to be, however, and James Lee Martin was taken away long before I could have a chance to know him. His death left me only with photos of a smiling, bright-eyed kid, a kid who my mom said was compassionate at even his early age — a trait she believes was passed on to me.

Relating this to Christmas has been difficult but for the past few weeks the memory of my father sitting on the landing of the attic has been burned into my psyche.

That April he died, leaving a void in my life and my mother’s.

What he left for me, then a 15-year-old boy, was possibly the greatest Christmas and life gift a person could ever have — a passion for history, a passion for nature, a passion for reading, and a passion for knowledge, although sometimes my passion for knowledge includes bits and pieces of trivia that only satisfy my curiosity and no one else.

Perhaps in relating this defining moment of my life to Christmas, I can say over the years it made me a spartan person, never really wanting anything in the time following his death and that many of the things I needed I could get on my own. 

I can’t even remember what I got that Christmas because those things became trivial.

I think deep down all I wanted was to be the best son I could be for my mom who had to take on the dual role of mother and father.

There were times I know I fell short of that and I won’t go into detail, especially a time in my mid 20s, but I never stopped respecting the person she had to become in the wake of my father’s death and the pain she endured when she lost a son at such an early age.

Although many in our family have passed on, although many are spread across the country and although even the local dynamics have changed this year and my cousin in Murfreesboro has decided to live abroad with his wife and my cousin here has to work, I think I have come to see no matter how small your Christmas celebration might be, what the most important thing is you try to hold your family close.

I believe in the words of Dr. Seuss when he wrote of the Grinch, “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

I think that for me the true meaning of the season is that I don’t need things, that I don’t want people spending their hard-earned money on me.

I just need to know I have family and I have friends. Fortunately, I have both.

As the angel Clarence wrote in his copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer he gave George Bailey as a gift in It’s a Wonderful Life,  "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends."

To my mother, I love you, to my brother, I will always wonder what it would have been like, and to my father, as much I hated seeing you in pain that day, I thank you for the way it helped me to shape my views of Christmas.

And to you, all the readers of rrspin, I wish you all a merry Christmas — Lance Martin