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Column: All is bright

My house is so quiet, I can hear a speck of sugar drop onto my lap as I take bites of my Christmas cookie. It reminds me of a Ray Orbison song ... "Only the lonely know the way I feel tonight. Only the lonely know this feeling ain't right." The Christmas letdown, when guests have packed up and gone home, is overwhelming. Especially when, just two days before, the house was overflowing with family.

With the help of our son-in-law and grandson, my husband had moved the dining room table at an angle so we could accommodate everyone. He added two leaves to the table and with the help of a son brought up card tables and chairs. There would be 12 besides us this year--children, their spouses, grandchildren -- the first time in too many years that we would all be together. My husband spent two days driving from store to store for the feast. Turkey, ham, cheesy hash browns, veggies, breads, appetizers, fruit, desserts aplenty.

As our daughter and son-in-law helped get everything situated in the oven, a daughter-in-law filled nut cups and a teen-aged granddaughter set the table and added snowpeople place cards. I, of course, gave the orders. By the time the last person walked in the door, hugs and hellos were being bandied about like it was happy hour at a local watering hole. Expecting Norm from the TV show Cheers to make an appearance at any moment, I asked who wanted soda, water, beer or wine.

Before we ate, I told everyone this had been a dream for my husband and me for many years. My eyes got watery as I lifted my glass to thank the Chicagoans for making the trip, the Saint Paul parents for rousting their young ones from their gifts, the more northern Minnesotans for coming early to get everything started on time. And, of course, everyone reminded me to thank Grandpa for driving the food-mobile.

I know others weren't so lucky. Many spent the day alone. Others, homeless or hospitalized. For a brief moment that day my mind went back some years to a holiday when my husband and I delivered meals on wheels. Unable to find an apartment in a large Burnsville complex, we asked a resident if she knew the woman we were looking for. We could see inside her door where tables had been pushed together and set with fancy cloths, centerpieces and candles. Glassware sparkled alongside gold-rimmed plates. Sorry, the woman told us; she couldn't help. Had no idea who she was.

Just around the corner, we found the right place. Our knock on the door was met by, "I'm coming. It will just be a minute." It took longer but we didn't mind. Especially, when she opened the door. Thinner than anyone should be, she had on a dark green velour bathrobe; her head covered with a turban. Even so, we could see she had lost her hair. As she led my husband to the kitchen so he could put away her meal, she pulled an oxygen tank alongside.

For a moment this Christmas, that woman was in my thoughts. Not to put a damper on my day. Just as a reminder to be grateful.