Rain Fails to Dampen Christmas Spirit
The thermometer outside Crescent State Bank in Southern Pines blinks a damp 50 degrees, the same as in Bethlehem.
Stores are shut, the streets empty as Christmas Eve moves inside homes, churches or wherever people escape -- if only for an hour, the secular for the sacred.
Dec. 24, 9:45 p.m.: This holy night is not silent at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Southern Pines as the choir welcomes parishioners to "midnight" Mass -- which starts at 10 p.m.
"The pope's having his at 10 so I guess we can, too," comments the volunteer handing out programs.
The church, its altar banked in red and white poinsettias, has been filled twice already during the children's Mass and the Spanish Mass. Sheila and Dennis Regan arrive with daughter, Tess, and son, Ryan.
"We've always come to children's Mass, but now ours are teenagers," Sheila says a bit wistfully. "The children do a cute play. I love to watch their faces."
After Mass, the Regans return home where brother and sister exchange gifts.
The pews fill up, candles are lit, "Adeste Fideles" fades, and Monsignor Jeffrey Ingham begins, "We celebrate today the birth of our Lord. "
Dec. 25, 6:40 a.m.: Pre-dawn, the Southern Pines Amtrak station looks like a street scene by American painter Edward Hopper.
Laura Kershaw awaits the Silver Star, originating in Miami, which will take her to Philadelphia. Then, a ride to her family in Bethlehem -- the one in Pennsylvania -- for Christmas dinner.
"I like train travel, especially when there's snow," Kershaw says.
She brought a book, some apple cider and gifts for her brother, who is home from Germany.
Also in the station house are Debbie and Chris Hempsted, headed for Connecticut -- a 36-hour trip with a stopover in Washington, D.C., where they hope to see the White House Christmas tree. This is Debbie's first rail experience.
"My husband calls me a train virgin," she says.
The Silver Star roars in at 7:02 a.m. and departs before a passenger can light up outside. "Next smoke stop, Raleigh," the conductor says. All aboard.
7:45 a.m.: For the past 15 Christmases, Earl Wright has produced his own Miracle on Broad Street.
During the year, Wright collects and repairs bicycles, which are given away, along with food and gifts donated by local businesses and churches, beginning at 8 a.m. at Bo's Food Store parking lot.
Ebony Alston was second in line at 4:30 a.m. Her 8-year-old daughter, Dunival Alston-Ray, like the other children, seems overwhelmed when faced with 426 bicycles. She dashes from row to row, finally choosing a pink one to match her jacket.
Nine-year-old Ortha Franklin leaves with a junior racer and one of 100 new basketballs. "Great. Real fun," is all he can manage.
Volunteers like Kara Ramsey, whose husband is in Iraq, keep the giveaway running smoothly. Wright, dressed in a Santa suit, waves his hand toward the sea of bikes.
"This is unreal," he says. "I do it for the kids. We should all give something back."
8:40 a.m.: There was plenty of room at the Comfort Inn for Nancy and Ron Scaggs, of Beckley, W.Va.
The Scaggs prefer to stay there when visiting their daughter and grandchildren.
This trip has not been smooth. Soon after arriving, Ron was taken to the hospital with an emphysema episode. He returned with good thoughts.
"That FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital was a topnotch experience," he says to Sarah Stansil, who has been serving Christmas breakfast at Comfort Inn for a dozen years.
"I don't have anybody at home so I don't mind working for people with children," Stansil explains.
9:45 a.m.: "Two calls, one medical, no fires" or Santas stuck in chimneys, reports Capt. Scott Padgett at the Southern Pines fire station.
The crew has just finished eggs, sausage, hash browns, gravy and biscuits prepared by firefighter/cook Adam Godfrey. They are watching "The Christmas Story" from their recliners. Families will join them at 5 p.m. for Christmas dinner at the long firehouse table -- unless Rudolph needs a boost.
