“Where Should I Spend Christmas?” Ensign, Dec. 1980, 42
I was homesick. But Christmas was only two or three weeks away and then I would be home! I had already made arrangements for my ride; I could wait it out. It was 1952, and I was a student at Brigham Young University. I remember standing all alone in our upstairs apartment, leaning on my orange-crate dresser (a student status-symbol in those days) when these words came to me: “Go to Aunt Sylvia’s for Christmas.” What a strange thought. The mind plays strange tricks. Maybe this was one of those times when a thought darts into the mind like a busy fly only to buzz off again. But no, this was different. This thought did not leave. But I didn’t want to go to Aunt Sylvia’s for Christmas. I wanted to go home!
Maybe I should tell you a little about Aunt Sylvia. My sister had spent a Christmas with her when she was a student at BYU, and she had ended up peeling a gunny sack full of onions. Aunt Sylvia was head cook for a hospital in Idaho, and she was a strict taskmaster. I have never seen anyone who could work faster and harder than she.
She loved to play too, though, I had to admit. One time when I was small she came to visit. She was getting ready to go to bed when she called out from the bathroom, “Who wants a gum drop?” My dad called back, “I do.” In she sailed without her dentures and planted a big toothless kiss on his cheek. She was Santa Claus, St. Valentine, and the Easter Bunny all rolled into one sweet, generous lady. But I did not want to go to Aunt Sylvia’s for Christmas!
I put the thought out of my mind. But at least twice more it came sailing out of the blue to hit me as before. And it nagged at my conscience. “But why?” I asked myself over and over. Aunt Sylvia had not even hinted that she wanted me to come. Of course, she would like to spend Christmas with some of her family. I knew that. Only the one year that my sister had gone to Idaho to visit her did she have family to spend Christmas with. She had never married and had no kin in the state.
Finally I made a bargain with my conscience—if I received a letter asking me to go, or got any other indication that I should, then I would. If not, I would go home to Wyoming. My conscience kept its vigil, but I ignored it. The morning I was to leave for home I went downtown to buy and mail Aunt Sylvia a present and Christmas card. I stood on the street corner in the cold gray December morning, waiting for the store to open. “I could still change my mind,” I thought. “I could walk down to the bus station and get a ticket.” I shoved the idea away, found a card that told how much I loved her, bought some perfumed lotion, and sent it off. Later that day I went to Wyoming.
Christmas was nice. I decided that my troubled thoughts had been nonsense. It was over too soon, though, and I was back at school again. Sometime the next week I got a letter from my mother:
“Dear Carol, We got word today that Aunt Sylvia has leukemia. She found out the day before Christmas. The doctors say there is nothing they can do to stop the disease. She said the twenty-fourth of December was the saddest day of her life—the only time she had allowed herself to cry since she was a kid.”
A couple of weeks later I went up to Idaho Falls and gave some blood for Aunt Sylvia. In February I sang at her funeral. I was particularly touched by the little girls she had taught in Primary who came to see her for the last time, and the little crippled lady who told us how proud she was to have Aunt Sylvia accept her to work in the kitchen. But somehow a pint of blood and a song could never make up for the day I didn’t spend with her.