Ornaments and Traditions


Every year since we got married in 1971, the day after Thanksgiving is when we start decorating for Christmas. No matter how broke, despondent, worried, angry, or disappointed our life is at that moment, we begin to build our home into a happy place designed to celebrate the traditions of our families and the birth of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, we have collected many decorations, some made by our children and grandchildren, some bought in the far off places we have lived and traveled to, some handed down from friends and family. Each one is a treasure, carefully packed away every year to be brought out and rediscovered the following year. As time goes by, some of them get a bit worn and tattered, but they still go on the best place for them on the tree. As I see them being hung by my family and myself, memories flow through my mind about how and when they came to be part of our tradition.

I have twelve cloisonne bells that were given to me as a gift when we lived in Hong Kong, each one has a slightly different sound when it rings. I have a set of lovely hand carved Angel ornaments that I bought when we were visiting Bruge, Belgium. And the lace ornaments that I bought in different countries to make a special collection is beautiful. But the ornaments that I love the most are the ones made by my children and grandchildren, and now, great grandchildren. Some were made at school, others were made in scouts or as projects we did together as a family. They aren’t fancy, and they aren’t perfect, but they are unique, one of a kind, filled with love and memories. I have hand prints in paint on plastic bobbles, I have ornaments made of Popsicle sticks, glue, and glitter. I have drawings on paper, hung carefully next to the crystal angel that I bought for my first grandchild’s first Christmas. It doesn’t matter what they are made of, they are more treasured than the most expensive ornament on the tree. Because my babies made them, I would rather have them than any other treasure on my trees.

Now I have two trees, one for my fancy store bought and gifted ornaments. It is lovely to behold. Sparkling and glittering with lights and special stones. I put it up in my home office, where it can be seen from the front of the house. It is an addition to all the sparkling lights outside. The other tree is for all my special treasures from my family. It is in my living room, and it glitters and sparkles unlike any other tree in the world. Each ornament is a memory or a story to pass down to our progeny. Each one is a part of our traditions, sacred, and delightful. Usually, the youngest in the family puts the star on the tree, but the one on the tree is built in now. This year, the youngest will be eight hours away, he is two, the perfect age to start telling the stories about each ornament. Instead, our five year old will do the honors when she comes to visit this weekend. She gets a kick out of decorating the tree her way. Meaning most of the purple ornaments are at her eye level, in one place on the tree. She has a thing for organizing colors that way. If she can’t reach a place she wants an ornament, either her Papa or I patiently position it until she is satisfied. Then we have hot chocolate and play until bedtime.

As the days lead up to Christmas, our entire house is decorated inside and out. While I do the baking creating goodies to share with friends and family, the Mr. hangs lights and swears under his breath every time he has to repair another string of lights. When we are done, our home looks like a place of joy, it smells delightfully of chocolate and fresh baked goods, and the music of Christmas fills the air with both sacred and fun sounds of happiness and celebration.

Traditions bring us together as a family. The stories bring us laughter and teaches us through example. The decorations remind us of the past, the people, and the love we all share one generation to the next. I love Christmas, it completes my life, just as the month of December completes the year. Merry Christmas One and All. God Bless Each and Every One of You.

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A Childhood Memory


When I was a little kid, my family went to a parade. It was wonderful. All the men marching in step, the tanks rolling by, all the armor, jeeps, and first and foremost, the flag flying high over everything. I remember the sky was bright blue, making the colors of the flag stand out, each color brilliant and fresh. A band marched by, playing loud and proud. When they passed us, they were playing Grand Old Flag. It was all so exciting. My mother kept us kids under control, but the entire crowd was cheering, like they were welcoming heroes home. It was the Fourth of July and we were in Germany in the early 1960’s. Somewhere among those marching men was my father.

I was too young to recognize the importance of that post WWII and post Korea moment. I grew up in the military, I thought everyone’s dad marched in long lines and wore a uniform if they were American. It was normal. All the kids I knew, except for the few locals in our area, had dads who wore uniforms. The women and children in our house area waited for dads and husbands to come home from “the field” just like we did. And everywhere we went, from the school to the doctor’s building, there was a flag with the same bright colors flying above it. It was normal.

When my dad left the military, I was shocked to see buildings without the flag, people without uniforms of any kind, and complete disrespect for any sort of organization. It was hard to become a civilian, I missed the comfort of normal. I missed the feeling of security I had always had, even in the midst of the cold war that could send us on a bus or train with one bag for our whole family at a moment’s notice. I was never unsure, I was never alone, as long as there was a man in a uniform like my dad wore.

One day, I was at school very early for some reason. I was wandering around waiting for school to open when I saw the janitor come out of the building. He unfolded a flag, and pulled it up the flagpole. There, against the bright blue sky, the colors of my flag unfurled. As the wind caught it, the flag waved proudly above the land around it. In my mind I heard Grand Old Flag, as the janitor stepped back and saluted with all the dignity and honor of a soldier. Tears came to my eyes, because to me, he no longer wore a gray shirt and pants of a janitor, he wore a uniform of a soldier, and I knew as long as there were men who had served, men who knew the value of freedom and sacrifice, we would be safe.

Today life is very different in our country. But still, men and women serve to protect what is ours, and our freedom. No matter what politics you hold, no matter what lifestyle you profess, no matter where you live, the military protects you. The flag some spit on, burn, and trample still flies proudly from front porches, flag poles, and buildings. Be it against smoke from a riot, storms, or skies of bright blue, the flag still watches over our land and our people. The little girl in my past and the old woman I am today salute them. In memory of all those who have served to protect our homeland from the Revolutionary Founders through today, Thank You and God Bless America.

