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My best Christmas memory from 47 years ago

A view of the Nativity Scene that was set in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 is a far cry from the scene 47 years ago on a Navajo Indian Reservation.
A view of the Nativity Scene that was set in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017 is a far cry from the scene 47 years ago on a Navajo Indian Reservation. AP

The frigid wind blew steadily across the rocks and sagebrush of the mountainous range as the shepherds carefully moved the sheep from one location to another, in search of better grass. Snow flurries, mixed with small pebbles of ice, made it impossible to keep the body warm on this very special Christmas Day. The bleating of the wooly creatures, and the occasional bark of the trained canine, were the only sounds piercing the quietness of this lonely, yet exciting day! Such definitive words could easily describe the conditions existing around Bethlehem two thousand years ago. But this was a different setting.

Six of us had driven from our church in Milledgeville, to visit the Navajo Indian Reservation, which was located 100 miles northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the state’s capital. We were now a dozen miles from the nearest paved (or established) road, at 8,000 feet, and zero degrees. Just over the ridge was the Continental Divide. The facility where we spent the night was a very antiquated mobile home. The plumbing was definitely “outdoors.”

As Christmas Eve came and went, we almost froze, but we managed to laugh and sing through the night. We determined to remain happy and optimistic, for we came to share our substance, and our heart. The year was 1970. Our two vehicles were filled with fruitcake, candy, gifts, and 100 pairs of shoes — and our spirits were filled with promises from the Word of God. This would be a very special time.

Services were held in the tiny Indian church, with jubilant singing and excitement on every face. Many had walked miles through the ice and snow to be present. The message was given, with scores obviously thrilled and encouraged. A glorious response was realized and later we shared a Christmas meal. We then visited the shepherds in the field, and visualized what the first Christmas was all about. There is no contest!

This was our very best Christmas ever.

I share this story 47 after the fact, to specifically remind all readers, that the extending of ourselves with love, time and substance, to those less fortunate or disenfranchised from the “bustle of a metropolitan throng,” can bring about a “journey with purpose” and a satisfaction beyond comprehension. We are blessed above measure with families and friends, but such ventures are really what Christmas is all about.

Daniel W. Gatlyn, USN ret., is a resident of Macon

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