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12-19-2019 Letters and Commentary

MERRY CHRISTMAS… I hope this Christmas Holiday finds you among your loved ones and that the peace of the season is with you always.


This is the 43rd year I have published my Christmas column as being a part of the Bayer Christmas tradition.

Every year I seriously consider not printing it. When I express doubt as to running it again, I get responses from folks asking that I keep the tradition going. From family members and friends alike, all expressed that their own holiday memories were stimulated by my story.

This is close to the original written in 1976, as my first Christmas column as assistant editor of the Capac Journal. As it happens, it is also the only Christmas column I have ever written. With a few annual changes, this column just works for me. Now having grandkids Willy, Karli, Ben, Elaina, Zoya, Polly, Evie, Eli, and Kendall to share those memories and to create new ones is something truly wonderful.

Over the past three years, a new generation has been started in our Karl & Anne Bayer clan. Jaxon, nearly 2 years old, and his 3-year-old brother William Harold Loshbough V are the newest babies celebrating with us at Christmas. The family is also gladdened by the news our granddaughter Karlianne is engaged to Tyler Burbach.

After all, what is Christmas without being surrounded by children, family, and friends?

My own warm, bittersweet memories of Mom and Dad; my father-in-law, Nubbs; dearest mother-in-law Elaine; and the kids and family get-togethers on Christmas morning blend with those that were in my heart when I wrote that column 43 years ago as a young father looking forward to Christmas with my kids and thinking of my Christmases past as a youngster.

From that burgeoning Chris and Margaret Bayer family of 13 children, now there are more than 290 happy souls; husbands and wives, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandkids and great-grandkids. Our happiness in welcoming new babies and spouses to the family is mingled with the sorrow of missing those who are gone. The painful remembering of their passing, hopefully, will be lessened by the recollection of the joy, love, and good times they always shared with us. R.I.P. Mom and Dad, Nubbs and Elaine, Marian, Doug, Joan, Joe, Greg, John, Steve, Rosie, Bob, Silky (Dennis), Steve Trottier and recently, brother in-law LeRoy and nephew Doug Trottier.

I hope you get some enjoyment from this column and that it evokes your own warm memories of those with whom you have shared this family and holy day… Christmas.


This is the most exciting time of the year for the little Bayer “cubs.” “How many days to Christmas?” they ask. “Is it Christmas yet? Is Christmas Jesus’ birthday? Is it today after church?”

My own favorite childhood memories of that time are the deliciously long-drawn-out hours and minutes leading up to Christmas. Then there’s that greatest time of all, Christmas morning.

As one of 13 children occupying a five-bedroom house, my childhood memories are jumbled together with the sights and sounds of living with a large family. Those memories have become a composite of many experiences; if not happening directly to me, they’ve become a part of me in the retelling of the stories.

On Christmas Eve, there were my older sisters squabbling over use of the bathroom before Midnight Mass; my older brothers would be mysteriously busy in the basement, assembling and making toys like elves. Mom and Dad’s bedroom door was kept locked; from every nook and cranny of that room peaked bits of wrapping paper and ribbon; and one never ventured to look in the trunk of Dad’s car, for we knew that’s where many of the gifts were kept.

In our house, most family gatherings centered in the huge kitchen; that’s where Mom was, always at the stove or sink.

Christmas was the exception… that’s the day the living room was the scene of all the action. That’s where we all collected and where all of our memories were created.

The woodwork about the mantle over the fireplace and the bookshelves alongside it were festooned with greeting cards of prayers and best wishes. On the mantle itself was the nativity set laid out with plaster-of-Paris figurines, a straw manger, and a three-legged cow; somewhere off to the left, hidden behind a line of graduation pictures, the Magi waited for the cue to appear on January 6, the Epiphany.

In the corner of the long living room, up near the front windows, stood the tree… oh, that tree… Dad would go out on a Saturday morning, perilously close to “that day,” and return home with the biggest, greenest, prettiest tree in the world. He would let it lean against the back of the house for a day or two, “for the branches to drop.” He’d cut off a couple inches of the trunk and affix the stand to it by a nail.


When the time came to decorate the tree, it was a family affair. First, the top came off, to be decorated by us small ones and then placed atop the piano. Meanwhile, the big tree would be trimmed and wound in electric lights. Next come the small ornaments placed at the top, with larger ones placed on toward the bottom.

Then Mom would unwrap her special ornaments – old, dull pieces of thin glass, plumed birds, and tiny snowflakes; mom’s memories… a bit from her mother; an aunt or uncle; one from her first tree as a married woman; one from a friend during the war; and so on.

Lastly, the tinsel was added; long strips of thin metal-like stuff to be draped over the ends of branches and lower limbs. Never mind it got tangled up in a big ball; pop it in your mouth and enjoy the weird taste next to your teeth. It didn’t matter an older sister came behind and rearranged the clumps you left on the branches. When the job was done, the tree was the world’s most beautiful.

The decorated tree in the living room was the signal Christmas was near. Other signs were a kitchen full of baked things, holiday music on the radio, and mysterious evening trips Mom and Dad made “to see a man about a dog.”

Finally, it’s the night before Christmas. We youngsters are tucked in our beds; the older ones get to stay up for Midnight Mass. Those put to bed have no visions of sugarplums; there’s too much excitement. We scurry from bed to bed, bedroom-to-bedroom… someone calls up the stairs, “Better get to sleep or Santa won’t come!”