The Music Goes On


This is a story told to me by my mother Jean Bonham Vandenburg

HOW THE MUSIC STARTED IN THE BONHAM FAMILY

O. C. Bonham played the fiddle. He met another musician, Clarence Rodgers, who also played the fiddle or violin. In fact he was a music teacher for Atoka schools and private students too. Mr. Clarence Rodgers was an accomplished Classically trained musician and was well known as a brilliant music teacher. Mr Bonham was a widower, who had four children by his first wife. Ida New. Two of them survived,Minnie Lee and Zed.

Minnie was very good on the organ and piano. She was a good vocalist too. Mr Rodgers taught her the piano and she played in church. Minnie eventually married and became the mother of five children, who grew to be talented a singers in church as well. Mr Bonham married again to Lydia New Trimmer and had two children, Oran Carl and Collie. Although Carl, as Oran Carl came to be known, survived, Collie died when a very young child. Clarence Rodgers taught Carl to play the guitar and other instruments. Mr Bonham, Mr. Gene Warren, the principal of Harmony School, Clarence Rodgers, Carl, and his friend Hardy Wilkins would gather at the Bonham house and play music during the winter when crops were harvested and laid by.

O C Bonham married later in life to Novella Burlison and they had had five children. Clearance Rodgers taught the oldest son, Orville, to play the fiddle too. His children are part of the Bonham Bluegrass family. Sara Ann, Glen, and Virgil all were talented. Their big brother, Carl, taught Ollie and Glen to play the guitar.

Carl liked ballads and the music of early Country and Western singers such as Jimmie Rodgers. His friend, Hardy, was a good musician who played for dances at the outside dance floor in Stringtown, Oklahoma that was made famous when the infamous criminals, Bonnie and Clyde had a shoot out where they killed a deputy and wounded the sheriff. Carl and Hardy were will known in the area and played for dances held in homes throughout Atoka County. His daughter can remember going to someones house and they would move all the furniture  out of one room so that could have room to dance. When the little kids and babies got sleepy the parents would lay them on the beds to sleep. When the movie, Gone With The Wind, came out, Carl and Hardy played during the intermission every night. Carl was a good singer and, thanks to Clarence Rodgers, a good musician, When Carl was first learning to play, if he missed a cord or made a mistake, Clarence would smack Carl with his fiddle bow.

The daughters of Carl and his wife, Thelma Bolling Bonham, also learned to sing at an early age. Jeannie Bonham Vandenburg and Jackie Bonham Hand, sang on a radio show that was recorded live from the Mamie Johnson school in Atoka every Sunday. They, and the teachers from Harmony decided to have a show at Harmony School to help buy new basketball uniforms, Jean and Jackie and the other students organized the show and it was a big hit in the community. It helped to get the much needed uniforms.

Jean married Eddie Vandenburg when he came back from the Korean War, He was an outstanding natural musician. Later, when he went back into the Army, Eddie and Jean were stationed many places where they always became involved with country music. They entertained at the military clubs and civilian clubs near by. They were asked to record and go on tour, but being a soldier came first so they had to let the opportunity pass. Both Jean and Eddie were song writers, and Jean continues to write today. They were both raised to sing traditional Country Music. Eddie passed away a few years ago, but Jean is still invited to sing at various venues where she performs now and then. If you get a chance to hear Miss Jean you are in for a real treat. She has had many years experience and has performed with many talented bands and fronted for many rising stars. She has some great stories to tell about the places and people she and Eddie have met.

They were parents of five children and who are also musicians and vocalists. The girls enjoy singing in church. Karron is a writer and was a choir director and, the youngest, Rebecca and her husband, David Barrington, often sing and direct musical events in their church, Eddie Vandenburg Jr. is good musician and a collector of music instruments. Some of Eddie and Jean’s grandchildren and great grandchildren also have interests in music.

With each generation, the music goes on in the Bonham family.

Thank You Mr. Barry, Somewhere In Time


Have you ever heard a piece of music that fills your soul, your heart? One that, when the first notes play, you slip into a memory, a moment in time, a feeling that envelopes your entire being? The music from the movie, Somewhere In Time, does that to me.

I don’t know why. The movie wasn’t all that great, but the music speaks to me in a deeply, wonderfully personal way. The smooth, gliding notes make my eyes want to drift shut, and a soft smile comes to my lips as I let the music lead me away from stress, sorrow, and worry. I can sit for hours listening to the same music over and over as my thoughts wander, and day dreams drift like clouds in my mind. I feel tears gather, and when I least expect it, love fills me.

It is a piece of music, meant as a background for a sad love story. I have heard thousands of soundtracks over the years, few stay in my heart and mind like Somewhere In Time. I stopped trying to figure out why it touches me so deeply and simply allow it to happen. It is a blessing.

I suppose it is silly, maybe overly dramatic, to allow music to deeply effect my life. Music is always with me, every moment of every day. Sometimes it is a reflection of my day or emotions, like listening to loud rock and roll when I drive my car on a sunny day, top down, music blaring. Sometimes music helps me create a story or a character in a story, and sometimes it lifts me out of sadness or loneliness. Music helps me say what I feel when words fail me. It makes me sing, dance, and rock my babies to sleep. It makes me want to be in the arms of the love of my life, and sometimes, it makes me cry.

It is rare that one piece of music can invoke all those feelings and thoughts. This soundtrack does all of that and more. I don’t know anything about the composer, John Barry, but he found his way to this music that has taken root in my soul. Thank you Mr. Barry, from the bottom of my heart.