Christmas, always a storehouse of beribboned memories, is also a collection of circumstances. The family traditions, the dreams, the trips homes, all conjure up memories of holidays past and reference points for the future. Here are three stories that make up the spirit of Christmas in Washington.
THE GOOD DOCTOR: Dr. Bill Hall, a big teddy bear of a man, folded his hands contentedly around his stomach, and a serene look flashed across his face, which was fringed with a soft black beard. He is an ophthalmologist, who earlier this year decided to provide free glaucoma and visual screenings at senior citizens' homes and centers and at public nursing homes in Washington. This day he was remembering a memorable Christmas past, 27 years ago, the year he turned 12 and received his first BB gun.
"Getting a BB gun was a big thing, as was learning how to shoot and hunt," he said. "On Christmas morning, we got up at sunrise and all the males in my family were present, like the male relatives of all the other 12-year-old boys. We would all head for the yard. The older men would show you how to use your first gun. The men would mark out lines and stick quarters and 50-cent pieces in the ground for us to try to shoot them down. Everybody stood behind the lines and took turns shooting their guns."
It was a holiday ritual that linked the generations, marked the milestone of entering adolescence and reinforced male identity on that rough Georgia soil. But later, guns would have no place in the doctor's life. He went to jail rather than fight in Vietnam, and his 9-year-old son is not receiving a gun for sport or play this year.
THE LOCKED-UP KID: For the past five weeks, a 17-year-old from Bethesda has been in a short-term shelter for teen-age offenders in Montgomery County for committing a crime. Today is the first Christmas he'll spend away from his family, and the thought so dejected him that several days ago he sat down, and turning Bruno Bettleheim's "magic mirror" upon his inner world, imagined Christmas Eve. This is what he wrote:
" . . . I spun around to face a very large man who had been standing beside me. He grabbed me firmly by the shoulders and uttered a long hush . . . He was about 6' 10" and wide as a barn. His face looked like that of an old, old man, but his muscles were as firm as rocks. Strangely . . . I wasn't frightened, in fact I felt very serene and secure standing in front of this huge old guy. I could tell that he was good and kind.
" . . . He put little gifts and candy in our gym socks and laid a few boxes under the tree . . . I didn't want to let him go before I had a chance to say or do something for him. 'Hey!' I shouted without thinking. He turned to see me standing with my hand over my mouth in embarrassment . . . 'You really are St. Nick, aren't you?'
'It all depends on what you believe in,' he said softly as he opened the door . . . . "
THE SINGER: Todd Duncan shudders even now when he thinks of the year it looked as if he might not make it home from Europe in time for Christmas. He hadn't seen his family for six months. Duncan, the distinguished artist and Washingtonian who 50 years ago debuted in George Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess," was winding up his 1962 concert tour in Italy. It was Dec. 23 and his packed bags were waiting in the theater wings. After the curtain dropped, he rushed to the airport. There he was told that bad weather had forced cancellation of his flight.
"They were all waiting for papa--my grandson, my son and daughter-in-law . . . I was worried that papa wasn't going to be there."
He spent a restless night in a hotel in Rome near the airport and imagined his family going ahead with the traditional dinner without him. "I was so anxious . . . would I get a plane? Would the weather clear up?" he recalls.
Finally, late on Christmas Eve, an anxiety-ridden Duncan boarded a jet bound for Washington. As Christmas Day dawned, he was high in the clouds; by noon, he was home.
"It was a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful homecoming," he recalled the other day. For Christmas 1982, four generations will gather to see Mama Gladys and Papa Todd, now 80 years old.