The years Grandma Leib lived with us, she’d guard the stairs door to thwart our childish attempts to catch Santa in the act.

Eventually, sleep takes over; long waking hours are transformed to swiftly passing ticks of an unheard clock and we hear Dad call up the stairs, “Get up, Santa’s been here!” (One year, Santa even brought baby brother Stephen Christian Bayer.)

There, below the tree, along the walls, behind chairs and in front of the fireplace… piled, bunched, scattered, and artfully composed… were the gifts: games, clothes, bikes, microscopes, dolls, trains, perfume, boots, and books (gifts mostly new, some repainted just like new, all given with love) – ready to be passed out to all in the family.


But time, the children’s great cross to bear, marches inexorably through the Christmas tradition. First, we went to 9:15 Mass. Oh, how Father Laval Landry’s sermon seemed so long, the songs never ended, Communion never came; and, then, magically, we were heading for the doors and on to home!

Home to presents – but time’s tradition is again served. To pass out so many presents, Dad needs a good breakfast and we all must eat. Mother makes homemade waffles, fries pounds of bacon and dozens of eggs, toasts toast until the room smokes; and the faster we eat, the more Dad dawdles. That man spent more time on Christmas (we thought) eating breakfast than on any other day of the year.

Finally, with a twinkle in his eye, Dad draws the breakfast ritual to a close. He sits in his large chair near the tree, stretches his arms wide, scratches his ankle, and reaches for his morning newspaper.

A cry, the likes never heard since the fall of Jericho, erupts from big and small throats alike, causing him to drop the paper and, with his happiest grin, reach for the presents.

Swiftly and sure-handedly (who knows how he knew where to reach), he passes gifts to everyone. Each person has something to open. It is only for a split second (there’s that agonizing time again) that he hesitated before calling out a name on a present… Christine, Marge, Greg, John, Francis, Rosie, Paul, Karl, Babette, Jeanne, Steve, Liz, Richard, Mom, Grandma, Grandpa, and there’s even one for Dad.

Ah, memories… those kids around that tree have all grown; Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad are gone. Our family of 13 siblings has grown to more than 250 and the presents are scattered under Bayer Family Christmas trees from Michigan to Texas, California to St. Louis.

It takes the passage of time and children of our own to appreciate this happy day as it becomes a cherished memory for all of us… and who among any of us wouldn’t wish for a little of that time again.

God Bless you all! Have a very Merry Christmas!

Christmas mysteries There are some interesting mysteries about Jesus’ birth. Who were the wise men who saw the star “in the east”? Were they from the ancient “school of the prophets”, once associated with Daniel and his Persian counterparts? How many were there? And what was the star? Was it a “confluence” of two or more celestial bodies that appeared to move in the night sky? How did it apparently “stop” over the house where Mary and Jesus were? Was it a supernova? Or maybe an angel on special assignment? We may not need to know the answers, but the answers sure would be interesting. We do know that the wise men’s message to Herod was not well-received. Interesting that when he asked where the child was to be born, the religious leaders of the day knew exactly, but there is no record of their checking out Bethlehem themselves. They quoted a Messianic prophecy found in Micah 5:2 about insignificant Bethlehem being big in importance because it would produce the Messiah whose “goings forth were from long ago, from the days of eternity” (NASB). This was going to be a very special child. Another Micah prophecy even told where the announcement of the Messiah would be made. Micah 4:8 declares that deliverance would come from the “tower of the flock”, a physical location in the fields outside Bethlehem also mentioned in Genesis 35:20. This area could have been where the shepherds were watching their flocks the night of Jesus’ birth. That would put them in the right place at the right time! Even with the mysteries, John 3:16 clearly tells why we have Christmas. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. (NASB) Make sure you don’t miss opening God’s special gift to you this Christmas! Find out more at 800-NEED-HIM.

Help a loved one with Social Security The aged and people with disabilities may need extra assistance to manage their finances. If you have a loved one who needs your help, you may be able to become a representative payee. A representative payee receives the beneficiary’s payments and is given the authority to manage them on the beneficiary’s behalf. We recognize that turning someone’s finances over to someone else is a big deal so we make sure that the beneficiary needs the help and that you are the best person to offer that help. We may also monitor that you spend the benefits appropriately on behalf of the beneficiary. If we choose you to serve as a representative payee, that appointment is only to manage Social Security and SSI funds, not to manage non-Social Security money or medical matters. As a representative payee, you must know what the beneficiary’s needs are so you can decide the best use of benefits for their care and well-being. Each year, Social Security may ask you to complete an annual Representative Payee Report to account for the benefits you’ve received and spent on their behalf. You can either fill out the form and return it to Social Security or go online at payee to file the report. Due to a recent change in the law, we no longer require the following payees to complete the annual report: Natural or adoptive parents of a minor child beneficiary who primarily reside in the same household as the child; legal guardians of a minor child beneficiary who primarily reside in the same household as the child; natural or adoptive parents of a disabled adult beneficiary who primarily reside in the same household with the beneficiary; spouse of a beneficiary. We’ve also made it easier for caregivers who are representative payees to do business with us. If you’re a representative payee, check out our new Representative Payee Portal at, which lets representative payees conduct their own business or manage direct deposits, wage reporting, and annual reporting for their beneficiaries. Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at


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