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Woster: The rush of emotion during a beautiful story

One of my sons asked me after one of those tear-filled readings what I thought may have triggered the intense emotional response to the story.

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A few Christmas Eves ago, one of my adult children asked me to read a wonderful little book called “A Cup of Christmas Tea.’’

My big sister gave me an autographed copy of the book years ago. She included a Minneapolis newspaper clipping about the author and the illustrator, Tom Hegg and Warren Hanson.

The book itself is a simple enough tale. A young man rushing through his holiday preparations is nearly finished and ready to relax with “30 days reprieve ‘til VISA could catch up with me.’’ But he remembers an invitation to share a cup of Christmas tea with an elderly aunt who has been slowed by a stroke. Spoiler alert: The young man goes, reluctantly. During the visit, he experiences a rush of memories of holidays past and sees in his beloved aunt the triumph of a human spirit over physical adversity.

Each year after I received the book, I made it a point to read it during the run-up to Christmas. The descriptions of old-time Christmas decorations and customs made me feel good. Even when things were hectic in the final days before the holiday, the little story helped me feel the spirit.

So, when my son asked if I’d read the book aloud to the assembled family, I agreed. I figured when the family heard the story, they’d feel as good as I did when I read the story to myself.

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There was a time when I envisioned the family sitting together and watching the George C. Scott version of “A Christmas Carol’’ each year before Christmas Day. That has never happened. I’m beginning to think it never will. Probably just as well. My reading of “A Cup of Christmas Tea’’ didn’t go quite the way I’d planned.

The thing was, I had an image of everyone sitting together quietly, marveling at the words and images of the story I read aloud. It kind of started out that way, too. About the time the young man reached his aunt’s house, rang the bell and “the triple beat of two feet and a crutch came down the hall,’’ I began to sob, right out loud, right in front of the family, little kids and all.

Well, I didn’t know what to make of it. That rush of emotion took me quite by surprise. I paused, took a few deep breaths and continued to read. I’d covered only a few more sentences when the tears came again, and I had to stop. Eventually, I think, I got through the story, but a fair number of people in attendance were more than a little puzzled, embarrassed for me and wishing Santa would start stomping around up on the rooftop.

Another year someone coaxed me into trying again. The same thing happened, starting about the time the young man rang the bell at his aunt’s place. I think I gave up that year. I mean, gosh, we set the book out every single Christmas. Most of the family members are old enough to read. Let them read it themselves for a version that doesn’t include the sobs and tears. Maybe that approach doesn’t shout “Christmas spirit,’’ but it gets me out of a most uncomfortable situation.

One of my sons asked me after one of those tear-filled readings what I thought may have triggered the intense emotional response to the story. I hadn’t a clue at the time. I’d read the story to myself for years. My heart swelled a few times as I read to myself, but I didn’t blubber or collapse in a puddle.

On reflection I think what strikes me is the resilience of the old woman. Despite medical issues and physical limitations, she celebrates Christmas in her home and in her heart, and she wants only to share her joy with those she loves.

When I read the story, I think of my mom, who loved Christmas and who remained spirited and lively to her last days. I think of my dad, gone so soon but still strong in my memory. And maybe I simply wish one of them could still be around to invite me to a cup of Christmas tea.

What to read next
A regular opinion piece by columnist Terry Woster
"My best advice as a faith leader is to seek out where you can find the Spirit, God’s active presence in the world, still at work. This can be in the talented medical staff taking care of your loved one; this could be in the network of friends who rally to your side. The Spirit is there, at work, somewhere."
A regular column from Terry Woster
A regular opinion piece from columnist Terry Woster.