12-22-2016 Letters and Commentary

THANK YOU… to all that contributed to the Tri-City Angel’s winter coat collection and toy drive for local needy children.

The response was phenomenal. I am sure many more hearts were touched by the generosity of so many folks.

NEARLY BALMY… is the weather this weekend compared to Monday’s three above zero registered in the Tri-Cities. This was preceded by snow that started just after Thanksgiving and has continued to pile up. There is nearly two feet of snow on the deck at my house.

Tri-City Area students got two or three snow days and Monday’s North Pole weather closed some schools and businesses. Many youngsters enjoying a “snow day” spent it on the big hill sledding in Hays Park.

Hopefully the higher temperatures will make for plenty of outdoor fun for all over the Christmas Holidays.

CHRISTMAS TRADITION OF 40 YEARS CONTINUED… this is the 40th year I have published my Christmas column as being a part of the Bayer Christmas.

Every year I seriously consider not printing it.  This year I even started another column figuring if I ran my traditional Christmas offering for the 40th year I would want to make it to the 50th anniversary. Then a niece sent this picture of my mom and dad at the end of Christmas Day 1952. Totally exhausted they are asleep on the sofa surrounded by gifts left in place by their ten children. Three more are yet to come bringing us to the Bayer 13! There are nearly 270 of us now.

I am moved to continue this column in honor of my family and especially to that loving and exhausted couple that started it all and who taught us it is always better to give than to receive.


This week’s column is my annual repeat of the original written in 1976, 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.

For some years, I had the intention of writing a new holiday column. After all, I’ve had and enjoyed many new Christmas memories. 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.

This year our great-grandson William Harold Loshbough V joined the clan. Born just before Thanksgiving, he joins the four newborns to the family this year.

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 40 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 270 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.

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 came 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!

Share the gift of security

 We have all received gifts we’ve wanted to return: ugly socks or sweaters that look exactly like the one you got (or gave!) last year. Sometimes, just letting loved ones know that you’re there for them, no matter what, is the best gift of all.

For this holiday season, give your loved ones some peace of mind by introducing them to Social Security’s many programs. While creating new holiday memories, help your family members create a safe and secure my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. It’s the gift that keeps on giving all year long, with features that let you:

Get your Social Security Statement, to review: estimates of your future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits; your earnings once a year to verify the amounts that we posted are correct; and the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes you’ve paid.

Get a benefit verification letter stating that: you never received Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicare; or you received benefits in the past, but do not currently receive them. The letter will include the date your benefits stopped and how much you received that year; or you applied for benefits but haven’t received an answer yet.

Your loved ones will also appreciate the gift of convenience! Social Security has many online services that can fit their diverse needs at www.socialsecurity.gov/onlineservices.

Receiving support and friendship often means more than material gifts. As you’re exchanging presents this holiday season, remember to also exchange some knowledge, and pass on the effectiveness of my Social Security and our online services. Your loved ones will appreciate it.

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 vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

Christmas chill

 Frustration! I could not locate a particular gift at any local store. I sat on a bench along the wall across from the long row of check-out counters. Phone calls to multiple retailers produced no results. None had it. What is with that, I thought.

While stewing about my dilemma, I noticed the child’s horse ride close to the bench where I was sitting. A coin in the slot and the horse would gently rock back and forth for about a minute. Along came a little girl with her bag-laden mother. The girl’s expression was beaming; she did not stop smiling a maximum four-year-old smile the whole time she sat rocking on the saddle of that plastic beast. Her mother also smiled as she watched her. I just observed. Then it was done.

Apparently satisfied with her adventure, the girl got off the horse with the help of her mother without any reduction in smile intensity. Then, as they walked hand in hand past me to continue their adventures for the day, the little girl slightly turned with her free hand and waved back towards the horse, “Bye, bye horsey,” she said, still smiling.

Hmm… I think this was another lesson. I need to chill. There are more important things. Getting up, I proceeded towards the exit. I could not resist, “Bye, bye horsey,” I said as I passed in front of the now motionless child’s ride.

As I left that store another idea for where I could find the item for which I was clamoring came to mind. Having received the horsey present, I now readily found the present I was seeking.

God’s timing is perfect. As with Christmas, “in the fullness of time” He sent His Son (Galatians 4:4). Help me to chill, trusting God more in His timings in my life too.


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