10:30 a.m.: The cluster of cars in the Walgreens parking lot signals a retail oasis on otherwise deserted U.S. 1.
People come in mostly for milk, eggs and baking supplies, a manager says. Not Sally Seagroves.
"I don't want to be shopping on Christmas, but we ran out of toilet paper," she says.
Her son, Casey, came along to spend his Christmas money on gifts for his nieces and nephews.
11:30 a.m.: The weather outside is frightful, but inside the Carolina Hotel, the scene is beyond delightful as families (just look at 12-year-old Abby Hawk in faux ermine-trimmed green velvet) gather for the Christmas brunch buffet.
The lavish spread features Winston-Salem pheasant with raz cherries, Indian dry corn-crusted filet of sea bass with lobster and mushroom ravioli, a chocolate fountain and 100-plus other irresistibles prepared by French chef Theirry Debailleul.
Mary Ann Everitt, of Southern Pines, and Anne Everitt, of Durham, are doing their second mother-daughter brunch at the hotel. A server pours champagne as they are seated.
"I'm a foodie," Anne says.
She approaches the buffet methodically.
"First, I go and look," she says. "Then I take a little plate of antipasti."
Pacing is vital. They expect to dine for at least two hours, while in the background, Bob Murphy plays light Christmas music on the baby grand, as he has since 1982.
12:40 p.m.: Hope Kenney is just leaving FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, where she and other volunteers caroled with Dr. David Christaldi, who was dressed as Santa.
In the cafeteria, Harry and Liz Saltmyere are finishing lunch. The couple moved recently from Southern Pines to a new home at Holden Beach. But on Monday, they had no power, no keys and no furniture.
"I got a phone call," Harry says. "A friend asked us to come back and spend time with another friend who was having surgery. So I did what any Christian man would do. That's why we're eating hospital food on Christmas."
1:45 p.m.: For some folks, Christmas wouldn't be complete without Blockbuster and/or Chinese food.
Had it not been pouring rain, Shirley Morrison, of Aberdeen, might be outside with her grandbaby. Instead, she hopes Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail" will amuse the family.
David Lane, of Southern Pines, decided the washout was "a day for chili and watching a movie," the title not yet selected. Around the corner at China Garden, three generations of the Walton family are eating out on Christmas for the first time.
"It's a lot different from the ham and chicken and dumplings we had last night," says matriarch Iola Walton.
Nine-year-old Joshua Walton, from Charlotte, loved the lo mein but was a bit worried when Santa hadn't tracked him down at granny's house in Carthage.
3:55 p.m.: By now, Noah might float his ark over to Sandhills Cinemas and join the Herring/Nason family group waiting to see "It's Complicated," which they chose because friends say Joy Nason looks like Meryl Streep.
This jolly quintet makes Santa look positively morose. Marty Nason, a minister who conducted three services on Christmas Eve, feels fine about seeing the saucy comedy on Christmas. Melanie Herring's boss, Kenny Rogers (the "Gambler" himself), gave her the ham they ate for Christmas dinner.
After the movie, the group will play a gift-exchange game called "Dirty Santa." And for supper, they're having, of all things, lasagna.
8:30 p.m.: A three-quarter moon slips from beneath the clouds over Neville's in downtown Southern Pines. Not an empty seat at the bar, which has been open since 6 p.m.
Regulars Louis Gautier and John Mills, nursing "water on the rocks" and a Bud Light, respectively, are engrossed in an NBA basketball game. Gautier didn't do much for Christmas except ride around and have Chinese food: "No kids, no dogs, no cats -- that's why I had to come down here to keep (the bartender) company."
Mills, on the other hand, ate dinner at home with 19 friends and family members, but still ended up at Neville's.
"This is Cheers, and that's Norm," Mills says, pointing in Gautier's direction.
Outside, twinkling lights look suddenly superfluous. Instead of Christmas rock, speakers play, "Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future " by the Steve Miller Band, an appropriate end for Christmas, the year 2009 and a decade of mixed history.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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