The elementary school program in Rock Port makes it Christmas. Three generations of Oswalds were there, including granddaughters Sheridyn on the left set of risers and Kate on the right.

[imgcontainer] [img:pagent.jpg] [source]Richard Oswald[/source] The elementary school program in Rock Port makes it Christmas. Three generations of Oswalds were there, including granddaughters Sheridyn on the left set of risers and Kate on the right. [/imgcontainer]

In Rock Port, just over the hill from Langdon, holiday tradition on this the biggest holiday of the year runs deeper than the Missouri River on July Fourth, the second biggest holiday of the year.

That’s saying a mouthful because this year at Langdon, the river got really deep.

The Fourth is smoking hot while blustery Christmas is spent in the freezer. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and homemade ice cream are staples of one, but ham baking in the oven as chestnuts roast over the iPod mark the other.

At first glance the two don’t have much in common, but underneath they do. Half a calendar apart, both days deal either with the rights of men in general, or the right of a man to his own soul in particular.

Christmas soul searching always winds up the year with holiday togetherness. That usually begins at school with the annual elementary school Christmas program. We were there last week along with three or four generations of families who’ve shared the same stage in the same gymnasium of the same school in the same town where the holidays have been celebrated in almost the same way for the last 60 years.

As customs (and sometimes even rivers) go in these parts, that’s about as deep as it gets.

But along with accepted practice comes the grim realization that the laws of man and God alike must be renewed from time to time through affirmative action. Country boys like me grew up feeling that the most solid things in life were land and community. Lately we’ve been reminded that the things we believe in here at home must be defended or we risk losing them. That lesson has been well imprinted on families who lost their homes to managed flooding on the Missouri River, while in another part of the world big crooked banksters plea bargained out of court without making a single confession.

It’s not over yet. Just the other day one politically savvy businessman testified before Congress that he has no idea what happened to 1.2 billion dollars of his customers’ money. I suppose he could even have blamed it on the Grinch and gotten away with it.

Understandably, most local people hereabouts find either explanation hard to swallow. The broad belief here is that anytime things like this happen, somewhere, in some tall and distant tower of commerce, rich men smile and plan the next big thing.

We also believe there is a payday for all deeds, both good and bad. Bad men count on good men having short memories. It makes bad business easier to conduct. But going back far enough, the first Christmas gifts just might mark the beginning of belief in rewarding a life well lived. If that’s the case, then heaven must be full of honest auditors.
We sure don’t have many here.

[imgcontainer] [img:carterkate.jpg] [source]Richard Oswald[/source] Grandchildren Carter and Kate wonder at the family’s nativity scene. [/imgcontainer]

That brings up the Nativity scene on our china hutch at home. While helpless government studies the hopeless situation of disappearing billions, this holiday gives hope by renewing commitment to peace on earth, good will toward men. Our homes and wealth may be at risk but our long term outlook is solid if only we can believe with malice toward none.

All things are possible, but there is no perfection without fault. One justifies the other. Even dry land in a dry year can be inundated. Conniving on the one hand generates good will toward men on the other. If bad men get theirs we will most surely get ours.

No heaven without Hell. This year we’ve had our share of both.

[imgcontainer right] [img:xmasdog.jpg] [source]Richard Oswald[/source] Clause, the Christmas puppy of 2004, keeps spirits bright after a horrific year of flooding in Langdon, Missouri. [/imgcontainer]

Just the same, believing gets tougher as I grow older. The larger community of man infringes on the bedrock of my beliefs with self serving goals backed by nothing more solid than a lie while my own shrinking community leans into itself for support. We believe in ourselves when no one else is believable.

In reality, bad drives good toward better times.

So we continue our routine from one lifetime to the next in the light and shadow of family farms, schools, and cemeteries where generation after generation celebrates success through lineage. The road has twists and turns but in a place like this, trails are blazed with footprints from before. Like the Savior baby born in a stable to homeless people in search of a future, we have that compass to guide us though the rest of the world seems lost.

Even when waters rise and banks run dry, we believe; In ourselves, our families, our people, and our destiny.

But perhaps most of all, we believe that with a little help, one tiny baby really can change the world.

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