Families come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are big, some are small. Some are close, while others, not at all. Tonight on Christmas Eve, there is nothing more important than the gift of the father and family that has so graciously been given to me.
Our roots, they run deep. From the mountains of Eastern Kentucky to a corner on Daisy Hill. Papaw Frank left the land of coal mines and stills, looking for something better. He soon found that something better, Mamaw Patty.
Married in the Fall of 54, they started out with a lot of love, and not a whole lot more. They made their home with Mamaw and Papaw Bailey, and soon started a family. First came Debbie and Lonnie, then Amanda, and lastly Cliff. Six people in one bedroom was a lot, three bunk beds, a double bed, and a crib. When it came time to take a bath, they would put an old wash tub in the kitchen floor. Lonnie usually had to take a bath last, because he was always the dirtiest. In their finest clothes, finger curls and all, they would be in the same pew at church each and every Sunday.
Mamaw and Papaw worked hard to provide for their family. Papaw worked at the mill, while Mamaw ran a household. They would hunt and grow a garden to feed an army. They would can all summer, so that when winter came around, they would never go hungry. They'd even bury potatoes, cabbage, and brocolli, and dig it up in cold weather, and it would be as fresh as the day they had picked it.
Christmas in those days was the best time of the year. After slaughtering three pigs the day after Thanksgiving at Papaw Till's, the preparations of the season began. When it came time to get the tree, they'd climb the hill behind the house, and cut their own. It would be adorned with ornaments, old colored bulbs, and strung with popcorn. The cooking seemed to go on for days. Bob Hurst's chicken made the best dumplings and Mamaw Bailey's divinty and fruit cake was to die for. The best part of the holiday though was family. Donna, William, and the kids would come home. The Baileys, Aunt Elsie, Uncle Bill, they all came, and they all enjoyed being together.
Finally after several years of hard work, by his own two hands, Papaw Frank built the house that stands to this day. That first night in the new house was a long night. It seemed so big and that hallway was so long. They soon adjusted though, but they still kept the sidewalk hot between Mamaw and Papaw Bailey's house too.
Years passed, and before you knew it, Debbie, Lonnie, Amanda, and Cliff were married and had started families of their own. Mamaw and Papaw added four other children to their family. Treating their in laws just as if they were their own children. Then along came the Grandchildren
Thats where I came into the picture. Hunting trips, Fishing holes, sleep overs with foam mattresses, and Sunday night suppers at Mamaw's house, they were the best. Ballgames, Band concerts, cross country meets, and plays, they never missed a one. Shot days and a ride to Salem to get a sandwich, they did it all. We even got extra chicken nuggets in the cafeteria line at school. Big green bowls of popcorn, huddled around mamaw and Papaw's cable tv, when the Kentucky Wildcats were playing, that was the place to be. It was a wonderful childhood and before we knew it, we were all grown up and starting our families too.
Over the past few years we have endured a lot in this family. You cannot replace a Papaw like we had. Cancer, NICU visits, surgeries and even Autism. When I found out my Frankie had Autism, I was brought to my knees, and I felt a pain that I have never felt before. But when I looked around, each one of you were on your knees too. That is what we do, we love, we support, we carry each other's burdens, and we go on.
In this family cousins are like extra siblings, and Aunts and Uncles are like bonus parents. Everyone has their own special gifts that makes up this rare gem that we are.
With each passing year we grow, bringing new little ones in the fold. As we grow, let us never forget the traditions passed on from those before us, and let us never forget the roots that have been planted firmly in our hearts.
So, this Christmas Eve, Bless be this tie that Binds us, our faith and our family, for there is not a more beautiful package under the tree, than the one that is surounding me.